Russian Dealers Use Dark Web, Old-School Street Tricks to Sell Dope

Picking up drugs in Russia? You might need an app, a compass, and a shovel.

Drug dealers in Russia are fusing old-school street-dealing tactics with modern Internet technology to service a modern, plugged-in clientele. The Russian drug-procurement process goes something like a scavenger hunt: Dealers (commonly referred to as “treasure men”) and users connect on the dark web using Tor––a web browser that anonymizes and reroutes one’s IP address, in order to cloak the user’s Internet activity from any would-be prying eyes. Dealers disguise the contraband in creative packaging, hide it seemingly in plain sight, and then share GPS coordinates and a photo of the location with their buyer.

From The Outline:

“They connect on RAMP, the Russian Anonymous Marketplace, the best-known market on the dark web. They send an anonymous payment with bitcoin or through the terminals used to make money transfers to mobile numbers.”

Think of RAMP kind of like PayPal for nefarious businesses and entrepreneurs whose line of work may be less than savory. But dealers are also held accountable, to some degree. Like many dark net markets, the peer-to-peer exchange relies on user-sourced ratings of the pickup experience. If a treasure man stiffs a client, they risk receiving a low (0-5) rating. 

Sometimes this buyer-seller transaction goes down seamlessly. Other times, it doesn’t:

“Treasure-man left my stuff on the roof and sent me the summer picture,” one RAMP user reportedly wrote about his hunt. “When I got there—the roof was covered with 6 inches of snow and ice. I had to dig on the roof for hours.”

In Russia, the move to online markets came out of necessity, but also pays homage to old-school tactics employed by pushers on street corners everywhere. What is especially scary for users and dealers, though, is that police determine probable cause on a case-by-case basis––which means if the politsiya are having a rough morning, anyone walking the street is a potential suspect. 

With that in mind, next time you're strolling through Saint Petersburg, and you think you see a pebble that looks a bit off, perhaps just keep on walking.  

Thanks to writer Andrey Urodov for turning us onto this storyline.