Thinking about using the “dark web” to smuggle drugs? Think again

Drug distribution rings have gotten increasingly complex and widespread — and the scrutiny from both state and federal authorities is intense. While a lot of people think of the internet as pretty anonymous — particularly once you start delving into the “dark web,” or hidden internet sites where illegal activity tends to be common — the reality is that the authorities have gotten wiser than they were in the past.

The Northern California Illicit Digital Economy Task Force was formed in Sacramento just to combat online drug sales and distribution rings. While dark web activities were once a haven for drug traffickers, weapons dealers and more, those days are past. Here are some of the methods that law enforcement uses to catch people:

  • Physical observation: The internet has to connect with the real world at some point in every transaction. Once investigators have a line on a suspect, they’ll follow them from their homes to see where and when they access the internet. Nothing is really out of reach.
  • Data gathering: People operating a drug trade on the dark web have to get their customers and connections somewhere — so they often participate in forums related to the dark web on regular websites like Reddit, 4Chan and others. Even if you’re talking in code, the odds are good that the authorities know what you’re saying and are tracking your communications.
  • Package tracking: It’s not unusual for investigators to haunt post office boxes for shipments containing drugs. They may even monitor deliveries and let the drugs go through, just to obtain more evidence against a suspect.
  • Deception: It’s called “lemonising.” It basically involves undercover operatives posing as buyers, sellers and other key players in the drug trade acting both as disruptors to an organization’s flow and information-gatherers.

Essentially, you need to remember this: The internet isn’t nearly as vast or as anonymous as you think. Investigators have grown increasingly sophisticated in their approach to drug activities online. If you’re facing charges, get help fast.