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Evolution devolves: When dark Web drug deals go badly

A rumored scam may have dealt a bigger blow to online black market Evolution than law enforcement ever did

(Editor's note: The video above was produced before Evolution, a dark net marketplace, disappeared.)

The takedown of the online black market Silk Road in October 2013 was considered an enormous victory for the FBI. And for the Silk Road's buyers and sellers, it was an alarming defeat. 

"I was terrified," said a New York City college student, who ordered recreational drugs like acid, cocaine and MDMA off the dark Web market as a high schooler. "I was thinking, what if they started figuring out where all these packages were going? What if they tracked mine? What if they came to my house?"

In the 18 months since the FBI seized Silk Road, more dark Web marketplaces – invisible to most search engines – sprang up in its place. And the undisputed leader in the post-Silk Road world was Evolution: slickly designed, user-friendly and booming with trade.

But in the past day, Evolution vanished from the face of the Internet.

Unlike Silk Road's demise, there are no signs that law enforcement had a role. Buyers and sellers have been shocked by the rumor that the site's own administrators shut it down and made off with millions in other people's money.

"The admins are preparing to exit scam with all the funds," a person alleging to be an Evolution vendor with access to the site's backend posted anonymously Tuesday on Reddit. "Not a single withdrawal has gone through in almost a week. Automatic withdrawals has been disabled…I am so sorry, but [the administrators] Verto and Kimble have f***ed us all."

The vendor added: "Confronted Kimble and Verto about it, they confirmed it and they're doing it right now," noting that he had $20,000 in an Evolution escrow account. "I'm gutted and speechless. I feel so betrayed."

Since Silk Road, dark Web markets have gotten darker. While narcotics were by far the most popular listings on Evolution, it also did a swift trade in stolen bank information and other illicit activities.

"Silk Road had a real set terms of service. They specifically forbade anyone from being allowed to sell anything that's designed to harm other people," said Roger Ver, a pioneer of Bitcoin, the preferred currency of the dark Web. "So they were not allowed to sell stolen credit cards, they were not allowed to sell child pornography And now that the original Silk Road is gone, there's maybe two dozen other dark net markets that had, you know, anything goes." 

Even with the demise of the Silk Road, the sale of narcotics remains steady on the dark Web.
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Last week, before Evolution's apparent collapse, America Tonight reached out to an Evolution vendor called Dmitri, who had a 100 percent approval rating, and asked how much he would charge for 100 Bank of America logins.

He responded within minutes, saying that he didn't have that many on hand, but that he'd be happy "to load up his phishing pages and get to work. 100 is a lot though and not cheap."

Phishing refers to the hacking technique of setting up a phony online page where users, thinking the website's authentic, enter their login details.

Before launching their mega-market, Evolution's administrators ran Tor Carding Forums, a market specifically for stolen bank information, according to Dan Palumbo, a dark Web researcher at Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit focused on Internet safety. He said Evolution targeted hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting victims.

"It certainly is an interesting dynamic that criminals continue to trust people that they know are also criminals with their money when they have no recourse to get it back," Palumbo said.

If Evolution's administrators really scammed its users, Palumbo says it will have dealt a bigger blow to dark net listings than the crackdown in November, when international authorities arrested 17 people and seized several dark Web markets that had gained popularity after Silk Road, including the Silk Road 2.0 market.

And it may have a more lasting impact, too.

The New York City student, who asked to remain anonymous, stopped using dark Web markets after the recent arrests. She started buying anti-anxiety drugs on a regular "clearnet" website, which doesn't require a special browser. But her orders were being seized by customs, so she considered using Evolution.

"I felt like [dark Web markets] were finally starting to get reliable again," she said. "But now, I don't know if I can trust them."

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