AlphaBay Market, a prominent dark web marketplace that facilitates the sale of drugs and other illegal items, went down last night 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’s not 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 $3.8 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 $3.8 million in bitcoin transfers “definitely add to the suspicion a bit,” Tyler Carbone, the chief product officer 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 $33.6 million. (The US Marshals Service later sold the bitcoins in a series of auctions.)
AlphaBay, which launched in 2014, has been down since around midnight ET. According to the site Dark Net Stats, AlphaBay is normally pretty reliable, with a 97% 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.”
Update 7/6/17 at 11:00 a.m. ET: It looks like users’ fears were unwarranted. An AlphaBay moderator posted on Reddit that the site’s developers and administrators “are working to restore AlphaBay as soon as possible.” In the meantime, the moderator warned users to beware of phishing scams.
A Terbium Lab analyst told Gizmodo that they are quite skeptical of an exit scam, in part because of AlphaBay’s size and its team’s competency. “If they’re going to go out, they’d do a good job of it, and that’s not what this looks like to me as of yet,” the analyst said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Tyler Carbone’s title; he is Terbium Labs’ chief product officer, not its chief executive.