Tip: If You’re Selling Guns on the Dark Web, Don’t Get your Prints on Them

Getting caught.

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Jun 26 2015, 3:08pm

Image: Stephen Z/Flickr

Dark web dealers have a lot to think about. They need to create a second identity that has no connection to their daily life, package their product securely so it isn't detected in the mail, and also have to protect their communications with the use of encryption. Now, all of that is manageable, but one dark web vendor decided to undermine those protections by getting his fingerprints all over a gun he was selling.

US resident Michael Focia, 48, was convicted last week for unlicensed firearms trafficking on the dark web market Agora and the now defunct Black Market Reloaded. He could face up to 15 years in prison, according to local publication Montgomery Advertiser.

It all started back in August 2013, when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) went undercover and bought a firearm from a user calling themselves "iWorks" on Black Market Reloaded. The agents received the .40 caliber handgun, along with two magazines, the next day.

Naturally, the gun had its own serial number. Agents traced this serial, and interviewed its original owner. It turned out that the owner had purchased the gun legitimately for his son. When his son didn't want the gift, he listed the weapon in a classified ad.

Shortly after, a man calling himself "Mike" bought the weapon, who also said that he had the goal "of accumulating five hundred guns," according to the complaint. From here, police checked the plates of the car that "Mike" had driven to pick up the weapon, and were led to Michael Focia. A postal worker who was interviewed also confirmed that a man matching the appearance of Focia had been mailing packages, which were apparently "mother boards" from a UPS store.

Fast forward to October 2014, and the dark web marketplace Agora. Here, undercover agents purchased another weapon, this time from the vendor "RTBArms." When the package arrived, the weapon was sent to a forensic laboratory, and lo and behold, "The latent fingerprints were matched to a known print for Michael Albert FOCIA," according to the complaint.

What this case shows is that although the purchasing of weapons on the dark web may be taking place online, there is always a physical trail that can be picked up by police. The gun serial number, the car used to pick up the weapon, the physical identification of the seller, and, of course, the fingerprints on the gun.

Maybe wear gloves next time.