It seems that an online bazaar known for selling illegal drugs may have absconded with its customers' cash. Atlantis Market, an up-and-coming competitor to the dominant black market player, Silk Road, shut down abruptly a week ago for "security reasons." Most people assumed the site's owners were worried about a crackdown, perhaps due to a brazen marketing strategy that included a widely-circulated YouTube ad about buying marijuana.
Atlantis's owners apologized and promised to return customer deposits before making its exit. However, customers reported difficulties getting their money out, encountering errors and infinite loops. One user claimed to have $3,000 irretrievably tied up in an Atlantis account. Then, earlier today, the site disappeared from the web entirely.
The people behind Atlantis seem to have made off with their customers' deposits, according to an interview with one of the site's forum moderators conducted by Eiley Ormsby, an Australian journalist who follows the online underground closely at her blog All Things Vice.
“Atlantis admins shut down the site and ran away with the coins."
Customers used the semi-anonymous virtual currencies Bitcoin and Litecoin to buy things like weed, meth, cocaine, and other various items including apparel and books. Thanks to the anonymity of the digital underground, stealing virtual currency can be the perfect crime. MyBitcoin.com, an easy-to-use e-wallet for storing coins, disappeared with most of its customers' deposits in 2011. That operation was widely believed to have been a scam all along.
Running an online drug operation turned out to be more costly than the Atlantis founders realized, Cicero, the site's forum moderator, told Ormsby. Shutting down the site was essentially a business decision, and not refunding users' deposits may have been one too. “Atlantis admins shut down the site and ran away with the coins," Cicero told All Things Vice.