FORT MYERS, Fla - When a 19-year-old Glades County man was arrested for selling a low-tech poison that can be used as a weapon of mass destruction, we learned he was using a site that operates like eBay or Amazon, but for criminals. Believe it or not, you paid to build it and your tax dollars keep it running.
A few key strokes and some special software is all it takes to transport you into a black market unlike anything you've ever seen before. You'll find a wide variety of illegal drugs, steroids and fake ID's. It's described as a virtual superstore for criminals.
The sites look professional, with consumer reviews and special discounts to loyal customers, but you won't find these sites by using Google.
"To put it in simplest terms, it's just another internet," explained computer expert John Benkert from LaBelle.
It's called the deep web and it's many times larger than the world wide web we use everyday. It also offers something cyber criminals crave: complete anonymity.
Your IP address is filtered using technology called Tor, which originally stood for the onion router because there are multiple layers of encryption. Remember the Target credit card debacle?
"That's where the credit cards from Target end up, on the deep web," said Benkert. "You can go on the deep web, you can find credit cards, anywhere from $40 to $100 per credit card number, depending on how much information goes along with it."
The deep web was first created by naval scientists in 1996. It's used for plenty of legitimate purposes. For instance, intelligence agents and law enforcement officers use the deep web for covert communication.
"But when bad guys figure it out, they figure how to use it for non-legitimate purposes and they're able to make money off of it," explained Benkert.
So who is paying to keep this virtual black market running? You are. According to Tor's 2012 financial review, 60 percent of it's funding came from the U.S. government. Though some online activists argue the figures are closer to 80 percent.
And Benkert says there's no way to stop it. Sure there have been some victories for law enforcement. Nineteen-year-old Jesse Korff from LaBelle was arrested in January for allegedly selling poison to undercover agents.
Last week, Cape Coral resident Robert Faiella was arrested after he allegedly sold more than a million dollars worth of internet currency.
"There are not enough law enforcement agents to track everything," said Benkert. "You get lucky, you hear something, somebody makes one mistake and you're able to find them from that one mistake. But for everyone that we catch there are probably a thousand that you're not catching"
Two years ago, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives along with the U.S. Marshals service established a task force to penetrate the deep web. WINK News discovered the government is spending at least $54 million to track cyber criminals.
At the same time, the feds spend more than a million dollars every year to allow the deep web to exist.