back to article Suspected dark-web meth dealers caught by, er, 'using real address' when buying stamps

Two suspected dark-web dealers allegedly shipped tens of thousands of meth packages across America using postage stamps... that could be traced to one of their home addresses. The duo – Taiwanese national Leo Hu, and American citizen Tzu Yang Lin, both living in Southern California – went to some lengths to hide their …

  1. SWCD

    For fun..

    If they accepted payment only in Bitcoin, and made $8.8m in sales, post their address(es) up so we can all go look on the blockchain.

    Be interesting to see if that figure is inflated at all!

    Then to consider.. my single bitcoin or so is worth about £1,000 less than what it was a day or two ago, and several £000's more than it was a few weeks ago.

    Factoring in the massive fluctuations of BTC, I wonder what the actual value in cash would be, considering the exchange rates over the times they took payments.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For fun..

      Bitcoin (and similar) only have value when you have converted them into conventional currency, or goods of some specific value, and have actually received said currency or goods. Until then its a speculative gamble.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Until then its a speculative gamble

        that (value only when exchanged for goods) would apply to anything, including cash, no? The only difference between official currencies and bitcoins of the world is how stable (or not) value of this or that "token" is, and how easy / convenient to exchange them for goods or services. Until that point, all tokens are worthless (unless you want to use cash to warm up in times of severe power cuts ;)

        1. phuzz Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Until then its a speculative gamble

          Can't use bitcoin to buy beer in any of my local pubs. Therefore it is useless (to me) as a currency.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Until then its a speculative gamble

            My local doesn't even accept cards. Which is why I don't frequent it. Word is, it's going under soon.

            Cash is dead. It's fast becoming a quaint part of yesteryear that you only really need in rural areas. Just like ADSL.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: For fun..

        Same could be sad for any fiat currency.

        But the more important point is that this shows exactly how much of $CURRENCY$ they received.

        Which is unlike most drug cases where the police get to pick a number and the press happily print it. So they go to court with claims that a corner dealer with a few bags had drugs with a street value of $$$MM

    2. c1ue

      Re: For fun..

      If they used a single or handful of wallets, the blockchain transactions will serve to pump up their charge count.

      Extra benefit of an immutable record...

    3. emmanuel goldstein

      Re: For fun..

      I don't think the article stated they were conducting business using bitcoin. They may have used Monero which is very much more anonymous. And even if they were using bitcoin, it is quite common for these types to use "tumbling" services which make it hard to trace the final wallet address.

      These stories are also interesting in that it seems L.E. are still unable to penetrate the markets themselves and have to rely on analogue detective work.

      And yes, I would like to know how the $8.8 million figure was arrived at.

      1. s2bu

        Re: For fun..

        Reading is hard, search is harder!

        “ and apparently accepted payment only through Bitcoin.”

    4. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: For fun..

      Remember that police math is very different to what the rest of us use.

      They buy drugs in: The cash paid for them is criminal property. The drugs received in exchange are criminal property (at the inflated price dealers charge the cops for drugs). Add those two numbers together.

      They sell them. The drugs sold are criminal property. The bitcoins received is criminal property. Add those two numbers to your previous total.

      They sell the bitcoins - you get the idea ...

      There's two of them involved. Assign the entire amount above individually to each individual, then multiply by two.

    5. Criggie

      Re: For fun..

      It'd be perfectly reasonable for the story to say "they received over 750 bitcoin which would be worth $8.8million USD today"

      But why let facts and small numbers detract from the story ?

  2. Claverhouse Silver badge

    Why would you have to give your name and address to buy stamps ?

    If so, why wouldn't you lie ?

    At the last, just go and buy stamps from anywhere and stick them on. With a sponge, not your tongue.

    1. beep54

      My guess

      They used a card rather than cash.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Paragraph 7 of the article

    4. Jim Mitchell

      As noted, they didn't buy and use stamps, but postage labels. This does not seem to be the brightest choice, but then manually stamping 28,000 packages does sound like something to avoid.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        That sounds like the perfect job for one of those "work at home in your free time" businesses people post ads for on web forums. For bonus points, you ship a boxes of envelopes 100 at a time to different people around the country so the drugs not only don't come from a post office near but not even from the same post office.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          But..but..but...Think of the cost!

        2. c1ue

          Probably tongue in cheek response. The risk of shipping 100 envelopes of illegal drugs to random people is that the people just disappear...

          Mule masters have a different dynamic - they're offering people jobs doing something which seems perfectly innocuous (receiving money, then forwarding most of it onward).

          But agreed - the pair could have posted "freight forwarding" jobs on Craigslist, hired a warm body somewhere for a 3 months or so, then moved on. Note, however, that this would have significantly impacted their profits. $8.8M for 2 or 3 years of work (started at least in 2017) seems like a lot, but not if you have to hire a lot of employees and/or suffer "transport losses".

          1. jmch Silver badge

            Better hire employees and transport losses than ending up in jail

    5. c1ue

      Except standing in line at the post office - there's likely a camera.

      You can buy from a grocery store, but again - since the Post Office knows where the package was mailed from - large volumes are trackable and probably still cameras in grocery stores.

      28000 packages is a lot of stamps.

      Old fashioned detective work, does work - just slower.

      1. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

        Stamps can be bought in rolls as large as ten thousand online, which strips away their last excuse for using a pre-paid label. Somebody might have noticed even then, but a purchase of a single product isn't likely to set off alarm bells.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          I don't imagine there's many people buying stamps in those quantities - few enough for it to be practical for the Feds to look at all of them. In my office of about 50 staff, we send maybe 2 letters per day. 20 years ago, we would have sent thousands, but it mostly goes by email now.

    6. The Man Who Fell To Earth

      Sponge?

      I don't think I've seen a US stamp that wasn't self sticking in over a decade.

      These clowns should have just bought Forever stamps (1st class 1oz US stamps that are good forever even if postage rates increase) from random grocery stores for cash. Yes, they would still have to print the adress labels, but as everyone has pointed out, they'd have been harder to trace.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Sponge?

        The online postage is cheaper than real stamps.

        Even drug dealers have to watch costs in today's competitive retail market

    7. katrinab Silver badge

      They purchased online using some type of bank payment card. You need the billing address of the card to do that.

  3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Cyber vs Meat Space

    The interface between the dark web and meat space strikes again. Something tells me this is sanitized version of what happened with just enough detail to sound plausible but leaving out some key details. But one of the problems with any online sale is the need for a physical shipping point and physical final address. If the goods are illicit it becomes a problem of the someone becoming canary and singing. It sounds like somehow they knew where the shipping point was (possibly from a damaged package) and were staking it out.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: somehow they knew where the shipping point was

      Well yes : the Feds bought some of their goods, so they got a few letters and traced the postage. Given that the guys had made the mistake of taking an account in one of their real names and addresses, they knew who and where to look.

      It's not always a conspiracy, this is actual police work. It's what they are paid for.

      1. Trollslayer Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: somehow they knew where the shipping point was

        I would say it was good solid police work.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Cyber vs Meat Space

      It sounds like somehow they knew where the shipping point was (possibly from a damaged package) and were staking it out.

      did you read the article? his shop bought labels had his label-shop account number on - he basically wrote his name and address on every package sent out!

    3. Dal90

      Re: Cyber vs Meat Space

      > It sounds like somehow they knew where the shipping point was

      Since not that long after 9-11 (especially the anthrax scares a few months later), every piece of mail in the U.S. can be tracked back to where it entered the postal system. Just a matter of cameras at the sorting center, needed for the automated character recognition for mail routing anyways, and keeping track of which bin in the back of a mail truck contains items from which box.

      In addition to any video surveillance that might be available, since they're not tossing the mail around like a lottery drawing the mail is usually in the order it was dropped into the box which makes it easy to track down folks who mailed items before and after to see if they may have noticed any clues.

