On one of my most popular posts, Don’t Use the Hidden Wiki – Use These!, I received a comment recently saying that the TORCH search engine (xmh57jrzrnw6insl.onion), which I had recommended, is also a scam.
Specifically, this person was referring to the advertisers on TORCH, one of whom apparently scammed the commenter. While I don’t have personal experience being scammed by any of these people, it doesn’t surprise me much. This is a screenshot of it, at the time of this writing:
I’ve used the search engine quite a few times, but have never tried any of the services it’s advertised. Having been on the dark web for about three years now, I can appreciate that there are countless extortion schemes, phishing sites, and other deceptions. Let’s take a look though, shall we? At present, here’s a sampling of the sites that TORCH advertises (WARNING: I am not endorsing these, nor am I responsible if you get scammed by one of these sites!):
- BUY REAL MONEY – Stack Wolf’s
- Queens Cash
- Tor Hidden Wiki 2019
- BMG (Black Market Guns)
- Counterfeiting Center
- CC Galaxy
- Silk Road 3
- Global Giftcards Marketplace
- Credit Card / PayPal Transfer
- Apple Shop
- Hidden Financial Services
- CC Kingdom
- Deep Web Links
- Wiki Link Hidden (link removed)
- Sell Credit Cards
If you want to see the full list, visit TORCH. So…many of these are financially-related services, which can be sketchy in the first place. While I haven’t purchased goods from any of these links, I have enough experience to know that other people have been scammed numerous times.
As a matter of fact, when you click on any of these links, TORCH displays a warning:
I think they make several very good points here: using a well-known escrow service is a must. Either that, or if the market has multisig, you should use that. Also, if you “finalize early” (FE) on any transaction, there’s a good chance that you’ll never receive your goods. The only case in which FE is acceptable, in my opinion, is when you trust the vendor.
“Look for vendor’s reputation or comments on Tor forums, Reddit, etc.” – this is how most regular buyers on Tor end up finding vendors that they trust, other than just blindly buying from them.
“Only advertisers with a “CONFIRMED” tag printed over their banners are FULLY confirmed.” A statement like this can go either way. If you trust the site that’s claiming that the vendor is “confirmed,” then I would say you’re probably OK. Unfortunately, on the dark web, trust is a hard thing to gain. Just because an ad has the word “confirmed” plastered over it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legit; it could mean that the vendor paid off whoever’s advertising for them to say that they’re legit.
One of the sites that TORCH advertises, as you can see, is Silk Road 3, which I’m hesitant to call trustworthy. I often refer to Deep Dot Web’s list of marketplaces as the ones that are dependable. Silk Road 3 used to be on this list, but even at that point, they said, “We still believe the Silk Road brand is dead.” I’m of this opinion as well; anyone using the Silk Road name at this point is just trying to capitalize on the infamy of the original one.
What I would suggest if you’re unsure about a marketplace, is to use the Dread forums on Tor: http://dreadditevelidot.onion/ It’s very much like a dark web Reddit, albeit geared toward darknet markets. Like the now-defunct r/darknetmarkets subbredit, they have a list of trusted marketplaces, as well as vendor reviews and Q&As. Silk Road 3 is not included on their marketplace list, which is a red flag.
Regarding the TORCH link list again, I find it telling that they advertise not one, but two hidden wikis, which I have come to associate with scams. The first is number 7 on the above list. It looks almost identical to https://thehiddenwiki.org/, an outdated clearnet version of The Hidden Wiki:
I’m guessing that these are either made by the same developers or that whoever made the darknet version copied some of the source code of the clearnet site. In any case, like the other hidden wikis, this site links to several onions that you might consider “intro points” to Tor, like Ahmia, secMail, and Facebook (which, if you’ve seen the news lately, you should only trust as far as you can throw ’em).
As with many of the links advertised on TORCH, I haven’t personally verified all of these, but they just sound suspicious to me. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust them with your money.
The second hidden wiki that they advertise is Tor Hidden Wiki Fresh 2019, which, like the first site, has many different links in a number of categories, such as “Introduction points/Search Engines,” “Where to get bitcoin,” “Drugs,” and “Carding/credit cards.”
While I don’t think it’s necessarily harmful to visit the search engines, social networks, and forums, as I said before, it’s the financial services and marketplaces that I don’t trust. Case in point: one of the links listed here is a market called Smokeables. Next to that very link is a warning that says [Likely SCAM].
So…to go back to my original question, is TORCH a scam? I don’t think that the search engine, in and of itself, is a scam, but yes, several of the sites on its banner ads are scams, or they link to sites which are scams.
What’s the reason for this? Sites like TORCH need ads in order to make money, and they don’t necessarily verify which are scams and which aren’t. This is why they provide a catch-all warning to people who click on their links. In general, financial services and marketplaces on the dark web are a “use-at-your-own-risk” venture.
Unfortunately, there’s no way, with 100% certainty, that you can tell if something’s a scam or not, unless you try it. Even if a site has a “verified” banner, the site could have paid for that. Even if someone tells you that a site is reliable, they could be affiliated with it. Someone could even write a positive review of a site, but it’s possible that they could’ve been paid to write that review! What do we take away from this? There’s always the chance that you could get ripped off, and sometimes you just have to learn the hard way.