How to Stay Safe on Dark Web Marketplaces in 2022

Shopping cart with a box inside, laptop and dark web symbol
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Quick Summary: Stay Safe on Dark Web Marketplaces

Dark web marketplaces generally pose a lot of risks. To help our readers, we researched the many risks that they pose. Here’s what we found:

  1. Dark web marketplaces are very difficult to access due to reduced browsing speeds on Tor and DDoS protection.
  2. Products available on darknet markets are primarily illegal.
  3. There are many scammers on such marketplaces.
  4. You’ll need to use Bitcoin or Monero to make purchases on the dark web.
  5. Popular marketplaces are frequently shut down due to law enforcement crackdowns.

These are some of the many dangers that you can expect to face on dark web marketplaces. While we highly recommend that you avoid such marketplaces, if you do want to visit one, make sure you use a VPN before connecting with Tor.

Read the rest of the article for more information on the dangers of dark web marketplaces and tips that can help you stay safe.

The dark web is a source of great intrigue for internet users. Most of us have heard about a dark web marketplace where one can buy anything from weapons to fake or hacked bank accounts.

There are more than 45 darknet marketplaces currently operating in 2022, with some of them being relatively legitimate while others can be downright harmful.

While you might be curious to explore these darknet marketplaces yourself, our general advice would be to steer clear of them. The dark web is generally unsafe, and in many cases, dark web marketplaces are often the hub of criminal activity and illicit trade.

We explored some of the largest and most popular dark web marketplaces to give you an idea about what to expect. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting dark web marketplaces.

Always Use a VPN When Accessing Dark Web Marketplaces

The dark web is the part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines like Google. You can only access websites on the dark web using a specific onion link and a special browser known as the Tor browser.

Accessing the dark web inherently isn’t a crime. However, as mentioned, dark web marketplaces are mostly used for illicit trade and illegal activities, which is why you need to avoid them unless you’re confident about your network security.

Connect to the Dark Web with a VPN iconIf you buy something that’s illegal, you could be caught and charged with a crime. It’s also possible to attract the attention of criminals or other unfriendly individuals, like hackers.

In case you just want to explore a dark web marketplace, you should always use a virtual provider network (VPN) before doing so. A VPN encrypts your online activity and adds a layer of security to your network. Of course, the Tor browser will also be necessary.

We highly recommend NordVPN for safe surfing on the dark web due to its dedicated Onion over VPN routers.

Secure your web activity with NordVPN

Darknet Marketplaces: What You’ll Find

This section provides a broad overview of our experience accessing dark web marketplaces. We cover how easy they are to access, the kind of products and services available, and how they are different from conventional eCommerce marketplaces.

Accessing dark web marketplaces

Due to the illicit nature of items sold on these platforms and the law enforcement agencies that are constantly after them, dark web marketplaces are usually very difficult to access. Apart from the extra steps that you’ll have to take before accessing the dark web, some marketplaces require users to register first.

Like all sites on the darknet, these dark web marketplaces are only accessible through the Tor browser. Your internet speeds will be slower when using Tor as traffic is sent through three nodes spread across the world. As a result, you can expect slower browsing speeds.

Of course, the struggles don’t end here. Darknet marketplaces are particularly vulnerable to DDoS attacks. To stave off such attacks, they usually require users to solve complex problems to prove they’re not bots. The problems include identifying shapes or connecting different images.

Screenshot of DDoS Vicemarket

These DDoS prevention tools are far more complicated than your average CAPTCHA and take some time to work out. Moreover, the problems need to be solved within a set time period.

We needed more than a couple of attempts to get past the CAPTCHA challenge on dark web marketplaces like Bohemia. Others, like Tor2Door, had far simpler DDoS defenders and were resultantly easier to access, though perhaps not as safe.

Overall, accessing dark web marketplaces is a far cry from the ease and simplicity of eCommerce marketplaces most people are accustomed to.

Range of products

It’s not surprising that many products available on dark web marketplaces are illegal. While there is some variance between marketplaces, the most common products are drugs and contraband items.