      The days of anonymously sending a letter by mailing the postmaster in a far away city and enclosing another properly stamped and addressed piece of mail for him to drop into the outgoing mail for you are long over.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do criminals make so much money when they are this stupid?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How?

      Because law enforcement is even stupider.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      It takes time to investigate. The dumb ones will leave themselves open and eventually get caught. They're the ones you hear about. The brighter (or maybe just more lucky ones) cover their tracks more effectively, don't get caught and make more money.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        I suspect that familiarity breeds contempt. And with increased profits come complacency - which is where the small repeated errors and habits allow law enforcement to get them.

      2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        At Doctor Syntax, re: criminals.

        And the really lucky ones get elected to office!

        *Drum sting*

        =-)P

      3. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Yes, the bright ones shift around regularly, change grunts, get prepaid cards tied to false addresses to pay for things like postage. The grunts know better than to squeal on the big cheese(s).

        Which is why the unexplained wealth thing came in. You pay cash for the flash house and flash cars, boats, watches, jewellery you have to be able to account for where the money came from. That is how they are catching the big cheeses. It's a variation of how they caught Capone in the end.

        These two got caught because they didn't become the cheese, they did it themselves and did not use a burner card.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Flame

          These two got caught because they didn't become the cheese,

          They became (the) toast instead.

    3. Trollslayer Silver badge

      They were a bit sloppy not stupid.

      The rest is down to the FDA's hard work.

    4. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

      Supposedly they sold at least 28 thousand packages, which works out to $314.29 each(the indictment alleges they sold on other sites as well(though without giving numbers), so that would bring the average price down a tad). They probably made it that far because they claimed it was a much less dangerous substance, so were lower on the priority list until the feds analyzed their product.

    5. katrinab Silver badge
      Boffin

      Sample bias. You only read about the ones who get caught.

    6. ocflyfish

      Have a friend who is retired LEO. He said we don't always catch the smart ones, but we always catch the stupid ones.

  5. chivo243 Silver badge
    Coat

    Obligatory Scarface quote

    Elvira Hancock: Lesson number two: Don’t get high on your own supply, and then try to do business requiring some forethought, and the ability to remember the forethoughts...

    My coat with my little friend.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ???

    Aderall is methamphetamine. Some derivative In 5mg pills for kids. Mixed with dexedrine (dexys midnight runners)

    Half of America is addicted to meth. Big Pharma beat the trappers to it.

    If you cant get "real" Aderall a little line of base meth will get you through your math test.

    Anon because it will probably stop me getting busted

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: ???

      No it is not Meth. Yes it is amphetamine salts but none of them are Methamphetamine which is way stronger, much more addictive and makes people crazy not just a bit wired.

      I'm in favour of drug liberalisation on a harm reduction basis but I would ban Methamphetamine completely. Just like I would legalise marijuana but keep the synthetic versions on the banned list as they are way nastier. Legal pot would kill that market anyway.

    2. Any other name

      Re: ???

      Aderall is methamphetamine.

      Adderall is a mixture of several salts of amphetamine; the Wikipedia's article on it is quite detailed. (we can debate why the mixture is quite so complex, given that the active ingredient(s) of all these salts are the same; my bet is on patentability rather than on any measurable therapeutical advantage).

      Methamphetamine is a different chemical compound - it has an extra methyl (ie CH<sub>3</sub>) group at the amino nitrogen. Pharmacologically it is similar, but not the same as amphetamine. In particular it appears that it is significantly easier to develop an addiction to methamphetamine than to amphetamine - such as Adderall.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: ???

        >but I would ban Methamphetamine completely.

        And destroy mathematical research ?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, Hu...

    ...got arrested?

    I already have my hat, thank you.

    1. Semtex451 Silver badge

      Re: So, Hu...

      Hu's on first. Watts on second.

    2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: So, Hu...

      Shouldn't this article have appeared under the Register's "Hu, me?" category?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Their criminal enterprise was philately flawed

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bought postage stamps to deliver the drugs using his real name and address

    Do you have to provide your ID and proof of address to buy stamps in the US? I thought it only worked back in the USSR?! ;)

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: bought postage stamps to deliver the drugs using his real name and address

      Do you have to provide your ID and proof of address to buy stamps in the US?

