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Millions lost in potential darknet marketplace exit scam

Evolution has vanished and this time it doesn't look like it's the FBI

Evolution, the world's largest and most popular darknet marketplace, is now completely unreachable. Since the FBI shutdown Silk Road and Silk Road 2, Evolution had risen to the top of the table as the darknet's most successful drugs market. But over the weekend, signs started to appear that something wasn't right – and this time it doesn't look like it was the feds.

Evolution was a darknet site renowned for never being offline, an unusual trait for such marketplaces – Silk Road often suffered from periods of downtime. It was this consistent online activity that actually led to speculation that Evolution was a "honeypot", a term given to darknet markets set up by federal agents looking to trap dealers. Silk Road 2.0, run by Blake Benthall, was said to be an FBI-run trap.

This weekend, Evolution prevented users from withdrawing Bitcoin (BTC) from the site, citing technical difficulties as the reason. Then, late last evening, the Evolution marketplace and its popular user forum went offline, without any opportunity for members to withdraw BTC from their wallets.

It appears that there hasn't been any federal involvement with the shutdown - last time each darknet marketplace was closed down, a message appeared telling anyone viewing it that it had been seized by the FBI. This time, no such message, prompting fears that the site's admins have escaped with millions of pounds of members' money and retired to a life of luxury, immorally obtained.

This post, written by someone claiming to be an Evolution staff member, appeared 12 hours ago on a darknet subreddit:

There's no way of confirming if the exit scam is true, nor is there any way of establishing exactly how much money they'll have made, but Evolution was a site in rude health. The figure will be in the millions. Maybe people should seen this coming – Evolution sold stolen identity, something other marketplaces steered clear of.

Verto, one of the site's admins accused of making off with people's money, previously ran a site that dealt exclusively in credit card fraud. The people running Evolution didn't exactly have a great track record for moral trading.

The disappearance of Evolution is something that will affect a lot of people, both vendors and buyers. One sad story has emerged on Reddit, posted by the friend of a man who has allegedly killed himself in the wake of Evolution's shutdown, presumably after losing a lot of money and potentially owing a lot to other dealers. The poster asking for people to donate to his BTC wallet so he can pass the funds onto the family.

If, as it looks, the disappearance of Evolution does turn out to be an exit scam, it's likely to have huge consequences for darknet marketplaces. While such sites represent a new era of purchasing illegal substances straight to your door, they remain the internet's Wild West, murky worlds where scammers can exist alongside honest vendors without any real way of discerning between the two.

It's hard to know whether rival sites such as Agora will flourish or flounder in the wake of Evolution's downfall. It may take a long time for the deep web drugs community to reestablish an atmosphere of trust in these intriguing tunnels of the internet.