Three Germans have been charged on Friday by US prosecutors with administering one of the world’s largest dark web marketplaces, Wall Street Market, a site with thousands of listings for drugs, contraband, counterfeit goods and illegal narcotics.
Shortly before they were apprehended by German authorities end of April, the three conducted an “exit scam”--that is, they stole all the money held in escrow and in user accounts on the site, an amount of nearly US$11 million, according to investigators.
Exit scams are common on dark web sites, says the US Department of Justice, which often hold money in escrow until users affirm the goods have been delivered.
The three men are now in custody in Germany. They are alleged to have operated the site for over three years.
The US Justice Department describes Wall Street Market as a “sophisticated” online marketplace where over 5400 vendors sold everything from crystal meth to computer hacking software.
A YouTube tour of Wall Street Market posted in March shows “CRYSTAL METH ROCKS DUTCH UNCUT” going for 30 Euros per gram, a counterfeit Maltese passport being sold for US $3,920, and fake hundred dollar bills.
The investigation linked the German administrators of Wall Street Market to a previous dark-web site based in Germany, and then to computer servers in Germany and the Netherlands that processed the data. The administrators used VPNs to conceal their identities, but were linked to the site in a number of ways. One was discovered when his VPN failed and his IP address was visible to authorities.
“We are on the hunt for even the tiniest of breadcrumbs to identify criminals on the dark web,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott of the investigation.
“The prosecution of these defendants shows that even the smallest mistake will allow us to figure out a cybercriminal’s true identity.”