Black Markets You Never Knew Existed


To most people a black market is an illicit way of selling or trading something that may or may not be legal, is scarce or hard to come by. During prohibition there was a massive black market for alcohol, for instance. Any place in which they criminalize drugs is going to have a black market trade in narcotics. And then there are those things that inexplicably develop a black market even though, at first glance, it makes no sense.

10. Spam

The Hormel company introduced Spam back in 1937. It made use of pork shoulder, a cut of meat that no one really liked, and has proven to be an enduring and oddly popular product ever since. These days, they sell 141 million cans of spam every year. You’d figure with such wide availability that there would be no illicit trade. But you’d be wrong.

It’s been common knowledge for some time that Spam is especially popular in Hawaii. They take down more cans than any other state, a tradition that dates back to the Second World War when Hormel used to supply the United States military with the canned meat. Because it doesn’t require refrigeration and has a long shelf-life, it was ideal for shipping to GIs no matter where they were stationed.

Because they inundated the islands with Spam, it became something of a local delicacy. In 2017, the demand for Spam in Hawaii got so intense that stores had to endure a rash of thefts, and a black market for the meat sprang up.

Thieves we’re taking it by the caseload from stores, so shopkeepers started locking it in plastic display cases the same way they do with things like cell phones are razors.  Apparently it was being resold and of the backs of cars how to turn a quick profit.

9. Breast Milk

There are several laws and regulations in place that govern the sale of food and drink. However, there are no actual regulations relating to the sale of human breast milk, which kind of falls outside the realm of what is considered food in a commercial sense. Because of that, it’s not really illegal to sell breast milk, and for that reason there actually is a market for it.

If it sounds weird at first, consider that there could be a genuine need for this kind of market. Any mothers who cannot produce their own breast milk but still want their baby to be fed naturally might be interested.

It’s for that reason that the underground breastmilk market exists, including several websites that are dedicated to selling only breast milk. Women who have extra milk to sell will advertise it the way you might advertise anything. Here, they’ll boast if it’s organic, vegan, gluten and dairy free, and so on. On the site there are several thousand classifieds up at any given time from buyers and sellers.

Lest you think the entire marketplace is wholesome and interested in making sure babies are receiving essential nutrients, there is a slightly more sinister side to the whole thing. There’s always the possibility that the people interested in buying breast milk are just doing it to fulfill a fetish of some kind. And apparently bodybuilders also buy it, claiming that it’s a superior supplement to the store-bought kinds for helping to build muscle. 

8. Russian Cheese

You could make a good case that cheese is one of the best foods mankind has ever created. It goes with just about everything, and there are literally thousands of different kinds. Some people take their love of cheese a bit too far though, and that is abundantly clear in Russia where there is a massive black market for the dairy products.

Thanks to Covid-19 and the restrictions it put on traveling around Europe, a Finnish cheese called Oltermanni is the number one illegally traded item in the country. The cheese cost five Euros per kilo in Finland, but in Russia it’s going to cost you four times as much. 

Customs officials in Finland have been trying to monitor trucks from Russia that have been smuggling the cheese across the border. Some supermarkets have tried to crack down by limiting cheese sales to a perfectly reasonable 11 kilograms. That’s over 20 pounds of cheese, incidentally.

Why exactly the Russians have chosen this particular cheese is open to speculation. Russia is not known for producing noteworthy cheese, and the country doesn’t even make their own cheddar.

7. Razors 

If you’ve ever gone to a store like Walmart to buy razors for shaving, you may have wondered why they keep them under lock and key all the time. Razors are relatively small and expensive for their size, which makes them a prime target for theft. So stores typically keep them secure to prevent loss. 

Cities around the country have had issues with thieves making offers large quantities of razors which are very easy to hide and walk out of a store with. Over $1,000 worth of razors can easily be stashed in a fairly small bag.

Reselling razors is remarkably easy because they are always an in-demand product. They’re not something that you can trace, and people could sell them easily on websites like Craigslist or even eBay.

Research suggests that the razor market will be worth about $22.5 billion by the year 2030, which gives you all the explanation you need for why a black market exists.

6. Disney Guides

More often than not when a black market exists it’s for a physical product. But there are rare occasions when a black market exists not for a product but a service. Black market Disney guides are one such example.

If you have never been to Disney World, you may not be aware that the lines to access attractions can be atrociously long. It’s not unheard of for people to wait hours to get access to a popular ride. But not everyone in the park has to wait that long all the time. If you have a disability, there is a second line available to help you gain access to an attraction sooner. It’s a courtesy that Disney offers customers who are differently abled and may not be able to handle waiting for such a long time in the line.

Now the thing about these lines that allow a disabled person to jump to the front is that people who are accompanying them are allowed to skip the line as well. And that is the source of the black market service. Those who can afford it, and rates around $130 an hour, will hire disabled guides for their Disney World visits so that their families can skip lines. 

After word of this scam broke, Disney released a statement saying that they were going to take action, so it’s very possible that this particular black market has been squashed.

5. High School Cafeteria Salt

School cafeterias have had a bad reputation for about as long to school so had cafeterias. While some school districts really put in some effort to ensure that kids receive food that is  supposed nutritious and delicious, other school boards are still back in the days of salisbury steak and mystery meat. You might think that the first option would be the more popular one, but that’s not always the case.

