Dark web scams: Dive beneath the surface

July 2nd · 9 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

Dark web exposed: Tips for staying secure

The online world, while being a wondrous trove of information and cat memes, has layers that most of us don't even know about. What we refer to as the internet is just the surface of the web, the tip of the iceberg — a bustling place where we can read Wikipedia articles, do online shopping, and watch funny videos. But there's much more beneath the surface. In parallel to the internet we know and love lies the deep web, and even deeper, lurking in the shadows like a mysterious sea monster, is the dark web.

Approximately 60% of websites on the dark web are involved in illegal activities, including violence, illegal marketplaces, and drugs.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between the surface web, deep web, and the dark web. We’ll also delve into the hidden dangers of dark web scams and show you how having Guardio by your side can help you sidestep these risks.

Let’s dive in!

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Hacker on the dark web

The online iceberg: Surface web, deep web, and dark web

Think of the internet like an iceberg. The part we see and use every day is the surface web, where everyone can access things like news websites, social media, and online shopping. Beneath that is the deep web, which you can only get to with passwords and special permissions. This includes your work intranet, online banking, and private databases—a big, mostly safe space where our personal and professional information is kept securely, away from casual browsers. Even deeper down is the dark web, a more hidden and notorious part of the internet that we’re going to explore next.

What’s the dark web?

So, what exactly is the dark web? It's a term that often makes us think of shadowy figures or sketchy people sitting in front of five screens wearing hooded sweatshirts. But, It's not as simple as it seems. The dark web is essentially an anonymous part of the internet. It's not all bad—some people use it for privacy and free speech. However, because it offers anonymity, it’s become a hotspot for illegal activities. Picture this: A place where journalists and activists can communicate privately but also where illegal activities flourish. It's a realm where you can buy illegal drugs, hire hitmen, and purchase stolen personal information like bank details, credit card numbers, and passwords, all while others are trying to expose the truth about oppressive regimes or harmful individuals. That basically sums up the dark web — A goldmine for people seeking privacy and cybercriminals alike.

How does the dark web work?

The dark web is a small part of the deep web that is intentionally hidden and requires special software, like Tor (The Onion Router), to access. The internet is made up of indexed and non-indexed sites. Indexed sites, what we refer to as the surface web, are those that search engines like Google can find and list in their search results. Non-indexed sites are hidden from search engines, so you can’t find them just by searching on Google. Unlike the surface web, which is indexed, the dark web operates on encrypted networks to ensure user anonymity. This basically means that you can visit websites without revealing your identity or location, creating a space where privacy is key. Put simply, the dark web is a secret part of the internet that you need special tools to find and use. It’s like a hidden alley that you can only enter if you know the secret password.

The deep web vs. the dark web: What’s the difference?

It’s easy to confuse the deep web and the dark web, but they’re not the same. The deep web refers to all parts of the internet not indexed by search engines. This includes basically, anything behind a login page. The dark web is a smaller part of the deep web. It's a hidden network within this space that users need special tools to access. So, while the deep web is vast and mostly harmless, the dark web is smaller and has a reputation for hosting more sinister content.

The internet iceberg

How do cyber criminals use the dark web?

Given its anonymous nature, the dark web serves as a marketplace for illegal goods and services like drugs, hitmen, child pornography, and extremist content, you name it, and you’ll probably be able to find it on the dark web. It’s also where stolen information, like credit card details, emails, passwords, and Social Security numbers, are sold. No matter where the personal data was stolen from—data breaches, malware attacks, or phishing schemes—it usually ends up on the dark web. Once this information falls into the wrong hands, the potential for scams is limitless.

Financial scams on the dark web: Cybercriminals buy and sell cloned credit cards with PINs, credit card details, online bank account logins, and more. Scammers can then use these details to make legitimate purchases, negatively impacting your financial status and ruining your credit score in the process.

Account details: Hacked accounts like emails, eBay, social media profiles, streaming services, and more are frequently sold on the dark web. For example, a scammer can buy a respectable eBay seller’s login details on the dark web and then use their real account to make fake sales, pocketing the money and ruining the seller’s reputation in the process.

Illegal goods: Unregistered firearms and drugs are among the items traded on the dark web. Law enforcement is increasingly cracking down on cybercriminals and dark web marketplaces, but the trade continues to pose significant risks.

Personal data: Dark web identity theft that starts via the dark web usually happens when cybercriminals steal personal information and sell it to others, who then use it to commit fraud. For instance, a social media profile can be bought for as little as $6 to $45, depending on the platform, while credit card records can be sold for around $10. This can lead to credit card fraud, and scammers opening bank accounts and taking loans in your name— basically wreaking havoc on your personal and financial life.

