Freshers are buying gear on the dark web and having it delivered to their halls
They call it ‘the future of drug dealing’
Dark net markets (DNMs) are a one-stop shop for illegal goods. Counterfeit money, stolen credit cards, hacking services, weapons and drugs are all available here. These are websites on the TOR network, which keeps users anonymous and the location of servers hidden from authorities.
Bitcoin, a virtual “cryptocurrency”, is used to make purchases on these markets, because it is difficult for the authorities to trace due to its anonymous nature. Altogether, it makes the perfect environment for students new to a big city, wanting to buy drugs with little to no actual human contact.
James, a first year Economics student at UCL, has been using the system to buy drugs since shortly before he came to uni. He told us: “I’ve been using dark net markets for about a year now, and I haven’t looked back.
“I discovered the dark web after a friend from home introduced me to it. I couldn’t believe it actually worked until a parcel with a gram of MDMA arrived at my house a couple days later.”
Since coming to uni at UCL, James continued to scour the dark web for drugs, and even had his gear delivered by Royal Mail to his halls.
He prefers the method to buying drugs in real life. James explains: “The quality is miles above the street dealers, especially stuff like coke that’s usually cut up. The prices are lower too.”
Despite the underworld connections of the dark web, the online marketplace runs similar to sites like eBay, with sellers getting feedback from customers on the quality of product, customer service and delivery time.
Sam, a first year engineer and dark net aficionado, believes this is crucial.
He said: “The feedback system and number of vendors mean they really compete for business; they can’t afford to get a bad review from customers by selling low quality or fake products.
“This is the future of drug dealing.”
Until recently, scoring a baggie of your chosen substance involved a nervous phone call and waiting around on a street corner for a shifty character to bring it to you. The Silk Road, created in 2011, came onto the scene as the first widely used online black market. Since then several are up and running, doing millions of dollars of deals every day.
Last year’s Global Drugs Survey found that nearly a quarter of British drug users have bought from the internet. A quick look on Agora – currently the biggest DNM – shows a massive 16,000 listings for a huge variety of uppers, downers and psychadelics, all available in just a few clicks.
So how difficult is it to do? “Not really”, claims James. “I learnt the whole process in about an hour.”
To access the sites, you need a special browser that can navigate TOR. All that remains then is to buy some Bitcoin and order the chosen goods, taking care to encrypt your address before sending it to the vendor.
And it comes pretty quick too. James explains: “Next day delivery is pretty standard if you’re ordering domestic. Usually it comes in a small padded envelope, sealed in a smell proof foil bag, hidden inside a card or packaged inside a kids’ toy.”
Vendors hide the illicit contents of the package by a variety of creative methods to prevent it being intercepted by the authorities, especially when sending internationally. Vacuum sealing inside a Mylar bag is standard, rendering them undetectable by sniffer dogs.
There are also forums where users can review vendors, share knowledge and advice, and vendors can promote their products. Often, the vendors will give out free sample to respected members of the forums in return for a review.
The forums also focus on “harm reduction”, testing the purity of cocaine bought on the dark net and then sharing this information with other users. Some harm reduction groups on the sites speculate dubiously high qualities for their coke, which comes out at “75-98 per cent pure”.
According to Sam, the huge array of drugs available is part of the appeal. He said: “I’ve been able to try psychedelics like LSD and DMT, which I couldn’t find on the street. It sounds stereotypical but they really open your eyes and let you see the beauty of the world.”
James echoes: “Buying online is cheaper, safer and all around better. I believe these markets have saved lives. There’s no violence here, it’s a marketplace, not a cartel.”
But worldwide law enforcement think differently. Recently Ross Ulbricht, founder of the infamous Silk Road, was sentenced to life without parole in the US for setting up the marketplace, after a two year investigation by the FBI.