The administrators of the largest illegal marketplace on the darknet for stolen credit cards are retiring after making an estimated $358m (£260m).
The anonymous owners of UniCC thanked the criminal community for their patronage, citing age and health as reasons for the company’s demise.
Many other illegal darknet marketplaces voluntarily shut down over the winter for unknown reasons.
Police officers are conflicted about the trend.
The darknet is a section of the internet that can only be accessed with specialised software.
‘We are not young’
Analysts are cryptocurrency experts. Elliptic tracked hundreds of millions of dollars in UniCC crypto-payments.
UniCC announced its retirement on darknet forums in both Russian and English. “We are not young, and our health does not allow us to work like this any longer,” the anonymous criminals added.
UniCC has been in operation since 2013, with tens of thousands of new stolen credit cards being listed for sale on the market every day.
Hundreds of millions of payment card details were stolen from online retailers, banks, and payment companies and sold on online marketplaces like UniCC.
These stolen cards are valuable because they can be used to buy expensive items or gift cards, which can then be resold for cash.
According to Elliptic researchers, the website has received $358 million in cryptocurrency payments since its inception, spread across Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether, and Dash.
UniCC’s demise comes just under a year after the previous market leader, Joker’s Stash, retired.
It’s also the most recent in a long line of criminal marketplaces to voluntarily close their doors in the last six months.
White House Market, the largest darknet market of its kind, announced its closure in October 2021. Cannazon followed in November, and Torrez over the holidays.
Torrez was one of the world’s largest English-language marketplaces when it closed in December, selling drugs, hacking tools, counterfeit cash, and criminal services.
According to a letter posted on its website, it had been “a great pleasure to work with most vendors and users.”
Historically, when darknet sites close down, the operators vanish with the money of customers or vendors – this is known as an exit scam. They could also be hacked or taken offline by police if they are discovered.
This new trend of markets winding down in a systematic manner is known as “sunsetting” or “voluntary retirement.”
“It appears to be happening more frequently right now. Markets gracefully exit, declaring, “We’ve made enough money, and before we get caught, we’re just going to retire and ride into the sunset.” “Prof. David Décary-Hétu, criminologist at the University of Montreal, agrees.
He claims that administrators running large marketplaces, such as Torrez, can earn up to $100,000 per day in commission fees.
For cops who would rather see criminals face justice, this type of exit raises mixed emotions.
“I always celebrate anyone who realises they’re in a criminalised occupation and decides not to enhance that further,” says Alex Hudson, the National Crime Agency’s head of darknet intelligence.
“If there is a regret, it is that we must hold them accountable for it, and they must understand that they will continue to be held accountable.”
The closures are unlikely to be the end of darknet markets, as new ones will inevitably emerge.
New BBC research for Radio 4’s File on Four found that at least 450 darknet vendors operating today have outlived previous police closures over the last decade.