(CBS News) The FBI shut down The Silk Road - what it calls “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet” - five weeks ago. The website was selling drugs and other illegal goods. But, now, the website may be finding new life.
The new site has the same name and the same look, offering up an itemized list of illegal drugs. On Twitter Wednesday, the Silk Road’s purported new operator announced “#SilkRoad is back up. Deja vu anyone? #weriseagain.”
Fran Berkman, a reporter for the digital media website Mashable, said of the potential resurgence, “This could be a gigantic scam.”
Berkman has used encrypted messages to talk to the person who says he’s running the new site, which claims to be registering 1,000 users per hour.
Berkman said, “To some of them, it’s more than just a website. It’s a cause. And they’re really invested in it, and they really want to see it succeed.”
Silk Road first launched in 2011 as an underground website where users could browse anonymously for drugs. They paid in a hard-to-track cyber currency called Bitcoin. It was Amazon.com with a black market bent, selling heroin and cocaine as well as guns and fake IDs. After a two-year investigation, the FBI shut the site down last month and arrested its suspected operator, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht. The alleged digital druglord was known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts.
The name is a reference to a character in the 1987 film “The Princess Bride.” It’s a moniker the revived site’s operator is also using.
Berkman said, “The new Dread Pirate Roberts told me that he knows he can’t be around forever, and when he’s gone, someone else - he’s confident - someone else will step up and fill the void. You can take down the man, but you can’t take down the idea.”
The FBI says they cannot comment about an ongoing investigation but has said that the original website processed $1.2 billion in transactions.
The new Silk Road claims to be taking the high road, banning child pornography and weapons. The Dread Pirate tweets: “#SilkRoad while under my watch will never harm a soul. If we did, then we are no better than the thugs on the street.”
If the new site is legit, customers are expected to start buying their drugs this weekend.