Darknet druglord busted for operating $100M ‘Incognito Market’

The kingpin of “Incognito Market,” an international dark web marketplace for illicit drugs, was busted by US federal agents over the weekend – and now faces life in prison for operating the black-market emporium.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said the 23-year-old suspect – Rui-Siang Lin of Taiwan – was arrested while traveling through New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on May 18th.

Appearing in Manhattan federal court Monday, the DoJ said that Lin, also known by the online username “Pharoah” or “faro,” ran the illicit market from its inception in October 2020 until it was closed down by authorities in March.

Incognito Market was said to have allowed users to anonymously buy and sell tens of millions of dollars worth of illegal narcotics worldwide – considered to be one of the largest underground drug operations on the Internet.

The dark bazaar sold a plethora of criminal substances, including hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, methamphetamines, misbranded prescription medication, as well as heroin, LSD, MDMA, oxycodone, ketamine, and alprazolam.

Buyers logged into the market had access to search thousands of listings for their drug of choice, the DoJ said.

“Incognito Market is a market with a focus on both ease of use and security… nothing useless or bloated to slow you down,” the website’s landing page reads.

Incognito Market landing page
Upon visiting the Incognito Market site, users were met by a splash page and graphic interface. Image by US Department of Justice.
Incognito Market listings sample
An example of listings on Incognito Market. Image by US Department of Justice.

“As alleged, Rui-Siang Lin operated a sophisticated and dangerous online narcotics marketplace through which he profited millions of dollars at the community’s expense,” said US Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York.

“The so-called ‘dark web’ is not a safe haven for those who seek to break the law,” Williams said.

The Operation

Authorities say Lin operated Incognito Market just like any other legitimate e-commerce platform.

Sellers would sign up to list their illegal product for a fee, paying a 5% commission to Lin for every sale made through the marketplace.

The site offered the vendors branding, advertising, customer service, and even its own “bank” where users would deposit crypto to use for the illegal online shopping transactions.

Incognito Market Bank
Incognito’s “bank” enabled buyers and sellers to stay anonymous from each other. Image by US Department of Justice.

According to the DoJ, “Lin supervised all of its operations, including its employees, vendors, and customers, and had ultimate decision-making authority over every aspect of the multimillion-dollar operation.”

Officials also noted that the drugs peddled on the illegal marketplace often contained other ingredients than what was advertised by the vendors.

In one undercover sting conducted last November, law enforcement had bought “oxycodone pills” that turned out to be fentanyl, a deadly substance 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin.

“Mr. Lin’s alleged actions of putting profits before public health were not only reckless and dangerous, but unconscionable,” said Special Agent Frank Tarentino III of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s New York Division.

We will continue to make sure those who hide behind a keyboard and use the dark web to profit off lives face justice,” Tarentino said.

If found guilty, Lin faces a mandatory life in prison for charges of 'engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.'

Additional charges include narcotics conspiracy, money laundering, and conspiracy to sell adulterated and misbranded medication, all with maximum penalties ranging from five years to life in prison.