INDIANAPOLIS — In an undisclosed building, the Indiana Attorney General’s office has a computer that allows the agency’s investigators to access the dark web.
The dark web is a hidden collection of internet sites you can’t find through traditional search engines, like Google.
“It’s off the beaten path,” said Douglas Swetnam, section chief for data privacy and the identity theft unit at the Attorney General’s office. “You can’t see using your normal browser. You need a special browser to see it.”
The Attorney General’s office keeps the computer separate because what’s on the dark web could infect and destroy the computer, or even the entire network.
Swetnam said you should not attempt to visit the dark web.
“It’s not the kind of thing you should do unless you’re really sure what you’re doing,” said Swetnam. “It’s a really good way to ruin your computer or get scammed.”
The Attorney General’s office gave WRTV Investigates a first-of-its-kind inside look at the dark web in the hopes that people will take additional steps to protect their personal information.
The agency monitors the dark web to look for trends so it can alert the public.
“The dark web markets are like the amazon of crime,” said Swetnam.
Swetnam showed WRTV the dark web has an endless supply of illegal activity you can get involved in, including drugs and paraphernalia to buy, as well as how-to guides on hacking.
“Here's a tool so someone can hack into your Android phone and use it for whatever they want,” said Swetnam. “It's a dollar."
WRTV Investigates saw “exploit kits” for just $10, which allow someone to install malware on your computer or phone and get access to your personal information.
When there’s a data breach, like the one that happened with Equifax, hackers sell your personal and financial information on the dark web.
Swetnam also showed us how for just $75 you can get a package deal with someone’s credit report, social security number and driver’s license.
“I don’t think people realize there’s a website out there that’s actually selling their information,” said Swetnam.
Someone can easily buy your personal or financial information on the dark web, steal your identity and rack up debt in your name.
WRTV Investigates has told you about an uptick in all kinds of scams including government imposter scams, like the one that hit Jena Pollard of Indianapolis.
“They told me my social security number had been compromised and that they were going to be giving me a new one,” said Pollard.
The Attorney General’s office showed WRTV Investigates how an increasing number of scammers are getting how-to guides on phone scams on the dark web.
“The ultimate fraud package of 6500 items for nine dollars,” said Swetnam. “It's almost a dictionary of fraud.”
Criminals are using the dark web and COVID-19 to defraud the state’s unemployment system and even small business loans.
“The CARES Act and the flood of new money into the system opened an opportunity for all the bad guys,” said Swetnam. “It's Christmas for crooks.”
Swetnam said he’s some crazy things on the dark web.
“An advertisement for assassins, murder for hire, beatings, torture, making it look like an accident,” said Swetnam.
So, why not shut down the dark web or at least the people selling on it?
“It’s whack a mole,” said Swetnam. “As soon as they take down one market, another one pops up.”
The Attorney General’s office does often alert the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to what they see on the dark web, but tracking the culprits is difficult because the dark web thrives on anonymity and secrecy.
Plus, making arrests can be difficult even if you know who the criminals are.
“Most of the activity that we see originates outside the US,” said Swetnam.
The Attorney General’s office wants to show you the dark web so you will take better steps to protect yourself.
Tips To Protect Yourself
- If you get a phone call, text, email or social media message—always safeguard your personal information
- Don’t give out your personal or financial information unless you’re certain who you’re giving it to
- Create strong and unique passwords for your accounts
- Beware of free Wi-fi
- Avoid oversharing personal details on social media
- Do not reply to unsolicited email messages