A federal jury has indicted four men in a US$1.5 million counterfeiting scheme based in Uganda. According to the indictment, Ryan Gustafson, age 27, an American citizen living in Uganda sold counterfeit hundred dollar bills on the dark web for bitcoin and Western Union wire transfers. Despite taking the precautions of using the TOR browser and Jabber to ply his trade, Gustafson was caught because of noob mistakes that led investigators to use facial recognition software to connect a Facebook account associated with his illegal business to a driver’s license photo.
“Today we announce the dismantling of an international cyber conspiracy in which Ugandan-made counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes were being advertised, bought and sold through online criminal forums then passed in coffee shops and corner stores in neighborhoods across our country,” said U.S. Attorney Hickton.
Gustafson was nabbed by Ugandan police several months prior and is currently standing trial there for a variety of charges, including conspiracy, possession of counterfeit, selling/dealing in counterfeit and unlawful possession of ammunition. If convicted, it is unknown whether he will have the chance of facing the music back in America. If so, he will have his work cut out for him as the indictment outlines a strong case against him, as well as tabloid fodder. Here are some of the more sordid details:
Counterfeit currency was found glued between pages of “Give a Child Hope Today” pamphlets
Gustafson better hope a jury of his peers aren’t of the Christian charity persuasion because this is low.
Used his own picture on a Facebook account with his dark web handle, “Jack Farrel”
Authorities knew someone using the handle “Jack Farrel” was involved in the counterfeiting scheme, and they found a Facebook account with this name, then using facial recognition software matched it with a Texas Department of Motor Vehicles photo of the real Gustafson. Further investigation revealed that a Jack Farrel email address was associated with an email address used by Gustafson on his U.S. Passport application.
Logged into email addresses for his handles and real identity from the same IP addresses minutes apart.
Talk about digital hygiene, this guy needs a couple lessons.
Gustafson purchased “anon hands”, custom made gloves made to appear like real hands and conceal one’s fingerprints
Apparently he didn’t know how to use them as authorities were able to match a fingerprint found in one of the packages sent from Uganda to Gustafson’s own.
Aside from Jack Farrel, Gustafson used the handle “Willy Clock”. His accomplices used “Mr. Mouse,” “Sinner,” “Mlin” and “Mr. Casino,”
Not the coolest sounding online identies, although Mr. Casino is pretty good.
Gustafson, through Mr. Mouse, advertised his bills both on the dark web and the surface web, offering them at a price of 45% face value.
Here is the actual advertisement:
Just to review the mistakes this guy made. He counterfeited U.S. federal reserve notes which is a felony. He had a Facebook profile with his criminal handle but real photo. An email he used with his criminal handle he also used to apply for his U.S. passport. He bought anon hands but did not use them properly.
“The dark part of the internet where they were proceeding is not a safe place for the criminals because we can get there now.” boasted U.S. Attorney David Hickton of Pittsburgh to The Associated Press. It’s certainly not a place for blockheads.