A Russian law passed in November 2012 aimed at blacklisting sites promoting drug use has apparently just blocked the popular drug education website Erowid.org for certain users in the country according to a post on Reddit. A Russian government site listing prohibited sites shows that Erowid was added to the register earlier this month and was blocked on February 23. Russian user GreatfulListener says it is only “a matter of time” before the block affects more Russian internet service providers.
Erowid remains available in Russia via the Tor network. In fact, the Russian Tor community has undergone significant growth over the last year. RAMP, the Russian Anonymous MarketPlace, is now providing a leading Russian alternative to the English-speaking Silk Road.
RAMP, founded in early 2012, boasts 5,867 members on its forums. Silk Road, the center of great media attention, has 54,247 members while Black Market Reloaded, a quiet but strong success, has 4,495 members.
The culture of the place is somewhat similar to Silk Road. In fact, many of the customers seem to use both marketplaces.
Forum discussions touch on important topics such as sales, safety and scam reports. Transactions are handled in a distinctly simple way: instead of a programmed escrow system reminiscent of Silk Road, RAMP operates through emails. A customer can use the RAMP’s escrow (which takes 5% off the top for the site’s operators) by emailing the site’s owners or a customer has the option todeal with the vendor directly.
RAMP’s two owners are a couple of Russians named Darkside (who handles customer and vendor relations) and Orange (who handles design and the backend of the site).
RAMP makes much of its income through advertising. After a user buys a vendor account for 5 bitcoins (currently $150), they can purchase sticky topics for one month (3 BTC), two months (5 BTC) or 3 months (7 BTC). Banners on the top of the site costs 10 BTC per month. The user Passion is currently advertising the sale of fentanyl (seen to the right). 1 gram costs 1400 Rubles ($45).
Unlike Silk Road and Black Market Reloaded, several vendors accept payment in WebMoney (a Russian e-commerce company serving a number of currencies) in addition to Bitcoins. RAMP also has a thread dedicated to reviewing Silk Road vendors who can service Eastern Europe.
Some RAMP vendors have an awfully interesting way of delivering their product:
If you’re in the Moscow area, Passion will make a “drop” in an out of the way place (such as an abandoned building) within 24 hours of a purchase and send the customer the coordinates on Google Maps. It’s up to the customer to make the pick up. It’s a decidedly old school twist on the new online drug marketplace that comes with several obvious potential downfalls. On the bright side, the drop can save time if you’re in a fix: you can potentially get your drugs on the same day you place your order. Muscovites have all the luck!
Like every anonymous marketplace, RAMP is not without scammers and problems. In fact, the most viewed thread is about a Doctor Om, a Moscow-based vendor who offered hashish, amphetamines and other drugs. Om hasn’t delivered product to dozens of customers for several weeks now, prompting many to call him the site’s worst scammer. It’s unclear at this time just how much money was involved in the transactions but it’s safe to say thousands of dollars are at stake.
If RAMP is Russia’s smaller and stranger Silk Road, the Shop of Magic Products (seen below) seems to hope to take its own place as the region’s version of Black Market Reloaded, a quiet, well-run and relatively uninhibited market for vendors of many goods. The site has been around since at least October 2012 but has never been able to pick up much momentum. Today, it offers various forged documents as well as a handful of drugs but activity has slowed to a crawl and the website is subject to regular errors. Bro, the man behind SMP, has a lot of work ahead of him if he hopes to compete with RAMP for customers.