If you told me several months ago that the dark web will be my safe place to escape to from the overwhelming news about a worldwide pandemic, I would have said this sounds like a cheap plot from a class B horror movie.
Yet, here we are…
Last week I talked about some coronavirus related scams and since then we have only seen more of these, arriving via different channels and getting more sophisticated.
There is a heightened online activity all around the world, with many countries imposing restrictions on travel and business.
At the same time online scams increase, with the increase of our digital presence.
Since the majority of regular activities we all used to engage in ceased or slowed down, so has traditional crime. But visit any dark web forum and you will quickly see heightened levels of hustling and bustling around all matters drug related.
The postal services in most countries are so far functioning as normal, so the drug trade takes place largely uninterrupted, with postmen and postwomen more frequently than ever assuming the unaware role of drugs distributors.
While most of the discussions on the dark web forums revolve around issues like price, quality and “stealth” (safe packaging of drugs to avoid detection and interception), with the increased activity come increased risks.
More experienced users share advice and warnings with the newbies:
“Just giving a heads up that there is dodgy xanax bars doing the rounds. My mate died 4 days ago from an overdose, We didn’t know what from but now we do. Toxicology reports came back showing he had high levels of some drug called “AH-7921” in his system. Upon finding this the bars where also tested and where found to contain absolutely zero alprazolam but contained this opioid analgesic drug..
They came from the UK, They are the long skinny xanax bars not the fat ones. Not sure what vendor he got them off but if I find out I will be posting his name.
So just be careful when taking any bars at the moment that came from the UK, Its best bet to have them tested using an ez-test kit or even sucking on one of them, If it tastes chalky and doesnt have a bitter taste then its something else than alprazolam.”
This may be obvious to anybody researching the dark web, but the general public rarely realises that dark web forums like The Hub, Dread or the recently revived Onionland contain a lot of practical training materials for wannabe criminals who openly exchange their experiences in various areas of illegal activity, including:
- advice on new shipment channels and methods of drug money laundering
- product distribution and new strategies of drug concealment
- testing drugs before consumption using special test kits
- strategies for perpetrating carding, online fraud and various scams
- best practices for safe use of false documents as well as abuses of various third party services
- studying successful law enforcement operations and applying the “lessons learned” approach
Example advice from Onionland:
“The only real hard work about doing this type of fraud is two main things.
The first being plotting out your route and wearing disposable clothes.
Find the shop you want to card from and do a walk to / from said location to peer around, find where the cameras are and aren’t and where you’re going to throw away the clothes / burn them.”
“Another tip is for during the heist, if for whatever reason the cashier asks for either identification tell them you left it in the car and ask them to “hold your stuff for you”
Walk the fuck out of the store and never come back.
And if they ask you to wait there while they go in the back to check something.
Walk the fuck out of the store and never come back.”
General free advice offered on forums as part of the criminal fraternity’s community engagement is merely one of the cheapest methods of dark web “education”.
For those who wanted to elevate themselves to the next level, various dark web markets offer comprehensive manuals of specific types of cyber crimes.
Their cost varies and is roughly what you would expect to pay for an e-book on Amazon.
One of such manuals found its way into the clearnet last year and it gives a rare glimpse into the mindset as well as the techniques used by online scammers preying on users of various online dating platforms.
Online dating and social media sites are a prime target for romance scams and the majority of these are perpetrated by scammers using template documents containing readily available sets of responses and conversation primers aimed at magnifying emotional engagement with the victims.
Let’s look at one example below:
The manual is conveniently structured to contain chat up line that can be copied and pasted into online chats. There are several variants to choose from; one of the more popular ones is “the soldier scam”, where the scammer targets an unsuspecting female pretending to be a soldier on overseas deployment:
Romance scams manuals are primitive enough and they mainly rely on targeting the victim’s emotions.
Technology is not the deciding factor in these types of crimes – as opposed to for instance carding scams, which target the non-human element of the financial systems.
Carding means fraudulently obtaining someone’s credit card information and using it to purchase goods by the scammer without the consent / knowledge of the victim. This can be done either online (the card not present fraud) or by using a cloned card in the physical shop.
Carding manuals include detailed guidelines from how to use stolen credit cards online, to actually setting up an insider carding operation, where a dishonest employee with easy access to a terminal can scam customers at the place of work / business:
Finally, as the parting thought I want to include a couple of useful links where scam victims share information on the scammers.
As everything on the internet, this should be taken with a pinch of salt, but these sites can be useful for comparing images / profiles of a person that you suspect of being a scammer: