Colorado case highlights difficulties of catching criminals on the dark web

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DENVER -- A new case in which a local man allegedly tried to place a hit on his wife is highlighting the difficulties of catching criminals on the dark web.

"It is the wild west of the internet," said Mark Turnage, a man very familiar with the dark web. Turnage's company, DarkOwl, helps law enforcement and cyber security firms monitor the criminals who lurk in the dark web.

"They're horrendous. They're terrible," said Turnage.

The dark web is a portion of the internet that can only be accessed by using certain browsers and software.

"You do not stumble upon the dark web. I equate it to walking down that nasty little ally way where the drug dealers are hanging out and other types of illegal activity occurs," Turnage said.

However, identifying the criminals who use the dark web isn't easy.

"The dark net is appealing to criminals because it completely anonymizes their presence," Turnage explained.

On the dark web, there are no IP addresses. There is no way to trace the person on a keyboard to a physical location. All law enforcement can do is wait for criminals to slip up.

That happened recently in the case of Danny McLaughlin. The Colorado man is accused of attempting to hold a 13-year-old girl captive for sex and trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.

The criminal complaint filed against McLaughlin says his crimes started on the dark web on a site for people who enjoy torture and killing.

McLaughlin was only identified and caught when investigators say he agreed to meet at a Centennial hotel with the person who had agreed to murder his wife. That person was really an undercover detective.

"Thank goodness he made that mistake and was arrested. Had he not gone to that hotel room, it would have been near impossible for them to figure out who this person was," said Turnage.

It's a lucky break in a shady underworld where criminals are rarely caught.

"My first piece of advice is: unless you have a reason to go to the dark net, don't go there," said Turnage.

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