You will find cannabis, cocaine, meth, LSD, and virtually every other drug you can think of. Opioids like fentanyl can also be bought on such dark web marketplaces,

Screenshot of Royal Market website

Some markets, like Archetyp and Incognito, exclusively deal in drugs. This leads to a fewer number of listings overall. The largest marketplaces, such as DarkFox, have over 45,000 listings, while more niche marketplaces usually have between 800 to 2,500 listings.

Besides drugs, you can also buy counterfeit currencies, pirated software, and erotica on darknet marketplaces. Marketplaces like Vice Market also deal in software, custom malware, and other harmful digital products. Some even also allow you to contract with criminals, like hitmen or professional spies.

As you can imagine, buying banned substances or engaging in any criminal activity can land you in jail. Hence, we highly recommend that you avoid buying anything from such marketplaces.

Types of sellers

When shopping online, we’re used to platforms like Amazon showing us products from the best and most reliable sellers. However, this is not the case on dark web marketplaces, so you’ll have to often risk more when making a transaction.

It’s incredibly important to be sure that you’re dealing with a seller who is reliable and has a proven track record of sales. As we’ll cover later, a majority of sellers use dark web marketplaces to defraud and scam users.

You can avoid the hassle of checking individual buyer profiles by using darknet marketplaces that require sellers to pay a bond to enlist their products. For instance, Vice City Market requires sellers to deposit bonds worth $300, which helps reduce the number of illegitimate sellers on the platform.

How do darknet marketplaces look?

These websites aren’t as flashy or as well-designed as most eCommerce stores. The typical layout involves product listings arranged in columns. The left-hand side features a column with different categories, as visible in the picture below.

Screenshot of AlphaBay website

You can narrow down the visible products by selecting particular categories. Besides product listings and categories, you can also see your wallet balance on the home screen (if the marketplace allows that option).

The design is so simple because it helps reduce loading times. It’s one of the reasons why they often resemble sites from the early 2000s. They’re generally quite lightweight, so you don’t even need a fast connection to access one.

Remember, there’s no recourse available for transactions you make on dark web marketplaces, which is another reason to steer clear of them. Some marketplaces also allow sellers to create a custom shop page, which lends a degree of credibility to the seller.

How do you pay on a dark web marketplace?

When purchasing items on darknet marketplaces, you can’t use normal fiat currencies like the dollar. Instead, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Monero are used to make transactions.

Sellers and buyers prefer cryptocurrencies as they’re harder to trace and make payments more anonymous. A crypto wallet is required to make transactions involving Bitcoin and Monero. As a result, you must know how to set up a wallet and send cryptocurrency to other wallets.

Most marketplaces use an escrow system to complete transactions. This means that the money a buyer sends is placed in a secure account until the goods are received. Once the buyer confirms that the goods have been received, the money is transferred to the seller’s wallet.

If you want another layer of security when buying crypto, or if buying crypto is banned in your country, you can just use a crypto trading VPN to make yourself virtually untraceable.

Some marketplaces also offer a “Finalize Early” or FE system of transactions. This means that the amount is transferred to the vendor when they mark it as shipped, as opposed to being held in the escrow account until the transaction is completed.

Dark Web Marketplaces Are Shut Down Frequently

When browsing through different darknet marketplaces, we realized that several of the most popular ones had been shut down. The illegal nature of these marketplaces makes them a constant target for governments and law enforcement agencies.

In some cases, the site admins themselves decide to shut their marketplaces down. The reasons usually include not having the necessary resources to keep the marketplace running or achieving a pre-determined financial target.

We also found several fake sites impersonating popular dark web marketplaces that have popped up. These fake marketplaces are used for obtaining financial information and credentials from unsuspecting users.

To ensure that our readers don’t fall into such a phishing trap, we’ve listed the popular darknet marketplaces that are no longer active.

Hydra Market

Hydra was a Russian-language dark web marketplace. It was the largest marketplace in the world till early 2022 and was notorious as the destination for ransomware hacks. It was taken down by German authorities in May 2022. They also recovered close to 23 million euros in BTC by seizing Hydra’s servers.

White House Market

By mid-2021, White House Market had become one of the largest dark web marketplaces in the world. It had nearly 47,500 listings and catered to users around the world.

However, the market’s admins announced that they would be retiring as they had reached their desired fiscal target.

Silk Road

Silk Road was the first modern dark web marketplace. It launched in 2011 and serviced nearly 100,00 buyers and vendors at its peak.

