Federal authorities have in recent months been acting to stop business on anonymous internet black markets where officials say illegal transactions routinely take place.
As part of those efforts, officials recently announced the arrest of a New Hampshire man, accusing him of the illegal sale of firearms on the site Black Market Reloaded, which uses the digital currency known as Bitcoin.
The 38-year-old Hampton man faces an array of criminal charges, including selling firearms without a license, conspiracy to commit money laundering and illegal smuggling of guns from the U.S. to foreign destinations.
Prosecutors claim the man sold a variety of semiautomatic rifles and handguns to an undercover agent in New Jersey over a three-month period. The items were allegedly sent to the agent via U.S. mail.
The website apparently resembles mainstream online vendors such as Amazon and eBay, but is accessible only through an encrypted network called Tor. The encryption serves to mask users' identities by hiding digital information including a user's location.
Buyers and sellers on Black Market Reloaded conduct business using Bitcoin.
Using the digital currency anonymously on the underground sites enables vendors to sell everything from firearms to narcotics to explosives and other illegally traded items, officials say.
A month ago, the well-known underground market, Silk Road, was shut down and its alleged owner-operator arrested.
Prosecutors recently said two people have agreed to plea deals related to drug charges involving the Silk Road site.
"People who think they can hide behind a veil of an 'underground' website to buy and sell weapons illegally are mistaken," said the Homeland Security agent who headed the investigation into the activities of the New Hampshire suspect.
Source: Reuters, "U.S. arrests man for selling guns online for Bitcoins," by Emily Flitter, Nov. 7, 2013