A tour inside Darknet, a growing playground for criminals

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Darknet is a system of underground servers that also serves as a playground for criminals.

Its sophistication and reach have grown exponentially in recent years and parents and teens are now turning to it to score drugs.

Action News Investigative reporter Chad Pradelli took a tour inside the Darknet with Homeland Security's Cybercrimes Investigation Task Force. It's a collection of roughly 20 agents with Homeland Security, the Secret Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration whose sole purpose is to bring down criminals on the Darknet .

Deputy Special Agent of Homeland Security Investigations' Philadelphia Office, William Walker said, "There are literally billions of dollars flowing through these sites."

A scroll through the Darknet looks like eBay, only the goods for sale are AK47s, uranium, illegal passports, and drugs.

Walker calls the vendors purveyors of crime and dealers of death.

"It's a 24/7 operation. They need administrators just like eBay has administrators. They have a dispute center and employees who get paid a salary. There are on average 2.5 million people accessing the Darknet every single day," Walker said.

A Lehigh Valley father of two scored his drugs on the Darknet . He doesn't want to be identified, but says his drug of choice was Fentanyl. It's potent synthetic opioid killing people across the country. He mixed it with nasal spray.

The Lehigh Valley man turned to the Darknet for its simplicity, saying, "I didn't have to search out to find someone anymore because it was right there."

He hit rock bottom when the Cybercrimes Investigation Task Force came knocking.

"It was a sickening feeling, and I felt like this is the level I am at," he said.

Investigators said an increasing number of everyday people like him are turning to the Darknet for drugs. Accessing the Darknet is easy. You just need to install the Tor Browser.

Deputy Special Agent William Walker said more and more teens are buying drugs on the Darknet. He says millions of packages are arriving through the mail every single day with contraband purchased underground. Finding them is like finding a needle in a haystack.

According to a recent global drug survey, nearly 20% of abused drugs were purchased on the Darknet last year.

Walker has a warning.

"Parents need to be asking the tough questions. If they see the Tor Browser on their child's laptop, that's a clue and they need to explore that. If they see their child dabbling in buying virtual currency, that's a clue and they need to be asking why," Walker said.

It's a sentiment shared by the Lehigh Valley father.

"Watch out on your family member, keep an eye on things because it's so accessible," he said.

Parents are also urged to be aware if their children are often getting random packages in the mail.

The Homeland Security's Cybercrimes Investigation Task Force includes the US Postal Inspection Service, High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), US Postal Service- Office of Inspector General (USPS-OIG), Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
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