7 Shady, Stupid Black Markets You Didn't Know Existed

7 Shady, Stupid Black Markets You Didn't Know Existed

American blue jeans were once bartered as a form of fiat currency in the Eastern Bloc, with political scientists still debating the role 501s played in bringing down the USSR. The covert industry depended on everyone keeping the secret; 40 years later, not much has changed.

Smuggling is a testament to our unquenchable lust for crap and the ingenuity of, let's call them, "entrepreneurs." If you can't find it on eBay, a poacher probably has you covered, but the collateral damage can be far more devastating than you think ...

Demand For Luxury Ice Cubes Has Spawned Glacier Hijackings

Crime syndicates devise elaborate and sophisticated methods of procuring high-end consumer goods. A Chilean man decided he could do better; why bother with bootlegs when you can get the real thing?

His master plan was to schlep a glacier away, to be chopped up into "designer ice cubes." Swiped from the Patagonia area, the Jorge Montt glacier was ripe for the taking. He might have turned a nice profit from the scheme. However, his truck was discovered, and his 3,900 pounds (pounds as in money, not weight) of ice was seized. And by seized, we mean the cops let it melt as they sat around in confusion, handcuffing a man so dumb he risked his freedom to steal a chunk of a protected glacier when he could have lied. We doubt any customer would have ever noticed or reported him for using impostor glacial ice cubes

a glacier

PsamatheM/Wiki Commons


Pictured above: NOT the Jorge Montt Glacier. See, makes no difference, does it? Ice is ice.

According to the BBC, glacier ice is a delicacy typically reserved for whiskey snobs because rich people are just as stupid and irresponsible as the rest of us. Imported glaciers are an internationally renowned trade good because of their insignificantly higher density, despite the fact (or perhaps because of it) the planet is dealing with rapidly disappearing glaciers. Ugh, we need a drink. (Served neat.)

The Search For "Low-Background" Materials Is Leading To Systematic Grave Desecration

WWII-era sea wrecks are fairly common but hard to reach, meaning the salvaged goods are worth a pretty penny if you've got the know-how. But it isn't Nazi gold or collectors' items treasure hunters scour the ocean for. 

On land, copper is the target of traditional looters. At sea, pre-atomic-era steel and lead is the real lure. All modern-manufactured steel has impurities caused by trace amounts of nuclear radiation in the atmosphere. "Low-background" substances, on the other hand, have no Cobalt 60 or other pollutants from countless atomic explosions since the Trinity test. Pure metals mean no false positives, a prized quality in delicate electronics and laboratory-grade equipment. 

What's so bad about that? Shipbreakers, operating illegally throughout the South Pacific, search out and cut up the hulls of ships from before 1945. A few sites have already been picked clean. If the demolition of history wasn't sad enough, many of these destroyed war vessels have been designated tombs for the poor souls who drowned in WWII, the low-background trade devolving into outright grave robbing.

a world war 2 sunken ship


Who would have thought that war could have an ugly side?

Bootleg Dissertations Are Fueling The Rise Of Fake Intellectuals In Russia

Landing a great job is difficult, especially in a place where everyone else has a graduate degree. That's when the Dark Web comes in handy. Hitmen, bribes, blackmail? Nope, we're talking about something even more useful to overcome your adversaries: a Master's thesis.

There is no shortage of academics, and for young people looking to get ahead -- just not willing to put in the work -- their prayers have been answered. Granted, some bogus dissertations are better than others, but it doesn't matter since no one actually reads them. Trumped-up scholarly honors, hollow awards, and self-selected achievements are less an anomaly in Russia as they're a time-honored tradition, cramming dodgy degrees on your CV practically mandatory to be taken seriously.

a Russian general with medals

Russian Ministry of Defense 


"My jacket’s out of space. Stick those two on my forehead."

The individuals profiting most are corrupt politicians. Shocking, right? A high-ranking official in Putin's cabinet was caught with a shoddily constructed doctoral thesis. Purchasing academic prestige is a huge issue in Russia and former Soviet satellites, a large percentage of the Russian State Duma proven guilty of fraud by investigators.

The ghostwritten academic texts can go for as little as $1,500 USD, a pittance for the opportunity to pilfer millions from the coffers as a government plutocrat.

