The illegal purchase of drugs is alive and growing on the so-called dark Internet, where users can make purchases anonymously.
According to a new report, while online markets account for only a small portion of illicit drug sales, it is growing at a very fast clip with sellers aiming to build a reputation on price and quality, similar to how their retail counterparts behave online. The Economist found that Americans who use these sites to purchase illegal drugs have increased to 15 percent in 2016 from 8 percent in 2014. What’s more, turnover has increased to between $150 million to $180 million in 2015, from $15 million to $17 million in 2012.
The sales are occurring on dark websites that users can only gain access to through browsers including Tor. These browsers route the communications through layers of encryption and different computers to make it close to impossible for the police and FBI to track. Buyers and sellers use secure, so-called dark, email to hook up and make their payments in bitcoins, a growing digital currency that is hard to trace.
Just like retailers moved to embrace eCommerce, these online sellers of illicit drugs are using feedback systems, enabling buyers to rate their purchases and leave comments similar to how Amazon.com or eBay does it. The dark websites act as the store fronts and take a cut of anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of each transaction. Moderators of the review portion of the sites are paid in bitcoins and also handle any complaints.
While these sellers of illicit drugs are acting similar to retailers with their eCommerce websites, they are taking a lot of precautions to prevent law enforcement from shutting them down, which is having mixed results. Take Silk Road, an early website for illegal drugs, for one example. It lasted close to three years before the FBI figured it out and shut down the website. The founder of Silk Road is in jail serving a life sentence over various charges including selling narcotics.