On the surface of the Web and in Onionland, there is unlawful commerce in new identity documents.
The online market for falsified identification documents is growing at a rapid pace, they are being used to create a new identity.
Due to the typical characteristics of the internet, sellers of these documents operate both on the surface Web and the deep Web, specifically in ‘Onionland.’ Anonymity, gaps in the law, and the lack of a physical distance in cyberspace create an environment that provides several advantages to fraudsters try to hawk new identities. The market has been investigated via a criminological lens, mostly through virtual ethnography. The research was carried out on the surface Web as well as a section of the deep Web known as ‘Onionland.’ While the former is an aspect of the Internet that most people are familiar with, the latter may require some explanation.
Onionland is a portion of the deep Web, which is made up of dynamically created online information that a link crawling search engine like Google can’t reach. Onionland is a darknet or a sort of parallel Web, that can only be accessed through Tor, a piece of software. The US Naval Research Laboratory was the first to create and install Tor, which stands for ‘The Onion Router.’
Its main goal was to keep government communications secure. Tor is still used by the military, but it is being utilized by ordinary individuals, journalists, law enforcement personnel, activists, criminals, and many others for a variety of reasons. It’s a system of virtual tunnels that lets individuals and groups increase their online privacy and security while remaining anonymous. This is the primary reason for Tor’s popularity (a few million users connect every day) and why it is also an ideal location for illegal activity.
Fifty websites and blogs that manufacture counterfeit identities were examined as part of the study, and 65 sellers were contacted through email. The forum ‘Complaintsboard.com,’ where hundreds of postings and comments related to the market were evaluated, was an important source of information. On the cybermarket, there are a lot of sellers trying to sell new identities.
Significant variations were found in the profiles that resulted from the investigation. There were three basic sorts of sellers that might be distinguished:
• Website proprietors (Group A): sellers that maintain a website or blog that serves as an online store. They can be found on the surface Web as well as in Onionland.
• Group B: Email sellers: vendors who use forums to promote their products by spamming them with adverts. They’re common on the surface Web, but not so much in Onionland. Scammers and con artists account for 85 percent of this category.
• Group C: Onion vendors: Onionland vendors who use specific forums or dedicated illegal markets such as Black Market Reloaded, Silk Road, and Sheep.
On the surface Web, Group A consists of website proprietors.
On the surface Web, website owners frequently collaborate in groups. Every team member has a specific role to play, such as managing the website, obtaining product supplies, or manufacturing falsified documents for a new identity. These websites are almost certainly hosted on offshore servers in Eastern European or Far Eastern nations with lax criminal laws. Websites and blogs are constructed in the same way: the homepage includes links to products, prices, contact information, and FAQs. Sellers reject any responsibility for the creation and sale of new identities, claiming that the documents are created for entertainment purposes only and should not be used for illicit actions or as legitimate documents to be used for a new identity.
Methods of payment and prices
Discounts are frequently offered when a client purchases a specific package, such as ‘the entirely new identity package,’ which includes a new identity card, passport, and birth certificate (although the products can vary). Depending on the vendor, numerous payment methods are accepted: cash, checks, bank transfers, credit cards, Western Union or an equivalent, as well as PayPal, Ukash, MoneyGram, or even Bitcoin. The norm is that you must pay up in advance, which might range from 15% to 60% of the total sum. The expense of materials, machines, and bribery are all used to justify this. Because an upfront payment is frequently a sign of fraud, some merchants employ a strategy to acquire the client’s trust. They take the order first, then deliver a video that shows how the needed document is created. When the customer’s trust grows, they will request payment in advance.
Many websites claim to be able to provide any type of identification document, however, their reliability to make a new identity is questionable. Others, on the other hand, specialize in specific products:
• Social Security in the United States: USD 500–630;
• Birth certificates in the United States, $220 – 330;
• European IDs and driving licenses (mostly from Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and the Netherlands) as well as English-speaking countries (the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand).
EUR 300–650 (New Zealand and Canada).
Passports are the focus of some websites. They claim to be able to produce both counterfeit (which they refer to as “fake”) and original passports. A fake passport is of poor quality: the customer receives a copy or scan of a genuine passport, which can be used to make online purchases or confirm a new identity when the document is not required to be physically shown. When forgers claim to be able to supply a passport with all of the usual security features documented in a national database, they use the term “original” documents. This solution is more expensive and promises a new life with a new identity, but it should allow you to travel and pass through security checks.
Passport scans or reproductions range in price from EUR 18,200 to EUR 36,200. The merchant seeks EUR 93,500 – 114,000 (Indonesian) for a reportedly authentic one, up to EUR 372,000 for a passport from the United Kingdom, but prices can start at EUR 4,870,000 for a diplomatic passport. The cost of travel varies by country; European countries are the most expensive to use as a new identity.
