These are strange times for crypto. While it’s blood in the markets, it’s business as usual on the darknet, where marketplaces are seeing a steady inflow of cryptocurrency. They’re also seeing an inflow of new users as the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic make online commerce the safest way to shop.
Retail Downturn Leaves the High Street Reeling The economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak are creating major winners and losers. The fate of airlines, cruise ships, and travel agents requires no explanation, while the retail sector is succumbing to the pressure the virus is exerting on everything. All non-essential shops in Italy have been closed, while a broader retail downturn has threatened the closure of one of the U.K.’s largest shopping center owners.
On the web, however, it’s business as usual, save for a few supply chain hiccups. With large parts of the world in lockdown, consumers are staying at home more and ordering more goods and services to their door – darknet wares included. On darknet markets (DNMs), the coronavirus is being treated as both a threat and an opportunity to profit.
Vendors Discuss Coronavirus Impact on Shipping
On darknet forum Dread, a thread titled “How does the coronavirus outbreak have an impact on market transactions?” prompted one vendor to respond: “Online purchases are going to increase a lot because people will want to be in their home in quarantine. Therefore postal services will collapse and delivery times will increase a lot like Christmas.” Several DNM users have reported deliveries taking longer than usual to arrive; shoppers on the clearnet have also experienced delays as retailers battle to meet higher demand from a housebound populace.
To stimulate trade, one DNM vendor has been running a “buy one get one free” offer on digital goods. “Makes sense,” replied the admin of Monopoly market. “Run a coronavirus special that’ll get you some clout.”
People are buying surgical masks on the darknet.— dark.fail (@DarkDotFail) March 12, 2020
Take the pricing with skepticism, a common seller tactic is to sharply raise prices when an item is out of stock to halt sales. source: Empire Market #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/JV1a5I1Fnp
Dubious Claims About Corona-Fighting Wares
While the majority of darknet vendors are dutifully shipping orders, a handful have sought to capitalize on the coronavirus panic in less scrupulous ways. On White House Market, one seller is listing TCH capsules with the strapline “Protect yourself from the coronavirus” and the insistence that daily dosage will “help your immune system.” On the clearnet, Google has been working to clear coronavirus misinformation, but on the darknet, users must keep their wits about them and exercise their own judgement. No change there.
On Dread, user “covid19mask” is hawking coronavirus masks for $20 apiece, payable in bitcoin on Empire Market, but with “free sanitizer.” There appear to be few takers. Other vendors are more concerned with leveraging the supply problems caused by the coronavirus. “Currently all the superlabs are shut down not able to get the precursor liquid from China necessary to cook the meth,” explains one crystal meth seller. “I don’t see this changing until the coronavirus subsides and China is able to ship freight normally again. The price has already quintupled on me to purchase here locally in Mexico.”
Are Darknet Markets Safer Than the Streets?
Proponents of darknet markets are prone to emphasizing the harm reduction benefits of using DNMs over street dealers. As all forms of physical contact fall out of favor, and people self-isolate, the greatest harm reduction the darknet may offer is in helping to contain the coronavirus spread. Nevertheless, DNMs remain susceptible to greater macro trends.
Darknet users: This is not the time to be shipping contraband across borders.— dark.fail (@DarkDotFail) March 12, 2020
Do not assume that sellers disinfect or follow safe handling procedures. Be careful, don't help this thing spread just because you need a fix or an easy profit. #coronavirus
With all non-essential travel between the U.S. and Europe effectively halted, and entire regions on lockdown, international darknet deliveries have taken a hit. So too have the profits of vendors with crypto locked into escrow from when BTC was trading 25% higher. For the most part, the economic effects of the coronavirus have been positive on darknet markets, but the global logistics industry is highly vulnerable to further quarantine measures. A rising infection rate coupled with exceptional strain on the postal service could see ecommerce crippled – the darknet included.
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