This report airs Dateline NBC Sunday, July 22, 7 p.m.
It happens so often TV commercials joke about it: a faceless stranger is able to get a hold of your credit card and go to town.
But for real people, it’s no joke at all.
Leigh Morton, ID theft victim: This was cash out of my checking account. And it was just gone.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: All of it gone?
Morton: All of it.
Leigh Morton woke up one Sunday morning and decided to log on to check her bank account.
Morton: I was checking to see if I could afford to go out to dinner and I had no money.
Hansen: No money?
Morton: No money.
On Dateline, we’ll put a face on a world-class crime and track down people actually involved in schemes to steal your identity—involved in crimes that add up to billions.
Craig Magaw, U.S. Secret Service, in charge of criminal investigations: It’s huge out there ..
Magaw is in charge of criminal investigations at the U.S. Secret service which fights identity theft. He says there was a time when crooks would get your credit card number by stealing a purse or digging in the trash.
Hansen: 15, 20 years ago, we worried about tearing up the carbons of our credit cards
Magaw: Exactly. Dumpster diving.
Magaw: Now, with technology, the criminals are able to hack into corporations, financial institutions, and get much larger amounts of information data.
Hansen: Hi-tech dumpster diving.
Magaw: You could call it that.
And, thanks to the Internet, once the thieves have your card number, they’re off on an online shopping spree with your money.
It happens once every 4 seconds, thousands of times a day, millions of times a year: That’s how many times experts estimate there’s a phony charge made with a stolen credit card number.
Steven Yu: I heard a lot about identity fraud. But I never expect that happens to me.
Restaurant owner Steven Yu says he’s been fighting with his bank for more than 8 months. After he woke up one morning, he discovered his account was overdrawn.
Hansen: So somebody was out there using your debit card number?
In the end, Steven Yu says the bank tried to hold him responsible for more than $400 in charges he says he never made, even sending a debt-collector after him.
Hansen: So you’re being treated like the criminal that these people actually are.
It’s an experience neither Steven Yu nor Leigh Morton would wish on anyone.
Morton: It felt as bad as if somebody had raped me, only financially. It was that devastating to me personally.
When you hear stories like those, it makes you want to track down the thieves, find out how they steal your identity, and confront them face to face.
On Dateline, we’re going to take you along on an undercover investigation that start at a computer keyboard and travel across America and around the world.
It’s a year-long probe into what’s become a massive, multi-billion dollar, global problem.
We’ll show you exactly how the crooks swipe your identity. And, once they have it, how fast and how much they can steal, as we try to catch a new kind of Internet predator— the identity thieves.
Our guide to the secret Internet underground is Dan Clements, president of “Card Cops”, an Internet security company that monitors chatrooms where criminals go to buy and sell your most personal information.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: It’s like a thieves’ market?
Clements: It is a thieves’ market.
It’s a black market we’re about to expose, though we’ll be careful not to reveal people’s private information.
In a matter of minutes, Dan Clements shows us just how much a crook can obtain in the wide-open Internet underground.
Want the password to take over someone’s bank account?
Clements (with Hansen, in front of computer screens): We have guys that are advertising that they have log-ins to Wachovia Bank they have—
Clements: Log-ins. Online bank log-ins—
Hansen: So people can actually go log-in to someone’s account.
Clements: Yes. They’re selling log-ins to bank accounts: Barclays, Wells Fargo, HSBC, all the large banks are here to be bought and sold.
Hansen: So, somebody could get this information, log ocan n to somebody’s account, and take their money.
Clements: Liquidate their money, drain their account: That’s what these hackers are interested in.
And that’s just the start. Want credit cards?
Clements: Well, here’s somebody named Pepper Borah. He’s saying that he has “dumps” for sale, which is the information on the magnetic stripe on the back of the credit card.
Hansen: That’s amazing.
Clements: Yeah, here’s somebody here that’s selling the Royal Canadian Bank of Canada and Capital One log-ins. So, everything is available here.
There are so many thieves, crooks don’t have to pay much for your personal information. You won’t believe the deal this hacker is offering.
Hansen: How much is this guy charging?
Clements: He told us it’s $5 to buy a full profile.
Hansen: Five dollars.
Clements: Only five dollars.
So for $5, a thief can buy a name, an address, Social Security number, credit card number, pin number—enough details to completely rip you off.
So where do the thieves get all that information? First, they can get it from stolen laptop computers. Next, “hackers” actually break into computers and not just big computers. Any computer system at any store, especially a small store with weak security is vulnerable. And, finally, the crooks sometimes fool consumers into helping them.
Remember Leigh Morton, the woman whose bank account vanished overnight?
She says she got an authentic-looking e-mail asking her to update some banking information.
Hansen: And did it look official?
Morton: It did. Only this one said, “Please update your personal information.”
It’s called “phishing,” when you answer the fake e-mail, the information doesn’t go to the bank—it goes to the thieves.
Leigh Morton doesn’t know who stole her money. Neither do most victims of identity theft. The fact is most cases are never solved.
But we’re going to try to find the crooks who steal your identity—we’re about follow the trail back into that mysterious Unternet underground... and confront the thieves face to face.
To catch an identity thief, we’ll need some bait, so we get a major credit card issuer to cooperate. We make up some names and they give us real cards under those fake names.
The next step is asking Dan Clements to go back into the Internet underground, pretending to be a thief who stole our credit cards.
He’s about to put them into the thieves market—
Clements: We’re gonna put it in here to 300 and 400 hackers in real time ...
Dan Clements and I are watching at the Card Cops office in California. Halfway across the country, a fraud investigator for the credit card company is standing by. Her computer will tell her every time our bait cards are used to make a fraudulent purchase. We even have a stop-watch to measure the time, second by second.
Clements tells us this is something that’s never been done before.
Clements: It’s kind of like throwing tuna to the sharks, and we’ll see what happens. (laughs)
Hansen: All right, let’s do it.
We test the waters, as Clements, pretending to be a thief, offers to sell some of our bait cards.
Hansen: I’m gonna hit the stopwatch. And we’re gonna see how long it takes before somebody hits on it.
The response is almost instantaneous.
Clements: We have somebody saying, “Hey, bro.”
Hansen: That’s 12 seconds.
At first, the thieves appear to be feeling us out to see if we’re for real.
Clements: Oh, we have another one. Nitro81 just said, “Howdy.”
Hansen: 26 seconds.
But it doesn’t take long for the thieves to take the bait. At the credit card monitoring center, the fraudulent charges are beginning to roll in. At first, they’re small charges to make sure the card works.
Investigator (monitoring for Dateline): They checked it for a dollar.
Hansen: For a dollar? So, they’re just probing to see if it’ll work.
They even make a small donation to the Red Cross to test the card.
Investigator: $11. American Red Cross donation site.
Once they’re sure the card works, the thieves start making bigger purchases by the minute.
Investigator: There’s been one authorization for $306.28.
Investigator: They’ve also hit it for $99.95.
Hansen: So, it’s a thousand dollar credit line, and they’ve already eaten half of it up.
Remember, we are watching Internet thieves at work in real time. Imagine it’s your card they’re using, buying from all kinds of stores.
Investigator: Another one just came in for $79.80 at Evertech Solutions. So, there’s two from there.
Clements: And how much time has gone by Chris?
Hansen: Less than 10 minutes.
The illegal charges could go on forever, but our card has a thousand-dollar limit.
Investigator: Okay, they just got declined for over limit.
Hansen: Declined for over the limit. And that’s less than 13 minutes.
But if you thought that was fast, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Another of our bait cards carried the fake name Oscar Ernesto, with an address in Washington, D.C.—but in no time at all it’s used a continent away.
Investigator: Okay. We have a handle on Ernesto for $723.74.
Hansen: One minute, three seconds.
Investigator: In Chile.
Hansen: In Chile?
Hansen: Do you know what they bought?
Investigator: It says pet shop. Food and supplies.
Clements: That’s a lot of pet food.
Hansen: It’s a well-fed dog in Chile.
Investigator: They’ve also hit it two more times.
Hansen: It’s a minute, 40 seconds. And what’s the total up to now?
Investigator: Almost 800.
Hansen: The card is almost maxed out. And we’re barely two minutes into it.
And as we follow our bait cards, Chile’s not the half of it.
Investigator: For $151.
Hansen: In Pakistan?
Investigator: Yes. So we’ve seen France, Pakistan, China.
Our cards are being used to make illegal purchases all over the world within minutes of being stolen.
This part of our investigation lasts less than two days but the illegal charges are astonishing: flowers in Latin America, cell phones in Canada, and airline tickets in Asia.
Investigator: 16 different countries over the two days.
Hansen: So over the two days we did this, we had purchases in 16 different countries?
Investigator: Every continent except for Antarctica basically.
Hansen: The level of activity is stunning. I mean I can’t get over it.
Clements: Yeah. Identity theft, hitting Americans from foreign soil, is big business.
Just how big? Experts estimate that identity theft costs Americans nearly $5 billion dollars a year. And in most cases, the thieves get away with it.
