Many sites on the dark web – an isolated section of the internet that is only accessible using specialist software – have seen a surge in useless and dangerous materials being sold with claims they could protect people from the disease.
But Monopoly Market, which lists drugs ranging from cannabis to steroids, said it would permanently remove any members attempting to peddle unproven medicines.
The site is a relatively new market on the dark web, counting just over 100 active vendors who sell and ship illegal drugs to buyers in exchange for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and monero.
The warning to sellers comes amid a recent influx of coronavirus-related drugs and treatments advertised by scammers and criminals across dark web marketplaces.
“Any vendor caught flogging goods as a ‘cure’ to coronavirus will not only be permanently removed from this market but should be avoided like the Spanish flu,” a Monopoly Market administrator wrote in a forum post.
The site also forbids users from selling items that have been impacted by shortages, such as protective face masks and toilet roll.
“You do not, under any circumstances use Covid-19 as a marketing tool,” the post stated. “No magical cures, no silly f***ing mask selling, toilet paper selling. None of that b*******. We have class here.”
It is not the first time drug suppliers on the dark web have taken a moral stance against dubious or harmful products.
In 2018, major operators voluntarily stopped selling the synthetic opioid fentanyl after it was linked to hundreds of accidental overdoses.
Fake coronavirus vaccines that claim to be “fully tested and confirmed” continue to be listed on other popular dark web marketplaces seen by The Independent, despite experts warning that it will take a minimum of 18 months for any medicine to meet regulatory tests and standards.
There are currently around 20 vaccines in various stages of development in labs around the world, though none are related to any products that appear on illicit online markets.
Instead, criminals are peddling cures or treatments that have either been disproved or that pose a significant danger to anyone who takes it.
One vaccine listed on the Agartha marketplace, which was priced at $300, contained a mix of amphetamines, cocaine and nicotine.
The same site featured dozens of listings for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, drugs touted by US President Donald Trump as a potential treatment for Covid-19. Scientists have warned that there is no proof of the antimalarial drug’s effectiveness and that it could be dangerous if not taken under a doctor’s supervision.
Hype around chloroquine has resulted in nationwide shortages of the unproven drug in the US, with dark web vendors listing a single prescription for around $200.
Other dark web sites promote chloronique pills as a “miracle drug for coronavirus”, according to lawyer and author Eileen Ormsby, who first drew attention to Monopoly Market’s unique policy.
“A vendor on Whitehouse Market makes the dubious claim, ‘This drug will help people to beat Corona Virus’,” she told The Independent.
Ms Ormsby, who wrote the seminal book The Darkest Web, also observed listings for chloroquine on the popular Empire Market, including some from a “well-known and trusted vendor” on the site.
Monopoly Market’s principled policy towards the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen more than 1 million confirmed cases around the world, is not unique on the dark web.
A recent investigation by security software firm Digital Shadows into dark web trends revealed that there has been a pushback in criminal forums against taking advantage of the current situation for profit.
“As we’ve seen time and time again, cyber criminals will find ways to take advantage of people’s fears and uncertainties in the wake of major disasters and emergencies,” Alex Guirakhoo, a threat research analyst at Digital Shadows, wrote in a recent blog post.
“However, the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic has shown some benevolent reasoning has emerged on some platforms that are typically used for crime: Users urging others to avoid taking advantage of an already dire situation.”
Monopoly Market’s threat to ban users pushing fake cures also came with a plea to drug dealers to take extra care to avoid transmitting the deadly virus to customers.
“You should already be doing this but please wear a pair of gloves, old pair of reading glasses, and a face mask if available,” the site states. “Vendors in all conditions should be keeping a certain level of good hygiene.”