We’ve all heard of the elusive and menacing “black market.” It seems reasonable to believe it’s a dark and dangerous place. In reality, it’s worse; it’s an entirely lawless ground, and as such it is nothing less than daunting to the law enforcement officials who risk their lives to bring it down.
The black market is the illegal trade of goods or services. Because it’s necessarily ungoverned by law, these illicit trades happen ‘underground’ outside of the sphere of the legitimate economy. But the black market isn’t reserved only for goods and services that are illegal in and of themselves. Some generally legal products are also touted on the black market – things like weapons, prescription medicine, or even movies.
Although illegal trade is rampant in many parts of the developing world—in places such as Syria, Thailand, and the African continent—it also certainly has its place in the industrialized regions of Europe, Canada and The United States. If the trading of an item or service is illegal, but there’s still money to be made, then it’s guaranteed someone will find a way to exploit it.
The United States alone trades an estimated total of $625.63 billion a year—all completely under the table, and, of course, tax free. A billion dollars is a lot of money. But when you multiply that figure by 6, that’s more money than the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a few small countries combined. Whether cigarettes or movies or body parts, it’s being traded, and there are no signs of it stopping. These 8 industries are the most prolific on the United States’ black market, according to figures reported by Statisticbrain.com taken from sources including the FBI and the United Nations.
8. Kidney Organ Trafficking – $30,000 per Kidney
Sometimes people aren’t just trafficking cigarettes or alcohol — they’re illegally selling body parts. There are three different methods organized crime offenders will use to take and sell your organs on the black market: First, traffickers may trick a person into giving them their organ. Second, people may do away willingly with their organs for reasons of their own, usually when they’re in dire need of monetary compensation. The third, and perhaps the most terrifying, is traffickers luring unsuspecting people to have treatment for unknown ailments and removing body parts without their knowledge. Usually the “donor” countries are South America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, with recipients from U.S.A., Canada and Australia.
7. Cigarette Smuggling – $10 Billion
Most people will risk losing everything, or even prison, for the chance to outsmart the Federal Government. That is why illegally moving cigarettes over America’s state lines has become one of the most lucrative trades in the black market. It might not mean much to the average smoker purchasing their cigarettes from a local deli, but for organized crime syndicates, the risk is worth every penny. According to a report by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, when a state adopts a new cigarette tax, cigarette smuggling consequently goes on the rise. In America, the state of New York has the highest rates of cigarette smuggling, accounting for more than 60% of the total market value.
6. Music Piracy – $12.5 Billion
Since the advent of the internet, illegally downloading music has become one of Americans’ choice methods of staying up to date with the latest tunes. Online Peer to Peer or P2P networks allow people to share digital information anonymously, providing music lovers with hassle-free access to just about anything they can imagine — all without paying a dime. Although this is essentially stealing, in this case the laws are notoriously complex and have yet to catch up with the rapid technological advancements. Because most internet servers that transfer the pirated music from one computer to another are usually located in a country other than the U.S., the prosecution of such crimes becomes a judicial nightmare. Not showing any signs of slowing down, the digital and physical smuggling of music on the black market leaves thousands of musicians and music labels with with empty pockets. America doesn’t even fall in the top 10 countries for online piracy, yet it’s industry losses reach the billions.
5. Prostitution – $14.6 Billion
Not every worker in the sex trade is a consenting adult. Sometimes, they are neither. Human trafficking for the purposes of sex is a big illegal business in America, and it is one of the fastest growing black-market industries, especially among organized syndicates (a.k.a. the mafia). There are an estimated 230 000 children at risk of being lured into selling their bodies for money in the Unites States alone. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) even goes so far as to call commercial sex trafficking a “problem of epic proportions,” where the average worker is a girl aged 12 to 14. Among the limitless number of illegal transactions happening on the black market, prostitution is considered to be one of the most devastating.
4. Movie Piracy – $25 Billion
Some people will do anything to avoid spending money on a movie ticket. This includes buying bootlegged versions of movies from street vendors or downloading them from the internet through P2P networks. This is done by either digitally recording a movie directly from a theatre, or digitally copying DVDs or web streams and distributing them all free of charge. As with music piracy, movie piracy and smuggling are vastly growing industries. But the penalties are high. A first-time offender of video recording in theatres can face up to 5 years in prison or be fined up to $250 000. Despite avoiding prison time, offenders may face a lawsuit from the Motion Picture Association of America so that they may recoup their billion-dollar losses.
3. Cocaine – $35 Billion
Although the use of powder cocaine and crack cocaine has significantly subsided since the 1980s, it is still consumed at high levels in America’s urban, suburban and rural areas. But where does it come from? The vast majority of cocaine in the U.S. crosses the Southwest-Mexican border. Highly organized gangs and crime families move the illicit drug not only by land, but also through a large infrastructure of sea and air transportation. Once in the country, the drug is controlled by Colombian and Dominican traffickers in highly-populated centres along the eastern border such as New York, Boston and Miami. Cocaine is one of the most consumed drugs in the United States and continues to be smuggled and sold on the black market for billions in profit.
2. Illegal Gambling – $150 Billion
The United States has a long history of gambling, and many states today have legalized it for its economic profitability. Despite the growing network of legal casinos and bookies, illegal back-door gambling is still prevalent on the black market and is worth billions of taxable income. With all levels of legal gambling, whether in a casino or at an online poker table, there must be a prize, chance, and consideration. However, when one of these prerequisites is removed— if, for example, the house has eliminated almost every chance at winning almost to the point of fraud—it becomes illegal black market gambling.
1. Counterfeiting – $225 Billion
That Gucci handbag or those Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses may not be exactly what you bargained for. The “knock off” is a product that claims to be made or come from a particular brand or manufacturer when it’s actually anything but. In just one year, U.S. Customs reported a 24% increase in seized counterfeited material.
Counterfeiting is divided into two categories: deceptive and nondeceptive. With deceptive counterfeiting, people are led to believe the product they’re buying is genuine. With non-deceptive, people are only interested in the money they are saving, and are fully aware that what they are purchasing may not be real. It’s not just watches or clothing that are being counterfeited. The list goes on to include things as big as aircraft parts, as risky as fake documentation, and as dangerous as pesticides. Just below drugs, counterfeit electronics alone reaches the top of the list with a total value of $168 billion.