The 'Evolution' marketplace, an illicit trading ground accessed through the Tor network, has vanished without warning.
As reported by security expert Brian Krebs on Wednesday, Evolution took the place of Silk Road, a separate online black market also accessible only through Dark Web conduits and the Tor network.
Silk Road, which sold illegal wares from marijuana to fake passports and drugs, was originally shut down in 2013. However, the marketplace resurfaced in 2014, only to once again be closed down late last year by police.
Both online domains relied upon virtual currency in order to trade in illegal goods. Cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin is harder to trace and does not leave an obvious paper trail in the same way as traditional, standard bank transfers. However, reliance on virtual currency also gives the domain operators access to vast amounts of virtual cash being traded if stored in online, hot wallets -- a practice of many Evolution vendors.
Dark Web community members said the moderators of Evo, known by the handles Verto and Kimble, delayed payments and withdrawals over the past few days, blaming technical difficulties and high processing volumes. Vendors then discovered that the Evo marketplace and forum had been taken offline without warning.
Moderators on Reddit's Evolution Market thread believe the sudden takedown is part of an exit scam. A message reportedly sent from Evo to users said a new marketplace will be opened to the public in the next few weeks, following upgrades to hardware for both the onion and future I2P site. The website moderators also said Evolution is "changing" due to recent Darknet arrests, and "our new I2P marketplace will change the way we buy/sell anonymously online."
However, the discussion taking place on Reddit takes a sour view of such a message. Vendors and buyers with Bitcoin stored at the domain say they have lost access to their funds, with some claiming to have lost cryptocurrency worth tens of thousands of dollars. It is believed the message and takedown of Evolution is an "exit scam" -- in other words, the website owners took the money and ran.
One Evolution admin and vendor, NSWGreat, wrote:
"I have admin access to see parts of the back end, the admins are preparing to exit scam with all the funds. Not a single withdrawal has gone through in almost a week. Automatic withdrawals has been disabled which is only doing on rare occasions I am so sorry, but Verto and Kimble have f-cked us all. I have over $20,000 in escrow myself from sales.
Confronted Kimble and Verto about it, they confirmed it and they're doing it right now."
While there is no official confirmation of an exit scam, a forum moderator appears to have confirmed the heist just before the site closed, and some of the Evolution community have pointed to a Bitcoin blockchain which is believed to be Evolution's master chain -- with roughly $12 million in Bitcoin stored.
Ex-Evolution vendors are currently discussing the use of another marketplace, Agora, and are also attempting to keep their contact lists alive through Reddit.
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