Some businesses also supply forged documents in order to defraud the customer. The ‘European new identity card’ or the ‘European work permit card’ are two examples.
Onionland website owners (Group A)
Onionland’s Group A merchants are structured slightly differently than they are on the surface Web. First and foremost, Onionland dealers require customers to create an account on their website with a username and password. Second, without registering and contacting the seller directly, access to the complete website’s contents is difficult. Finally, each company specializes in selling a restricted number of documents, such as passports and new identities from a select range of countries. Bitcoins are the sole accepted payment option. The major documents available are passports, which cost USD 362,500 for a Canadian passport, USD 253,150 for a Dutch passport, and USD 484,000 for a passport from the United Kingdom, according to the website ‘Onion Identity Services.’ The cost of new identity cards or driver’s licenses ranges from USD 1900 to USD 23,000.
Group B has a new look.
In forums and websites like complaintsboard.com, email vendors engage in verbal brawls. This ‘war’ is waged using social engineering techniques and social media accounts, with fake and actual comments posted on the one hand to win clients’ credibility and trust, and on the other hand to smear competitors’ reputations. The contents and techniques are always the same, according to the language analysis: the seller emphasizes his abilities and lengthy expertise in the area while warning the buyer about the dangers of working with other merchants.
Email dealers sell everything from passports to new identity documents, driving licenses to birth certificates, and they cater to people of all nationalities. Sellers claim to be able to supply duplicates, new identities, and tampered/used documents that belong to others. Only the portrait and data physically written on the passport are replaced in the latter situation, while the information on the chip remains one of the previous holders, allowing them to vanish altogether. If these documents are not validated with a machine reader or used to check credit history, they are safe to use.
Other providers claim to be able to manufacture ePassports that are registered in the issuing country’s database. They promise to collaborate with gangs of hackers capable of breaking into a system and altering the database. Nonetheless, given their two to seven-day delivery time, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to modify public and secured databases in a timely manner.
Email addresses, phone numbers (typical in Western Africa), and Skype contacts are provided by all sellers. Some email marketers are active on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. A legitimate passport costs between EUR1 98,500 and 432,500, while a false passport costs between EUR 8500 and 16900. new identity cards and driver’s licenses are up to EUR 1000 cheaper.
Vendors of onions, Group C
Onion merchants, the final segment, primarily use dedicated markets in Onionland, such as Silk Road or Black Market Reloaded. They also post adverts on other sites where firearms, drugs, and stolen credit cards can be purchased. What are the distinctions between the various groups?
To sell a product, onion dealers must first register on the market. They can opt to be vendors and purchasers or just merchants, but unlike consumers (who must also register), vendors must pay a charge right once to rent the ‘advertising space.’
Second, they are confined to self-created internal regulations that aid in the development of client trust. Customers and other vendors can exercise social control by reporting fraudsters and untrustworthy suppliers. Simultaneously, market owners can use a useful formal control to decrease the possibility of opportunism. Failure to comply with the regulations may result in instant exclusion from the website. It’s difficult to assess how stringent the website’s security measures are. Nonetheless, these restrictions are likely to be critical for the platform itself: other vendors have every advantage in stopping a fraudster, especially if they wish to maintain an open market where clients feel safe. It’s a method of preserving reputation-based trust.
Finally, and maybe most critically, there is a feedback system. Customers can write comments about the product’s quality as well as the vendor.
The onion vendors, like other Dark Net groups, are defined by the limited choice of products they sell: vendors exclusively give certain documents confined to a small number of countries. It usually comes with a detailed description of how it may and cannot be used.
The market prices are slightly higher than those seen on the surface of the Internet for a new identity. A scanned ID can set you back up to EUR 129,500, while a genuine passport with a new identity will set you back tens of thousands. You can either contact the seller privately or use the market’s public message board. Independent and acting-alone sellers appear to be prevalent, although specialized teams were rarely observed. On the surface of the Internet, shops frequently state where their products are from, but onion vendors never do.
Because of the characteristics of the internet, the cyber market for falsified identification documents is rapidly expanding; anonymity, gaps in the law, and the lack of a physical distance in cyberspace create an environment that provides various benefits to fraudsters. It is conceivable to deduce that a large percentage of the sellers, approximately 70%, are most likely con artists who are unable to provide any fresh identification documents. Nonetheless, numerous vendors in category A) and a significant portion of Onionland’s dealers are more ‘trustworthy.’ They are very likely to be able to deliver the needed products. This market is a way to perform a physical-world activity, and the chances are good that it will become an issue for law enforcement agencies. Vendors can vanish fast if they are pursued, and they can rapidly set up a new website or market. Because legal power in Onionland is shaky, this risk is heightened even more without a new identity.