By now, it’s clear: catching the crooks won’t be easy.
We figure our best shot at tracking them down is to follow the merchandise— all that stuff they’re buying with stolen credit cards. And the best way to do that? Go into business ourselves, and set up our own online store. And when the thieves place an order, we set up our own delivery company. So we can follow the loot right to the thieves’ doorsteps.
Dateline is about to set a trap for these new predators.
For nearly two days, we’ve been watching in amazement as Dan Clements of Card ops” has taken us inside a criminal Internet underground of hackers and identity thieves, where stolen credit cards are bought and sold and used to make illegal purchases with lightning speed.
Clements: It doesn’t take days or months or years to have identity theft. It hits you—
Hansen: It’s gone.
Clements: It takes seconds. It’s gone.
The Internet thieves come from all over the world targeting Americans. They’re rarely caught, almost never identified. But Dateline has figured out a way to lure these crooks out from the underground and put a face on this epidemic of crime.
The first step is to set up our own Internet company—“Hansen Discount Electronics.” We’re selling some popular items: Sony Playstations, Microsoft XBox-360s, mp3 players. But there’s a catch: our Website is secret. We’ve programmed it so that normal Internet shoppers can’t find it.
In fact, the only place we’re going to advertise our new Website is back in those underground chat rooms full of criminals. It’s likely the only ones to know about our online store will be identity thieves. And we let them know we’re ready to take their business.
Clements: And the message says, “Cardable site. Hanson discount electronics.com. ”
Hansen: “Cardable site,” meaning we don’t check very carefully. So if you’ve got a hot credit card number, you can use it here.
Remember, the only way to know about our new Website is to read the message in the thieves’ underground—or have one of the thieves tell you about it.
But within hours, “Hansen” is a hotspot for crooks.
We even set up a special program to keep track of who’s checking out our Website.
Clements: That shows where all the traffic is coming insert when it visits Hansen Discount Electronics. And when you go and do a click over here, if we mouse over here, there’s one from Tunisia. There’s one from Malta. If we come over here we see—
Clements: Come over here we see Romania. And we’re gonna see that order from Macedonia here as well.
Hansen: Spain. Nigeria. Indonesia. Singapore. Philippines. Nicaragua. New York. France. Germany. Italy.
Clements: It’s pretty much like the United Nations. This is the global traffic that’s hitting Hansen Electronics.
It doesn’t take long for people to start ordering merchandise with stolen cards. Our first sale: a Sony Playstation, ordered with one of our own bait cards.
Clements: Yeah, so you’ve only been in business how long now?
Hansen: I could be a wealthy man.
Clements: An hour?
But the thieves aren’t just using our bait cards. They’re also using real cards stolen from real people.
Don’t worry though—our online store isn’t letting any of those charges go through. So, actual consumers whose credit cards may have been stolen are not being billed during our sting.
But as the fraudulent orders roll in, we get what we’re looking for: the addresses where the illegally-purchased merchandise is supposed to be delivered.
And, if we follow those deliveries, we figure the trail should lead us to the thieves.
So, we set up another undercover business: CH Delivery.
We pack up some of the electronics matching what the thieves have ordered and set out to start making deliveries all across the country to see what happens to the loot purchased with stolen credit cards.
We’ve infiltrated a high-tech den of thieves, an Internet underground at the heart of an epidemic of crime. It’s a place where people’s stolen identities are bought and sold every minute, every day.
We’ve even lured some of the thieves to our own online store, where they’re buying popular electronics items with stolen credit cards.
But what the thieves don’t know is something else is coming along with the packages—something they surely don’t expect: Dateline’s hidden cameras.
As we criss-cross the country making deliveries, the first thing we discover is that some of the people seem genuinely surprised to be getting our packages.
One Pennsylvania man doesn’t seem to know anything about the expensive video game he’s getting.
Hansen (on hidden camera): So why would stuff be coming here if you’re not ordering it?
Joseph: I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that out myself.
So what’s going on here? Authorities say some crooks have packages delivered to other people’s addresses, especially when they think those people will be away. Then the thieves intercept the packages without the homeowners ever knowing.
Could that be the case with this package? It’s a Sony Playstation from our online store - ordered with a stolen credit card and on its way to Savannah, Georgia and a woman named Angela Vater.
So, as “Chris” from “CH delivery,” I head to her door, where I find an unusual note.
“Absolutely no packages to be left at my door or signed for…”
We decide to knock, anyway to find out what’s going on. Remember, she thinks I’m the delivery man.
Hansen (as delivery): Hey. How are you?
