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The Weird Commerce Of The Dark Web

The Weird Commerce Of The Dark Web

In the day-to-day life of the regular law-abiding internet user, the dark web is mostly a scary unknown. Insofar as the average consumer knows, that side of the web – which is accessible only via a TOR server – is the place where their personal information is sold whenever there is a data breach.

A slightly more knowledgeable consumer might also know that the dark web is where one goes to buy illegal things with bitcoin.

And there is something to those particular stereotypes, since credit card numbers, passwords and Social Security numbers are all available for sale on the dark web. And, in the grand scale of illegal things up for purchase, credit card numbers are pretty tame. For example, if one happens to be looking for weapons, hard legal or illegal drugs or uranium, the dark web has all three up for grabs in various marketplaces.

Despite bitcoin’s reputation as the coin of the realm, when it comes to buying heavy narcotics, a bazooka or other such nefarious items, cash tends to be the preferred means of exchange. As it turns out, there are complaints galore from arms and drug dealers that bitcoin transactions are sketchy.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about the dark web isn’t how many horrible things you can buy there, but all of the genuinely weird transactions that occur. Some are illegal, but most actually aren’t – and they tell a slightly different story of the internet’s least understood, darkest corner of the web.

For example, have you considered learning a new skill lately?

The Surprising Dark Web: a Place for All Kinds of Hobbyists 

When someone says they are heading off to the dark web to get an education, the assumption might be that they are speaking euphemistically about honing their skills as an identity thief. Because who goes to the dark web to learn something legal?

Modular origami fans, as it turns out. According to an article in The Next Web, despite the dark web’s well-earned reputation as a repository of ill-gotten information, it is also full of stuff that just doesn’t quite fit in anywhere else. A book on modular origami, by the way, will run about $2. Then there are numerous guides on deep-sea fishing (that’s fishing with an “f” – these aren’t phishing guides for would-be scammers, but for those wanting to catch blue-fin tuna.)

And for those seeking a pet, the article noted that a pair of “well-trained African Grey Parrots,” as well as a guide for their proper care and maintenance, can be found on the dark web.

The Body Part Bazaar 

Organ sales are fairly common on the dark web, often made by desperate patients on waiting lists who fear they won’t live to get the organ they need the legal way. The World Health Organization estimates that there are roughly 10,000 illegal organ transplant surgeries per year. Unsurprisingly, the more vital the organ, the more it costs. A human heart or liver runs between $100K-$200K, while a functioning set of eyes costs closer to $1,200.

The creepier part, however, is that the market for illicit body parts is much bigger than necessary organs for transplants. In fact, non-transplantable parts like hands, feet and forearms tend to be the best deal, each running for less than $500 apiece. (It’s probably best not to think about why someone would want to buy them.)

But the creepiest part is that the dark web now has competition from the mainstream web in this particular arena of questionable sales. For those who don’t want to go to all the trouble of buying bitcoin and traipsing off the dark web to find a scalp or a set of corneas, a much easier option is emerging.

Instagram.

While the selection is somewhat more limited, and most of the Instagram collectors are into skulls that they decorate (the internet is a twisted place), the trade has been growing. Apparently this used to be eBay’s go-to domain, but in 2016 they banned the sale of all human body parts, and Instagram has picked up the slack in the market. But one does pay a premium for buying in the legal markets – according to one watcher of the human remains trade on Instagram, a high-quality human skull can run close to $20,000.

Lime Scooters 

User accounts are a popular dark web target for hackers and crackers – from Uber and Lyft accounts to QSR mobile wallets, if consumers store payment credential or gift cards in it, odds are very good that it will become a target for cybercriminals looking to harvest the data and sell it on the dark web for a very reasonable price.

As it turns out, Lime scooter accounts have become a favorite target for this type of activity, with user accounts suddenly flooding the dark web. And they’re cheap – according to Vice, the average charge for an active Lime account is between $12 and $15.

Lime is, understandably, less than thrilled.

“While this is not caused by any Lime security vulnerability, this illegal and dangerous behavior is absolutely against Lime policy and will not be tolerated on the Lime platform. We strongly remind our users that sharing account access information with any third party is against our user agreement and can expose them to significant cybersecurity risk,” a Lime representative said.

The fun part of the story, however, is why Lime accounts are suddenly so popular: They are cheap when compared to Uber and other ridesharing accounts. A few years ago, one could get an Uber credential for as little as $1 – but these days, they tend to cost north of $40. Lime scooters are the better deal these days – because even on the dark web, value shoppers exist.

Although we wouldn’t recommend carrying out your weekend eCommerce on the dark web, take comfort in the knowledge that not everyone browsing it is necessarily a criminal mastermind gathering tools. Some people are just looking for parrots – and a way to get their deep-sea fishing career off the ground.

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New PYMNTS Report: The CFO’s Guide To Digitizing B2B Payments – August 2020 

The CFO’s Guide To Digitizing B2B Payments, a PYMNTS and Comdata collaboration, examines how companies are updating their AP approaches to protect their cash flows, support their vendors and enable their financial departments to operate remotely.

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