The darknet's biggest contraband marketplace has vanished in a suspected £8 million swindle that's sent tremors of panic through the online drug buying community. Evolution – which had become the go-to site for anything from heroin and ketamine to guns and fake passports since the FBI closed down Silk Road 2.0 in November – appears to have been a lavish scam.
On Tuesday, Evolution's administrators – whose pseudonyms are Vert and Kimble – brought the shutters down on their site and ran off with all the money drug dealers and buyers had stored in their accounts. The amount of bitcoins hoarded, according to a number of Evolution merchants, amounts to around £8 million, or $12 million.
One Evolution customer, TripAddict, posted on Reddit's darknet markets forum (all sic):
100% confirmed Evo is donzo. God dammit. I'm happy and sad at the same time. I was about to deposit about 200 worth of BTC and then this happens. Glad i didnt get fucked. I feel for the people who did tho.
To the Evo admins who scammed: I hope you enjoy the 12M and screwing thousands of dealers and loyal buyers you fucking cunts.
Shortly before, NSWGreat, a drug dealer on Evolution who claims to know the site's administrators, warned users (all sic):
I hate to [be] the bearer of bad news, but I've been suspicious the past few days with withdrawals not working and admins usually are more forth coming in explaining to me why they're slow but they weren't this time.
I have admin access to see parts of the back end, the admins are preparing to exit scam with all the funds. Not a single withdrawal has gone through in almost a week. Automatic withdrawals has been disabled.
I am so sorry, but Verto and Kimble have fucked us all. I have over $20,000 in escrow myself from sales.
I can't fucking believe it, absolute scum. I am giving this warning to you all as soon as I possibly could of.
Evolution had been one of two main darknet sites – the other is Agora – to pick up the slack after the demise of Silk Road 2.0 last year, when the FBI seized £2.5 million worth of bitcoins stored in its users' accounts. Earlier this year, Ross Ulbricht was convicted of running the original Silk Road.
This is not the first time darknet markets have turned out to be a scam. In 2013, those running two sites – Atlantis and the Sheep Marketplace – made off with all the bitcoins. The Sheep scam netted the site's turncoat administrators an estimated £3.6 million.
Accessed through the anonymous browser Tor, Evolution had a reputation as a busy, reliable and efficient marketplace, which is perhaps why so many people got stung.
Mike Power, the author of Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That's Changing How the World Gets High, told me there would be serious fallout from the Evolution robbery.
"Evolution was the best-designed, best-coded and best-administrated of all the darknet markets. It had the look and feel of a legitimate website – pages loaded quickly and uptime was very solid," he explained. "The guys behind it were old-school hackers and carders from the Tor Carding Forum, and had good technical expertise.
"This was a brilliantly executed, breathtakingly huge scam and should serve as a warning to all dark web shoppers to never store their bitcoins in a centralised marketplace such as this. Users can't trust anything or anyone – but even that level of uncertainty is better for many than dealing face to face with regular dealers.
"Someone, possibly multiple people, will probably be killed in connection to this, by the way. The site owners have just ripped off thousands of drug dealers. Many dealers there operate on credit terms for bigger dealers. It's an awful scenario, there will be a lot of blood spilt."
Last night, as news of Evolution's demise spread, a new darknet site called Ironclad appeared. Its stated purpose: "to be complete, reliable and secure".
Whether punters and dealers believe this mission statement is another matter altogether.