The party never stops in Reddit’s r/Cocaine, where cokeheads chat, share memes, post photos of their latest score and hand out advice to new skiers. It’s a real blowtopia — and a great “place for friends to discuss cocaine” — but if you read between the lines, you’ll see that it’s also a hunting ground for scammers looking to prey on desperate coke lovers. And some fear that cops are hiding out in the subreddit, waiting to pounce on whoever they can sucker into a sting.
Threads warning of crooks and possible narcs are posted every few days, and the moderators continually serve up stickied comments to protect frantic r/Cocaine users. “Anyone trying to sell you drugs or trying to give you their vendor’s info is a scammer,” one cautions. “No legit dealer is dumb enough to solicit total randos on the internet into buying their coke.”
It’s easy to see where their paranoia comes from, though. Join r/Cocaine, and you’ll be instantly pinged by DMs asking if you want to buy blow, and you can expect more every time you post or comment. “Hello mate,” one DMer says to me. “How are you doing? I know a drug vendor that is willing to sell his drugs at an affordable price.” Another writes, “Dude if you need a plug, try Scout. He sells higher quality shit — me and my friends buy from him.”
Inevitably, your new BFF will then try to convince you to send them Bitcoin or gift cards — which are equally untraceable — in exchange for coke. “It starts as an advance-fee scam, which is a fancy way of saying you pay and receive nothing in return,” say the moderators of r/Scams in a combined message (they add that these sorts of scams are “pretty common” among all drug-related subreddits, not only r/Cocaine). “The scammers keep trying to scam you for more money until you stop paying. It starts with what they call ‘refundable insurance,’ and if you pay that, the reasons [for you needing to send them more cash] will become more and more absurd until the victim finally catches on.” Sometimes, scammers will even use fake shipping sites that allow you to look up tracking numbers to make the scam seem more legitimate. “If you don’t fall for the refundable insurance, they can try to blackmail you instead,” the moderators warn.
Apparently, this happens all the time. “I can’t believe I fell for it, but I got scammed by someone on here for $800,” one r/Cocaine user posts. Another says they lost $360. Yet another warns of scammers stealing Bitcoin, then “threatening to expose the user’s information to local law enforcement unless they send 600 dollars.”
That said, people are split on whether police are using similar tactics to lure people into buying drugs online so they can arrest them. But while cops have been known to perform online sting operations on big-time drug dealers, it’s pretty unlikely that they’d waste their time on some dude trying to buy a gram on Reddit — in part because you can easily maintain your anonymity online. “There’s no evidence that law enforcement is involved,” says u/spinderella69, a moderator of r/Cocaine. (They also explain that sourcing drugs on r/Cocaine is a bannable offense, but because moderators don’t have access to DMs, they can’t really stop it from happening.)
Reddit granted police user information only 424 times in 2020, about 300 of which were emergency disclosure requests involving life-or-death situations, so again, there’s just no hard data to suggest that cops are lurking on r/Cocaine to nab someone trying to get their hands on a baggie.
So then, who’s behind these scams? It’s tough to say. “Scammers are a diverse group, and they try to conceal as much about themselves as possible,” the r/Scams moderators explain. They mention that you can sometimes tell where they’re based on how they type, but that doesn’t really help you — even if you know their location, you can’t report them. You’re trying to buy cocaine, after all.
Of course, there’s always a risk of being scammed when you’re trying to buy drugs, especially when you’re dealing in an unregulated drug market. In person, you could pay for a “gram of cocaine” that’s really a sack of baking soda. And it’s easy to think that drug buyers are even more prone to scams now that deals have moved more and more online, where you never really know who you’re buying from — the Global Drug Survey consistently shows an increase in people buying their drugs from the dark web or encrypted messaging apps, like Televend on Telegram. (That’s where I was directed to contact “Scout” about his “higher quality shit.”)
In reality, the internet is actually one of the safest places to buy drugs — if you know where to get them (and no, it’s not on Reddit). “The darknet markets that operate on the dark web have built-in safeguards,” says Melbourne-based writer and dark web explorer Eileen Ormsby, author of Silk Road and The Darkest Web. “Vendors who’ve not yet established themselves as trusted are required to only make transactions through escrow. Rather than paying the vendor directly, the customer pays the market, which holds the funds in escrow until the customer receives (and hopefully tests) the goods, rates the vendor on customer service, quality, speed and packaging, and releases the funds to the vendor. If the goods don’t arrive, the customer can open a dispute, and the market operator will resolve the dispute.”
Online drug dealers are also required to “pay a significant vendor bond to a market,” Ormsby continues, which they’ll only get back after a large number of successful sales. It’s sort of like a Yelp for online drug dealing, and if you’re not an honest dealer, you won’t survive.
But that’s not to say the dark web is entirely scam-free. “Those who are most likely to get scammed are new customers who get approached via DM and are convinced to make a transaction outside the protection of the markets with promises of a heavy discount,” Ormsby explains. “The people doing the approaching in that case are generally not even dealers.”
So, sorry, Scout. You won’t be getting any of my money today.