The cross-border payment service is gaining popularity on the dark web. The reason was the difficulty in transferring funds through banks, including due to their disconnection from international payment services or the refusal of counterparties. Despite the fact that a significant part of these services is in the gray zone, they can also be used in legal schemes. Foreign buyers may be attracted by the desire to avoid the risk of falling under secondary sanctions.
The number of proposals to create a payment gateway for settlements between foreign consumers and Russian counterparties for the goods and services they provide has increased on the darknet, experts interviewed by Kommersant said. If earlier there were single sentences, now the score goes to dozens. This is due to the uncertainty of small and micro businesses in uninterrupted banking services in the current conditions, foreign economic operations are at the greatest risk, says Anna Avakimyan, chief analyst at RegBlok.
The ads studied by Kommersant suggest the creation of a chain for accepting payments from the CIS countries, Europe and Asia. To receive the service for receiving funds, the client must contact the intermediary in the TG channel or by e-mail and discuss the conditions. After that, the intermediary will accept funds from a foreign buyer to his bank card or SIM card. The money is transferred to the seller in cryptocurrency, but fiat can also be paid on individual terms. In the announcement, which Kommersant got acquainted with, it was proposed to withdraw once a day from 100 thousand rubles.
In fact, these services compete with legal companies that provide services for accepting Visa and Mastercard cards issued by foreign banks to pay for goods and services in Russia (see Kommersant of October 24). Such companies, in particular Prodamus and Life Pay, charge commissions of 8.5-10%.
The darknet service is more expensive: 20-30%, part of the counterparty's expenses can be disguised in the form of commissions for conversion operations and for opening auxiliary accounts, Ms. Avakimyan explains. Sergey Trukhachev, head of Internet threat analytics at RTK-Solar, clarifies that in some cases the commission can exceed 50% of the amount of funds spent.
However, the service has its consumers. The chain may be needed for the export of goods, works, services from the Russian Federation to any CIS country in cases where such goods and others are subject to one or another type of state control in Russia, which the exporter cannot or does not want to comply with for one reason or another, believes Partner of the Timofeev, Gusev & Partners Bar Association Vladimir Chikin. In the CIS, the lawyer clarifies, there is a free trade zone: Russian goods are not subject to import duties. But goods may be subject to other fees in the country of destination, he stresses.
The darknet payment scheme can also be used in settlements when the recipient fears that the currency control of a foreign correspondent bank will refuse to make a payment, Elena Mende, lawyer of the Anatoly Sobchak Baltic Bar Association, notes. For example, she knows cases when a correspondent bank refused to make a dollar transfer because of the Crimean residence of the recipient of the funds.
However, a significant part of such operations takes place in a real gray zone. “In particular, such settlements are possible in cases where all bank accounts of the payee are blocked, and others cannot be opened due to being on the bank black list,” explains Elena Mende. According to her, depending on the actual circumstances, as a result of such operations, the acquiring owner, and sometimes the seller of services, may be held liable for illegal banking activities and money laundering.
Foreign buyers, according to Ms. Mende, can also resort to such payment schemes when they need to purchase services from a Russian seller in the absence of the possibility of direct payment due to international sanctions or simply the risk of bank rejection of funds. Another important factor, the lawyer adds, may be the desire to reduce the risk of falling under secondary sanctions.