The Chinese Soup Market Is Wiping Out One Porpoise Species At A Time

Sumatran Tiger penis is so 2012. Vaquita, an adorable type of sea creature closely related to dolphins … 

Paula Olsen/NOAA

… is the new hot exotic animal on money-hungry black marketeers' hit list. 

Prompting the question: Is the porpoise meat unusually delicious or nutritious? Um, no. In fact, most of the aquatic mammals' meat is discarded. It's fished only because of the swim bladder, a substance ingested as a medicine used in Viagra soups. There's no proof it works. That isn't stopping swim-bladder fiends. The placebo effect wins again.

As of 2017, it was estimated that there were only 30 vaquitas left in Mexico's Gulf of California, the animals harvested to produce "aquatic cocaine" that goes for anywhere from 20 to 100 G's per kilo. It's already too late for the Yangtze river dolphin, stricken from the menu only because of presumed extinction. Don't hold your breath for the poor vaquita.

Cactus Poaching Is Killing The Desert

Nothing really completes your yard like a cactus or two if you're going for that authentic Southwestern vibe. Just don't ask where the guy in the Home Depot parking lot got it from.

Unfortunately, nailing the motif often requires tearing cacti out of their fragile natural ecosystem. The Chihuahuan Desert and other protected parks are facing an onslaught of illegal removals of the precious plant. Likewise, Arizona's natural beauty is being dug up one rare cactus at a time. The housing boom in the state sparked the ecological disaster, yuppies looking for ornamental plants at a cut-rate price, decor presumably bought from the same guy who sold them their meth and fake Prada clutches.

a saguaro cactus in the desert

P. Hughes

Because what’s more inviting than a giant needle-tipped middle finger?

Small cacti are shipped as far as Europe. It's easy to see why, with the plant soaring to heights of 30 feet but taking decades to reach it. Saguaros are a fickle breed and are affected by minor changes in climate. Poaching unchecked, and the iconic species might go the way of the northern white rhino, the biodiversity of the region irreversibly mangled in the name of suburban curb appeal.

Tractor-Software Is Transforming Farmers Into Hackers And Political Activists

Companies like John Deere have turned diagnostic software into a racket, charging extortionate rates to fix equipment that already costs a small fortune. City slickers wouldn't know it, but contemporary farm equipment is burdened with complex, proprietary technology. Imagine a 10-ton, air-conditioned iPhone with 7-foot-tall wheels you can't fix yourself. If you thought Apple's terms and conditions were a pain in the ass, it's even worse for the people growing your food.

You're basically screwed if you reside hundreds of miles from a repairman. In a totally unforeseeable twist, farms are usually found in the middle of nowhere. If manufacturers had their way, they would require owners to haul broken-down equipment to a special dealer with the software to analyze and fix their machines regardless of how minor and easily correctable the problem is

code on a computer screen


"Our advanced algorithm analysis detects a wobbly windshield wiper. That'll be $10,000."

At least they did until Easter European hackers reverse-engineered the code, enabling tractor owners to fix their own property, thanks only due to international software pirating. Many US states are in the process of quashing the supremacy of the Agrotech cartel as we speak. It might not save farmers from insolvency, but it might buy them some time.

Used Cooking Oil Burglary Is The Modern-Day Train Robbery

Nasty, used grease is big business. Turns out you were flushing cash down the drain all this time. 

Establishments sell the muck from their fryers instead of dumping it. The practice saves the environment and nets a few bucks, leftover material transformed into fuel, feed for animals, and tallow used in fancy cosmetics. It's little wonder industry experts advise you to lock up your grease vats like Fort Knox, this stuff the secret ingredient in over-priced make-up.

a deep fryer with oil

Wine Dharma

 Clog your pores or your arteries. Take your pick.

Thieves have taken to brazen raids to retrieve the slimy gold. Yup, that odd, old Simpsons plot was legit. Because your local McDonald's is too busy refilling the ketchup dispenser or fishing a Happy Meal toy out of a toilet to bother installing a burglar alarm for the fryer, thieves know they can do a quick and messy job siphoning all they can carry, speeding away like Wild West outlaws, endangering lives as they endanger the environment. 

The National Renderers Association puts the total tally for pilfered grease at 75 million bucks per year in the US, grease pillaging a more reliable bet than hoarding gold or trading cryptocurrencies. 

And to all you folks working dead-end, fast food jobs, don't get any clever ideas

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