Illegal services: Illegal services: The dark web offers a range of illegal services, including purchasing counterfeit money, obtaining fake IDs and passports, and accessing unregistered firearms.

Drug deals and hitman services: The dark web is infamous for being a hub for illegal drug trade and even hitman services. These criminal enterprises use the dark web’s anonymity to conduct their operations. For instance, the Silk Road was a notorious online marketplace where users could buy drugs and other illicit goods with cryptocurrency. Although it was shut down, it set the model for future dark web marketplaces.

The hitman scam

Here’s a story that easily exhibits how dark the dark web can be… In February 2016, a user with the username “dogdaygod” approached a dark website called Besa Mafia, which was supposedly run by Albanian gangsters offering hitman services. Dogdaygod was told that a hit would cost $6,000. After providing details about the target, Besa Mafia claimed their hitman was caught by the police and requested an additional $12,000.

However, in May 2017, a hacker exposed Besa Mafia’s customer hit list and revealed the site as a fraud. Thankfully, dogdaygod never got what he paid for, and Besa Mafia was exposed as an elaborate scam designed to extort money from potential clients while using their hit requests as leverage to prevent them from going to the police. After all, who would report to the police that their hired hitman didn’t do the job? It’s wild to think you can hire a hitman on the dark web and still get conned in the process. Scary.

Understanding and identifying dark web threats

How does your info end up on the dark web?

Ever wondered how your personal information ends up on the dark web? Cybercriminals often use methods like data breaches, phishing attacks, and malware to steal personal information from companies, websites, and individuals. Once they have this data, they sell it on dark web marketplaces to the highest bidder. Even something as simple as reusing passwords across multiple sites can lead to your information being compromised if one of those sites gets hacked.

So how do you find out if your info is on the dark web? You can scan the dark web for your information via Guardio. Guardio's cybersecurity software scans the dark web and lets you know in real time if your data has been leaked or is floating on the dark web, so you can take the necessary steps to protect your information, like changing passwords and usernames.

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What does it mean if your phone number is on the dark web?

If your phone number is found on the dark web, it means that cybercriminals have likely compromised your personal information and are trading or selling it. This can lead to various problems, from an increase in spam calls and texts to being targeted for phishing attacks or even identity theft. Cybercriminals can use your phone number along with other personal details to commit fraud or steal your identity, causing significant disruptions and potential financial loss.

How do I get my information off the dark web?

Unfortunately, once your information is on the dark web, it’s challenging to remove it completely. However, you can take steps to protect yourself and mitigate the damage. Start by changing your passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication on all your accounts. Monitor your financial statements and credit reports for any unusual activity. Consider freezing your credit to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. Additionally, use cybersecurity tools like Guardio, which can monitor the dark web for your information and alert you if it has been compromised, so you can take immediate action.

How to stay safe from dark web scams

Staying safe from dark web scams requires vigilance and proactive measures. Here are some dark web security tips:

Be cautious with personal information: Avoid sharing sensitive information online unless absolutely necessary.

Use strong, unique passwords: Ensure that each of your accounts has a unique and strong password.

Monitor financial activity: Regularly check your bank statements and credit reports for any unusual transactions.

Verify website legitimacy: Before making a purchase, verify that the website is legitimate and trustworthy.

Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): Add an extra layer of security to your accounts by enabling 2FA.

Invest in cybersecurity software: Use reliable cybersecurity tools like Guardio. Guardio monitors the dark web and alerts you if your data has been breached and leaked there, allowing you to take immediate action to protect yourself.

With Guardio online scam protection, you’re totally secure from online threats:

  • Scam text filtering: Protects you from SMS phishing by filtering out scam texts.

  • Dangerous website blocking: Prevents you from accessing harmful websites.

  • Email phishing protection: Shields your email from phishing attempts.

  • Malicious link blocking: Blocks links that lead to malware and other malicious content.

  • Social media hijacking protection: Safeguards your social media accounts from being hacked.

Guardio keeps you safe no matter what you do online, providing comprehensive protection against a wide range of cyber threats.

The bottom line

The dark web is a dangerous and hidden part of the internet, filled with illegal activities and cyber threats. While it’s important to be aware of these risks, you don’t have to face them alone. By taking proactive steps like using strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and investing in cybersecurity software like Guardio, you can protect yourself and your personal information. Guardio not only monitors the dark web but also provides a comprehensive suite of tools to keep you safe online. Stay cautious, stay protected, and navigate the internet with confidence.

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