In 2010 Barack Obama introduced the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, regulating how public schools served food to students. Part of these regulations included limits on certain unhealthy ingredients, like sodium.

Kids at one school in Indiana really liked their salt and did not take kindly to Obama’s nutrition regulations. After they put sodium limitations in place, students began selling salt for $1 a shake in their school cafeteria.

The black market salt shakes were short-lived, and the school’s principal shut it down as soon as she figured out what was going on. Although budding entrepreneurs may not have made too much cash, at least they brought to light the fact that they was little scientific evidence supporting the government’s sodium restrictions, and also the fact that with the salt restrictions in place, no one was eating the school lunches because they tasted bland which was arguably even worse than eating nutritionally suspect lunches.

4. Butt Lifts

Some things make more sense being part of a black market than others. The black market for alcohol and drugs is something that, even if you don’t agree with it, you can at least understand. The black market for illegal butt lifts, however, is another matter altogether.

If you’re not familiar, a butt lift is a plastic surgery procedure that involves removing excess skin and fat from around the buttocks and then repositioning what’s left over to make your butt look more toned. That’s if it’s done properly by a real, licensed plastic surgeon.

Black market butt lifts are done by unlicensed people — sometimes people who have no medical knowledge or experience. Victims who have experienced them are typically referred to the pseudo-doctor by a friend and, upon meeting them at their home, have had unknown substances injected into their buttocks. No prep work, no forms to fill out, just an unlabeled injection.

The substance being injected into people is generally not medical-grade silicone, but silicone jelly like you’d get from hardware stores. In real plastic surgery procedures, silicone is in a sealed implant. The illegal ones inject it directly into tissue where it can harden, travel around, or even leak right back out again. More than one person has died as a result of these procedures, and many others have endured serious pain and disfigurement as a result.

3. Krispy Kreme

You may not have noticed, but Krispy Kreme doesn’t actually advertise anywhere. The company’s reputation is pretty much entirely word of mouth and unsolicited media. Anytime you see a Krispy Kreme donut in a movie or a TV show, they didn’t pay to put it there; the producers wanted to use it. They’re really popular donuts.

Any time a new Krispy Kreme location opens you can count on there being people literally camped out outside the store waiting to be the first to experience a brand new donut. And anytime you see the light on the store declaring the donuts are being made, you can pop in and get a free one.

If you don’t have a Krispy Kreme location near you, you may just lament that you don’t get to experience what all the fuss is about. But at least one family in Juarez, Mexico, decided that they could bring Krispy Kreme to the masses with a black market supply.

The Garcia family traveled from Juarez to El Paso every single day back in 2017 to pick up dozens of donuts and then sell them to locals for a 60% markup. What they’re doing isn’t illegal by any means; they’re not smuggling the donuts or stealing them, they’re just reselling for an impressive profit and proving that people will pay just about anything to get their hands on a Krispy Kreme donut.

2. Plagiarized Dissertations

Cheating in the academic world is certainly not unheard of. If you’ve been a student in the past 20 years, you know that most schools require you to submit any written essays to a service which will scan it for plagiarism. About 60% of high school students admit to plagiarism, and about one-third of college students have copped to it. Russia has taken plagiarism to a new level that goes well beyond school kids being stupid. 

Plagiarized dissertations have become commonplace throughout Russia. These aren’t high school essays; these are the documents on which someone gets a doctoral degree. Vladimir Putin’s Chief of Staff was discovered to have bought a plagiarized dissertation back in 2016.

They sell these dissertations on the black market, written by ghostwriters who clearly don’t have a lot of integrity when it comes to original writing. They plagiarize portions of dissertations, repackage them, and then sell them to someone else who is looking to take the easy road to get a degree.

Obviously the motivation for using a plagiarized dissertation is that you can parlay that into getting a doctorate, which increases your reputation, and likely the salary at your future job. And in Russia, the motivation to do things honestly often isn’t really there. For instance, that Chief of Staff didn’t actually suffer any kind of repercussions when it was discovered he had simply bought his way into a degree. He made a semi-apologetic statement on his own behalf, and then business continued as usual.

Over 1,000 high-profile Russian officials were accused of the same kind of plagiarism. They range from politicians to judges to heads of universities and lawyers. A website called Dissernet, which is run by volunteers looking to expose fraud, found 5,600 cases

Because there seem to be no actual consequences for their actions, the plagiarists barely even try to hide their dishonesty. At least one case discovered by Dissernet was a plagiarized dissertation on the Russian chocolate industry. The highjacked version was about the beef industry, and they literally just copy and pasted the word beef over chocolate in the original.

1. Disease Survivor Blood

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make people come up with novel ways to preserve their own health and well-being. We’ve already seen people resorting to trying to drink household cleaners to prevent Coronavirus, but a new industry has been cramping up as well.

Possibly inspired by the Ebola outbreak of 2014 when those afraid of the virus were purchasing plasma from survivors of the disease, a black market for Coronavirus survivor plasma has sprung up in the Middle East.

Plasma has been successful in helping treat the disease so those who have a ready supply in their own blood have been selling it for as much as $1,500 to $2,000 per liter.

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