However, in 2013, the FBI shut down the site and arrested its owner in a dramatic sting operation. The US government recovered close to $1 billion due to Silk Road’s seizure.

ToRReZ Market

ToRReZ was a unique, community-driven marketplace. It prioritized the creation of a safe environment for vendors and buyers to transact in. However, its admins announced the website’s closure in December 2021 due to personal reasons.

ToRReZ took steps to offer an improved shopping experience to its users, and apart from White House Market, was one of the only marketplaces that shut down on their own terms.

The Many Dangers of Using Dark Web Marketplaces

Infographic showing dangers of Dark Web markets

Dark web markets are primarily used to sell narcotics, stolen data, illegal goods and services, and counterfeit items. They are often used by criminals and are generally quite dangerous. Here are some of the many dangers that dark web marketplaces pose.

Phishing

As we mentioned above, there are several dark websites masquerading as marketplaces. They try and dupe users into sharing their wallet details with them to extract money. Always check the PGP encryption signature of the admins and vendors when using dark web marketplaces.

Exit scams

These occur when a seller continues to accept payments from customers but does not actually deliver the products. Exit scams are common when vendors are considering winding up their operations.

They can simply “exit” the market with the transferred money, with no recourse for buyers. Marketplaces such as Evolution have also pulled exit scams on users by withdrawing escrowed BTC to their personal wallets.

Malware

Digital items are commonly sold on dark web marketplaces. These can often contain malware, such as computer viruses and ransomware that can seriously harm your device.

Many digital files, like stolen credit card information sheets, often contain malicious software designed to infect computers. Unless you’re absolutely sure, we highly recommend that you avoid downloading anything off the dark web.

If you’re purchasing illegal items on the dark web, then you can potentially get in trouble with legal authorities. In some countries, simply using the dark web or Tor network is also illegal. Always check the legal status of the Tor network and the dark web in your country before accessing it.

How Users Safely Access Dark Web Marketplaces

Given the dangers associated with dark web marketplaces, users tend to adopt necessary safety and security measures:

  1. They use a VPN to change their IP address and avoid malicious exit nodes on the Tor browser. This helps to keep them anonymous.
  2. They install a good antivirus scanner to eliminate malware threats on any dark web marketplace.
  3. They disable JavaScript and Flash in their Tor browser. While JavaScript and Flash plugins allow for dynamic content, such as videos, on websites, they are commonly used to inject exploits and vulnerabilities into systems, too.
  4. They don’t reveal any personal information when accessing a dark web marketplace. There’s an elevated risk of hackers and scammers misusing it, so they go online with fake names and email addresses instead.

Keep in mind that we don’t recommend our readers visit dark web marketplaces themselves. Any illegal goods bought there will still be illegal, no matter what measures were taken while buying them.

Exercise Caution When Accessing Dark Web Marketplaces

This article should help you understand what darknet markets are, the dangers they pose, and how to protect yourself. While it’s interesting to explore the darker parts of the internet, dark web marketplaces present very real dangers to users.

Hence, we’d strongly advise users to stay away from them. If you do visit a dark web marketplace, don’t do so without a VPN and a robust antivirus. Never share personal information and stay away from anything that looks remotely suspicious.

Learn more about the dark web through our list of recommended documentaries on the dark web, or read our guides to the dark web below:

Dark Web Marketplaces: Frequently Asked Questions

Have some questions about dark web marketplaces? Check out the section below where we’ve answered some of the most common questions about dark net markets.

As of June 2022, the largest darknet market is DarkFox Market. It has more than 45,000 listings of various products, including drugs, counterfeit items, and jewelry.

It’s important to make sure that you follow some important safety practices when accessing dark web marketplaces.

Dream Market is no longer active. Its administrator was arrested in 2017 and the site shut down in around 2019. Frequent shutdowns and government crackdowns are one of the many safety issues with dark web marketplaces.

Hydra was the largest darknet market until was shut down in early 2022 by German authorities. Its closure sent major ripples across the dark web ecosystem.

Tech journalist
Mohit is a legal and public policy researcher whose work focuses largely on technology regulation. At VPNOverview, he writes about cybersecurity, cryptocurrencies and sports events.