Good news, enterprising criminals; the black market isn't just limited to guns, drugs and hit men anymore. Thanks to the anonymity and global power of the internet, clandestine deals now have the potential to reach an international audience.
By avoiding government regulations, shirking taxes and continuing to profit on illegal contraband, dubious businessmen are raking in the money not by the millions but by the trillions. The Economic Journal recently reported that the black market accounts for ten trillion dollars worth of all the world’s informal markets, despite concerns for the law, the environment, and in some cases basic human decency. When Silk Road (an unapologetic online black market shopping site known for selling drugs and weapons) was shut down in 2013, the supply for illicit items slowed but the demand only increased.
The end result was an influx of peer to peer untraceable marketplace websites and forums with thousands of different products available for sale. A lot of these items are exactly what you’d expect; prescription and nonprescription drugs and narcotics, weapons and bombs, credit cards, stolen identities. But there are also a number of bizarre items coveted on the black market that makes you wonder how they made the list in the first place.
From common household products to animals so obscure you've probably never heard of them, the black market truly has something for just about anyone who's prepared to bend the rules.
10 Baby formula
Business is booming for black market sales of a certain white powder that brings much satisfaction to the user, but it’s not the kind you'd usually think.
Once organized crime lords clued into the fact that baby formula and infant nutritional supplements were one of the most shoplifted items in America, they learned quickly how to milk the system.
Ill-gotten baby formula is a multi-billion dollar industry, and recent studies have shown that powdered baby food theft is so prevalent that formula manufacturers have had to compensate for their lost profits by raising prices. This increase costs honest buyers approximately $450 per year.
9 Japanese Flight Attendant Uniforms
Straight from the depths of a travelling salesman’s fantasy, Japanese flight attendant uniforms define the concept of ‘niche market’. At the height of their black market popularity in 2010, these sedate and understated uniforms were selling for more than $10,000 each on uniform fetish sites.
When Japan Airlines declared bankruptcy, former flight attendants were strictly forbidden to sell their uniforms to any interested outside buyers for fear of sullying the airline’s name even further. Used uniforms fetched the highest dollar, and many of them ended up in strip clubs and brothels.
8 Boston Marathon Bibs
To officially earn a spot as a runner in the prestigious Boston Marathon, you either have to qualify or pledge to raise money for an affiliated charity. To unofficially earn a spot, you can browse Craigslist and buy a black market bib for anywhere from $500 to $5,000. Each bib is associated with the true qualifying owner’s age, gender and health details so swapping bibs can actually skew the overall race result statistics and age group awards. Acquiring a bib online is obviously prohibited by race organizers, and runners found in violation of this rule will be disqualified.
7 Human Hair
Whether it’s ‘virgin remi’, pristine, unprocessed hair that’s never been dyed, or the dregs that have fallen onto the salon floor and gathered as an afterthought, human hair is a hot commodity on the black market. Exporting over 1,800 tonnes annually, India is the world’s largest exporter of human hair. The public demand for hair extensions coupled with the black market’s favourite type of industry, the unregulated one, has led to a host of hair-raising crimes such as the 2014 incident where a Chicago hair salon was relieved of over $150,000 worth of real hair in a smash and grab heist.
6 Monitor Lizards
We all had pets growing up, a dog here, a cat there, maybe a gerbil and a bird thrown in for good measure. But how many of us can say that we owned an exotic Malayan water monitor lizard? The black market for exotic animals has been described as ‘bizarre and grotesque’, and what was once a back alley deal shrouded in shadows and secrecy now takes place boldly every day on Facebook and Twitter. Sadly these large lizards native to Africa are finding themselves in the basements of unwitting purchasers that have neither the resources nor time to care for them properly, and those are just the lucky ones. Many monitor lizards are sold online as food to meet the exotic tastes of their discerning buyers.
5 Northern White Rhino Horns
Likely due to their dwindling population of less than 30,000 worldwide, the northern white rhino now faces a new threat: illegal wildlife trade. Targeted for their horns primarily by Asian countries as a status symbol, poachers have made the quest for ivory and horns a $25 million dollar a year crime racket. Although a recent conference hosted by the British Government promised to, “address corruption, adopt legislation and recruit more law enforcement officers,” in an attempt to stop the crises, over 1,200 rhinos were slaughtered in 2014 and sold on the black market.
4 Sea Cucumbers
There’s nothing like a delicious and satisfying sea cucumber to add some zing to your next dinner party. Never heard of this much sought after delicacy? One pound of sea cucumber, a leathery elongated marine animal that is currently protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is known to bring in up to $500 on the black market. Predominantly used in Chinese cuisine and thought to possess medicinal properties, the sea cucumber combines well with winter melon, dried scallops, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese cabbage.
You’d think that people would be a little more selective when it comes to procuring bodily fluids, but there’s a very lucrative market for both buying and selling sperm online. Despite, or maybe because of the fact that many countries have prohibited paying donors for eggs and sperm in person, the demand for this life-giving liquid is leading to shortages across the world. Popular especially in Denmark and China, male donors can fetch as much as $1,200 a month. And those concerned about the tenuous shelf life of sperm need not worry. For every buyer who prefers fresh sperm straight from the source, there is a seller willing to bestow their product the old fashioned way, up close and personal.
2 Laundry Detergent
Thieves may like to play dirty, but they're really cleaning up when it comes to profiting from stolen cases of Tide laundry detergent.
A 100 fluid ounce bottle of liquid laundry detergent which usually retails for $12 goes for less than two-thirds of that price on the black market. In organized crime rings, offenders hire people to steal the product from drug stores and supermarkets, and then sell them on.
In Las Vegas alone, theft of laundry detergent counted for half of the 180 arrests made last year in retail crime.
1 Maple Syrup
Canadians may usually be a polite bunch, but don’t mess with their maple syrup rations.
In what became one of the largest thefts in Quebec’s history, two men were arrested in connection with an $18 million dollar maple syrup heist in 2013. It’s clever criminality, considering that maple syrup sells for more than 13 times the price of crude oil on the black market.
The con men were able to remove a staggering six million pounds of syrup from a Canadian warehouse simply by siphoning the barrels, replacing them with water, and moving the goods to warehouses across the province. The crime is so notorious that Sony pictures has announced plans to make a Hollywood movie about the heist starring Jason Segel.