The administrators of one of the darknet's most popular markets for drugs and bespoke carjacking services may have just scammed its customers out of untold sums of money.
Evolution, the site in question, rose to prominence after the fall of Silk Road and its unassuming founder, Ross Ulbricht, with a promise of less fraud and greater trust due to its centralized "escrow" system. It was exactly this system that allowed the site's owners to make off with its users' bitcoin.
The escrow system means that Evolution's administrators must sign off on transactions before they go through, and the funds are held in escrow before they do. According to a post on the r/darknets subreddit made by a user named NSWGreat who claimed to have access to the site's back end, Evolution's administrators—Verto and Kimble—have shut down the market and taken everyone's funds stored in the market's "escrow" vaults.
This is a version of the "exit scam," a known darknet scam that involves a seller collecting a user's Bitcoin without mailing their packages and then disappearing without a trace.
"This may fuck my business pretty good"
If the Evolution administrators did scam the site's users, posts on Agora and Reddit indicate that the amount could be in the millions, with users having tens of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin in escrow.
"I am so sorry, but Verto and Kimble have fucked us all. I have over $20,000 in escrow myself from sales," wrote NSWGreat. "I can't fucking believe it, absolute scum. I am giving this warning to you all as soon as I possibly could of."
A similar scam was carried out at another one of Silk Road's successors, a market called Sheep, in 2013. Sheep administrators announced that the site had been robbed of bitcoin by a vendor, and shut itself down. Of course, there was no way of telling whether the site was really taken advantage of, or if the administrators hadn't taken off with the bitcoin themselves.
Although Evolution's forums are currently down—along with the site, lending weight to NSWGreat's claims—on the forum of Evolution's competitor market, Agora, users were upset. One vendor, TheRealNurseJoy, posted that they were "enthusiastically accepting donations since Evolution just stole a shite load of money" from them. Another vendor, Trust-In-Us, wrote, "Looks like I am out a good amount of money. This may fuck my business pretty good."
The responses from redditors ranged from shock and awe to bitter desperation. One user who claimed to have 50 bitcoin in escrow on Evolution, the equivalent of roughly $14,000, commented, "I OWE MONEY AND CANT PAY IF THIS IS TRUE. MY LIFES IN DANGER. PLEASE DONT BE TRUE PLEASE."
Some users were more skeptical, however, despite vendors claiming to be out Bitcoin and everyone having a general meltdown. The only solid proof, some redditors noted, was NSWGreat's word. When several users asked for screenshots or suggested that they would be nice to have, NSWGreat responded by saying they "don't take screenshots anyway."
Who you believe depends on who you trust, and on the darknet, trust matters more than you'd think.