It's been three days since one of the most popular darknet marketplaces, Empire Market, went offline. Customers have been unable to access their accounts and the administrators have seemingly gone off the radar without a trace. Sellers are distressed over the loss of funds, and some have even reported being the victims of Dusting Attacks whereby they've received small amounts of bitcoin in an attempt to deanonymize their cryptocurrency earnings.
According to Bloomberg, the Empire Market dealt with drugs, fake documents, malware, etc., and ranked among the most trafficked illicit online marketplaces after the shutdown of sites like Silk Road, AlphaBay, and Hansa. But what exactly caused Empire Market to go offline is unclear.
Bloomberg interviewed Mark Arena, CEO of Intel 471, a cybersecurity firm that tracks darknet marketplaces, who believes that there are two likely reasons for the sudden disappearance. Either the site administrators were arrested by law enforcement agencies or they have scammed customers and went off the radar with escrowed money.
We've seen the former happen with the October 2013 shutdown of Silk Road by the FBI. The latter is also likely because Empire Market operated on the basis of escrowing money whereby anyone wishing to sell makes a deposit, which was held in escrow, giving the administrators control over it. Not only this, but a site moderator who goes by the name 'se7en' has also seemingly deleted his Dread account, and another moderator 'Melbourne' has confirmed that an exit scam is likely. While the exact figure of escrowed money is difficult to gauge, Mark Arena estimates at least 'single-digit millions' to be involved here.