RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's the summer of 2015 and Ryan Nichols is looking to get high. His drug of choice? Fentanyl.
A powerful drug, deadlier than heroin. But Nichols, fed up with bad transactions from dealers on the street, and poor quality drugs, reached for his smart phone, and entered the DarkNet to find his fix online.
According to the FBI, more and more drug users are turning to these online black markets to buy illegal drugs.
"I figured why not try. You don't have to leave, you don't have to go out of town. You don't have to do anything, it just comes right to your door," said Nichols.
Nichols say he looked up on YouTube how to access the DarkNet through a protected server that hides his identity; perfect for someone looking to make an illicit purchase on online forums while remaining anonymous.
While drugs are the biggest item purchased and sold on the DarkNet's market places, the FBI says it also seeing child pornography, stolen credit card data, and services like hacking, even hit men, all up for sale.
"An online eBay for narcotics," said Nichols. "Anything, everything, from opiates to MDMA, to credit cards, cocaine, marijuana, LSD. Anything illicit you could imagine, you could find."
Nichols got clean, and has been sober for the past eight months through help from the local non-profit, the McShin foundation. He says he still understands the lure of buying online. The drugs are more pure because they often come from a lab, rather than exchanging hands with dealers several times over."
"The forums are detailed. You can do everything. You can read reviews of the previous customers. How it was packaged, how it arrived, the quality," said Nichols.
At the peak of his use, Nichols says packages containing fentanyl arrived at his door four times a week. The drugs were usually disguised, once hidden in a pack of Pokémon cards.
"You could also choose the discretion that they used when packaged. If you wanted to pay a little more to have a fool proof plan, like a hard drive, or crazy bound books you could do that too," he said.
Nichols say he didn't worry about getting caught, only about getting high.
According to the FBI, DarkNet markets are difficult to crack.
Just last month the agency joined a task force called Operation Hyperion, which takes aim at these online black markets, focusing not on individuals, but on the organizations that run them.
In 2013, the FBI shut down the most famous marketplace, the Silk Road, and put its creator behind bars.
Nichols says the problem is once one marketplace is gone, a copycat appears.
"I think it's going to get a lot worse, once word gets out on how easy this ease," said Nichols.
During Operation Hyperion last month, the FBI says it made contact with more than 150 people suspected of purchasing drugs from various DarkNet marketplaces.
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