AlphaBay Market, a prominent dark web marketplace that facilitates the sale of drugs and other illegal items, went down yesterday and users are panicking, afraid the moderators have shut down the site for good and run off with the loot.
But it doesn't seem like users need to worry -- at least not yet.
This wouldn't be the first time administrators of an online black market pulled off such an exit scam -- the dark web market Evolution vanished in 2015, with moderators making off with customers' bitcoins. But it isn't yet clear that AlphaBay's moderators are following the same path.
Most of the fear stems from the coincidental timing of a Bitcoin transaction worth about $5 million dollars. However, the transaction isn't definitively tied to AlphaBay, and a dark web expert told Gizmodo that the amount is rather small if AlphaBay's creators are indeed ripping off their customers.
The $5 million in bitcoin transfers "definitely add to the suspicion a bit," Tyler Carbone, the CEO of the dark web monitoring firm Terbium Labs told Gizmodo. "But honestly that seems like a surprisingly small amount to take, if this truly is an exit scam." When Silk Road was shut down in 2013, the feds seized bitcoins from the site and its founder, Ross Ulbricht, valued at the time to be worth about $US33.6 million ($44.2 million). (The US Marshals Service later sold the bitcoins in a series of auctions.)
AlphaBay, which launched in 2014, has been down since around 2:00PM AEST yesterday. According to the site Dark Net Stats, AlphaBay is normally pretty reliable, with a 97 per cent uptime rate.
"Alphabay (like the other dark net markets) does go up and down from time to time, and so, so far, it's our take that it's a bit premature to call [this an] exit scam," Carbone said. "It's absolutely something to watch, to be sure, but as it's only been down since last night we don't think that's enough evidence yet to be convinced."