Outlaw Market, a darknet marketplace that ride the line between unpopular and trustworthy, disappeared overnight without leaving a trace. To anyone but the one marketplace admin who claims no knowledge of any conspiracy, the vanishing act was an exit scam. One of the few market admins, however, claimed I the market would not have exit scammed and that something else—perhaps more sinister—had happened.
As with the majority of the interviews I conduct, I let the admin do most of the talking. Interviews over email are not the greatest setting for a true dialogue with unprepared answers.
“I am quite sure that it was not an exit scam.”
He primarily spoke about Outlaw Market’s backend system for customer support, complaints, and messages.
Customer Support or Market Backend?
We had a very very efficient back-end system. Users were bound to one specific admin from the time they first send a message and one of the admins answered this message from the message pool. So, all issues the users had were already known by the users’ admin. That made everything very easy, no time wasting with contacting other admins to see what as already said.
Staff members were paid based on how many users they had helped. Older markets often paid staff a flat salary. Although Outlaw is now an “older market,” many markets predate the market’s launch and disappearance.
Admins were paid a small daily provision, and received a portion of the percentages paid by the vendor-fees for both his/her bound customers and vendors.
Thus, the more users you actively supported, the more you would earn.
Of all interviewed market staff and administration, this backend stood out as one of the more efficient setups staff have willingly spoken about.
However the earnings were still quite modest. One thing I can already TRULY confirm, is that our auto-PGP encryption did work, and that no unencrypted version was stored ever. Some people -and rightfully- don’t trust the market auto-PGP encryption tools (again, rightfully), but ours did actually do its job.
We had a chat for admins as well in which the most important ‘admin’ updates were given, specific instructions were given there and the general guidelines as to how to act were given there. Also some small brainstorming. On top, there was a lot and ‘easy’ communication with the main admins.
The impression I got from them was that they actually lived by the thought of ‘more freedom, better security’.
For them, it was never about making the big bucks, but always about ‘how can we make sure that our users can do this or that better and more secure’. We had some plans on the UI though, which would be launched quite soon.
He claimed that Outlaw market admins lived by similar rules or ‘moral’ codes incorporated by admins and owners of the first generation of darknet markets. Like Ross Ulbricht’s values that once defined the Silk Road darknet market.
Tickets were handled efficiently as well. Everything was automated and handled by the system up until a manual, admin action was needed. It was actually really really well designed behind the scenes. A completely different site than what the ‘normal’ user saw. Even though this, the access-restriction was real. No one other than few main admins had access to the database, only they could actually access the funds of the users, only they could see the transaction ID’s of the user withdrawals etc.
My position was just below those main admins, and even I had no way to actually influence anything BTC-related. Admins couldn’t even misuse their position through the ticket service, as 2 admins always had to independently decide the same, or another admin was asked his opinion on it by the system. Data was wiped pretty soon as well. There was no way to see old order details, old withdrawals, old account logs,…
Vendor bonds were given back, if withdrawals were stuck I could sense the frustration as well by the main admins, so I am quite sure that it was not an exit scam.
I am quite sure that it was not an exit scam.
It was very very well organized, not “let’s just do something and make some big money”. Last weekend the main admins worked hours and hours to solve an issue with the mixer which caused many payouts to be stuck. That’s not something you’d do if you were planning on exit scamming.
The only possible thing that could have happened is that they were somehow doxxed and thought by themselves “fuck everything, we’re done”. Again, we had emergency ‘release all coins from the database to the users’ deadswitches, so I’m sure they would have used that before…
No way to trace the coins though, as every single satoshi in and out the market were mixed. No exceptions, ever, were made on that. Maybe on the funds that were hacked, but it’s impossible to found our hot wallet, since the entire mixer was our hotwallet and thus untraceable.”
Outlaw was actually very steadily growing over time. Our strategy was just to wait for other markets to vanish and do our own thing. We never underwent a significant, sudden staff turnover. All main staff there were already at the market when I joined quite some time ago.
About the thing that the admins took off with my share of the BTC, that’s complete BS. Last thing I knew on the market was that over $20k that was stuck over that weekend was just released and paid out. They’re either the dumbest exit scammers I know of, or it was not an exit scam at all.
Hopefully the text above gives you some good impression of what was happening behind the scenes. I have no option to contact the main admins now, as they were only reachable through the market. They never used email, Jabber, Reddit, … nothing, not even a smartphone so I’ve been told. The only possible way I could maybe, maybe come in contact with them is through BitMessage. Outlaw had 2 of those BM IDs, but I never stored one. If you know one, let me know.
For those who have read interviews with other marketplace staff, you might be able to identify this admin’s other personas…