      No, but you have to read more than the headline before you comment on an article.

  10. Junglistflex
    FAIL

    Junglistflex

    Always remember the paper trail is the biggest enemy of an online drug dealer. Even crypto-currency is being scrutinised by the Fed's (their nerds love breaking codes, most of them were onion geeks in the first place. Actually bbs geeks using 9.6k modems wanking over Jolly Rogers cookbook and terrorists handbook. Those were the days. If you don't mind being tracked by the NSA then textfiles.com is a bit of nostalgia for any serious geeks. I remember being called a nerd back in the 90s, now look at all of you. I'm just too white and nerdy. Follow the flock sheeple.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Junglistflex

      Lucky b*stards. I started with a 300 bps acoustical modem. Then, again, I don't work for the feds, but I am a professional cryptographer. :-)

      As for being tracked by the feds, I'm pretty sure I already am, for a variety of reasons ("Hi guys/gals!").

      And, as for the books, the "Anarchist Cookbook" is an excellent way to kill oneself, in a most painful way (Note that it may be illegal for people to possess this in certain countries.). "2600: The Hacker Quarterly" also is interesting historical reading (but, don't try the stuff, since most of it is rather dated/obsolete). Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" is also an interesting read. :-)

    2. ocflyfish

      Re: Junglistflex

      Oh man that brings back memories. PC Board, 2400 baud modems, Fido-net, oh my!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not worried about drugs

    I think I'm more worried that no one has even considered the statement of 'we saw a suspicious tote bag in the back of a vehicle' more worrying than anything else

    Apparently using bags makes you a suspicious character to US law enforcement #worried

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Not worried about drugs

      Apparently using bags makes you a suspicious character to US law enforcement

      I suspect it depends on your complexion. If you have northern European ancestry and complexion, you will be fine. If you have unwisely "chosen" to be brown, or even as light brown as some people with Chinese-sounding names then it will be suspicious...

    2. Craig 2 Silver badge

      Re: Not worried about drugs

      Anything is suspicious if you're already suspected of sending drugs through the postal system and using a fake name.

    3. David Nash Silver badge

      Re: Not worried about drugs

      Despite you putting quotes around it, that is not a correct quote from the article.

      Here is the actual quote, pasted from the article:

      "a suspicious large plastic tote bag"

      ie. it wasn't that having a bag was in itself suspicious. But it was "suspiciously large"

      I don't know what the size limit is for a bag not being suspicious!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Not worried about drugs

        >I don't know what the size limit is for a bag not being suspicious!

        3.4 oz (100ml)

        The fact the safe limit isn't a whole number in Freedom Units is because the terrorists are all foreign.

  12. Potemkine! Silver badge

    What a nice story. I would rather believe Police got a tip-off, and it wants to protects the informant with this cover story.

    1. Dvon of Edzore
      Paris Hilton

      Sigh. Please read the whole story. It wasn't pretty little anonymous pictures distributed by a former Federal agency, it was Internet-based postage meter labels that contain the purchaser's account number printed on each to demonstrate the Postal Service got its pound of flesh before attempting to deliver the goods. A quick chat with the online service provider translated that number into the artillery coordinates for the SWAT team. No weasel-protecting needed.

  13. JulieM Silver badge

    Who needs an address to buy stamps?

    At what sort of post office need you give your address just to buy stamps?

    ProTip: If you are running an illegal mail-order enterprise, it's best to pay for your stamps with coins (no serial numbers), not handle them or your outgoing parcels with your bare hands and definitely not moisten the adhesive with your own saliva.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not exactly new

    its not like postal drugs are new.

    doing it using corporate internal post is not that smart.

    and using internal email to a arrange deals is not smart.

    especially if your customers manager checks your mail when your not in.

    its even stupider if your based at the biggest government office in Europe and your employer is the inland revenue.

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