A recent report by the research firm Elliptic shows that sellers on the darknet are selling face masks, diagnostics kits, and fake cures for COVID-19 for Bitcoin. The darknet marketplaces are often used to sell contraband such as drugs and stolen credit cards. However, it appears they are now also selling face masks and other things related to COVID-19.
About the Sales
According to the report, sellers from Russia, Europe, and the US are hoping to cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic by selling gear such as fake tests and masks for Bitcoin. The dark web is often used for untraceable transactions that are done in cryptocurrencies. However, the authorities have improved their ability to track down transactions on the dark web. Recently, US authorities announced the sale of thousands of crypto coins seized from the darknet.
Capitalizing On Lack Of Supply
The sale of face masks comes as governments globally rush to secure supplies of protective equipment such as masks for their medical staff dealing with COVID-19 victims. Thus far, over a million people have been infected globally and tens of thousands have succumbed to the virus. The intense competition to secure protective equipment has turned even the genuine marketplaces into the Wild West.
In some cases, people have been arrested for price gouging by trying to sell N95 face masks for prices above the normal $1 before the crisis. The high demand has led to an erosion of standard quality controls, which has led to substandard masks of uncertain origin flooding the market.
The Elliptic researchers characterized the dark web sellers of the medical equipment as opportunistic. Thus far, there are hundreds of listings for the high-end N95 masks with each going for almost €9. Other sellers are offering the same masks for around $1.50. However, it is almost impossible to determine the quality of these masks.
The last time N95 face masks were needed to this extend was when "SARS" outbreak was relevant over a decade ago. While everybody is trying to get their hands on this product, the dark web is capitalizing on the opportunity to scam people. The lack of supply is most related to the manufacturing process of N95 masks. Many people look at the mask and believe it's easy to make, when in reality it's a complex process. According to a report by NPR:
"Making masks is not as easy as you imagine. We have to make the ear loops and the metal strip, the packaging. There is a pretty big system involved," Guan Xunze, chairman of pharmaceutical group Shengjingtong in northeastern China."
Test Kits Sales
Besides masks, the sellers are offering unverified and unspecified test kits for over $90 each. The sales for chloroquine, a drug touted by President Trump for being able to cure COVID-19, are also high. While it is not easy to determine the authenticity of these sales, the Elliptic report notes that about two-thirds of the darknet sellers could be considered genuine due to the high user ratings. Besides that, they note that the sellers have a huge number of past sellers who have left glowing reviews.
The report noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, about a third of those selling coronavirus-related items were focused on selling drugs and other contraband. It also notes that about 45% of the sellers were focused on selling items related to fraud such as offering counterfeit banknotes and hacking services. Other items being sold on the dark web are toilet paper and cannabis, according to the report.
Dark Web Is Always Risky
It is always risky to purchase anything on the dark web. For one, once you send BTC, the transaction is irreversible. You might also end up being implicated in a criminal network since the sellers of some of the COVID-19-related items are also involved in the sale of other illegal items.
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