Angela Cater: Hi.
Hansen: I saw your sign, but I just wanted to double check. I have a package for you. For Angela Cater?
Before we can even explain what’s in our package, the woman inside says she doesn’t want it.
And listen to the reason:
Cater: I ’m not gonna accept anything, ‘cause I don’t know for sure that it wasn’t purchased with a stolen card.
Cater: And I didn’t order these things.
Angela Cater, a single mom with four young kids is already suspicious about the packages that have been flooding her house.
Cater: Look at this crap....
There’s an entire side room filled with boxes. And, after I tell her I’m really from Dateline, she invites us to take a closer look—digital cameras, computer equipment, home theaters systems, marine radios, expensive shoes... and more from retailers all over the country.
Cater: Check this out. When I open it up, is one heck of a nice watch.
Angela says she became suspicious after she got a phone call from an investigator who suggested that some of the stuff was bought with stolen credit cards.
But these packages weren’t delivered by mistake, because angela knows who ordered them: a man from London named “Paul.”
Cater: He said he had electronics business overseas. And that these would be for his business. He wants me to send it, he said an address for a South African store.
Hansen: For a South African store.
She says she agreed to accept his packages because Paul isn’t just any friend.
Hansen: Who is Paul Desmond?
Cater: Paul Desmond is my fiancé.
Hansen: Your fiancé.
Angela says she met Paul on the Internet. He’s even sent her this picture and asked to marry her.
Cater: And the next thing you know, he’s “Let’s get married. You know, I really love you. I miss you.” And it’s mushy, mushy all the time.
Angela has picked out a wedding dress. And some of Paul’s merchandise has been shipped to her, addressed as if they were already husband and wife.
It looks to us as if Angela is a pawn in an international theft ring. But is she alone?
Clear across the country we make another undercover delivery to Porterville, California, to Vickie Beebout another single mom.
It’s a package of electronics ordered with a stolen credit card, from that online store we created.
And guess who the stuff’s addressed to? A man named “Paul.”
Hansen: This one is an X-Box 360. Now does Paul Williams live here?
Vicki Beebout: No, right now he lives in London. But he’s coming over in January.
Turns out, Vicki Beebout also met her “Paul” over the Internet.
And, not surprisingly, he’s been flooding her with packages too. And Vickie’s gone a step further than just receiving packages, she’s actually been re-shipping them overseas.
In fact, we saw DHL picking up one bound for Africa.
And when we ask Vickie to show us a picture of her Paul, we see a familiar face: Angela Carter’s "Paul Desmond."
And guess what? He wants to marry Vicki too. Turns out “Paul” is engaged to two different women on opposite sides of the country. And who knows how many others in between.
So why would international thieves want to trick women into accepting and reshipping so many packages?
Experts says it’s because many American retailers refuse to ship overseas, so, to collect their loot, the identity thieves need a middleman, a so-called “drop,” somebody in the United States who can accept a delivery, then forward the stolen merchandise.
That’s apparently how people like Vicki and Angela are being used.
And if a thief doesn’t already have a drop site, Dan Clements says it’s easy to buy one in one of those criminal chat rooms.
Dan Clements, Card Cops: So here I’m saying, “You want a valid credit card?” Give me a drop...
In the thieves’ market, we negotiate to buy a drop address where the criminals tell us we can send stolen merchandise.
Clements: Oh! We have just got a U.S. drop here.
Hansen: Wow. It’s South Avenue—
Clements: Penn Yan, New York? Is that really a city?
Hansen: Penn Yan? What’s Penn Yan?
Turns out, Penn Yan is very real—a small town in upstate New York, a place we’re about to become very familiar with, because back at our online electronics store, we’re getting more and more orders with stolen credit cards—a lot of them telling us to ship the goods to that same address in Penn Yan, New York.
In fact, dozens of orders, electronics worth more than $10,000 dollars. The name on the orders were for Wendy Kenson.
So we head for upstate New York using that shipping company we set up: CH delivery.
But when we get to the address, there’s no “Wendy Kenson” listed.
The house, proudly flying an American flag, actually belongs to a couple named Jeff and Therese Ball.
And as we make our delivery, we wonder: Are the Balls victims of a scam or are they scammers themselves?
Hansen: Hi! How are you? We have a delivery for Wendy Kenson.
Therese Ball: Ok. I’m not her. But her stuff is coming here.
Hansen: But this is an address where she can get it right?
Therese Ball: Oh, yeah.
The woman at the door knows the name Wendy Kenson.
Hansen: Does she live here?
Therese Ball: No. She’ll be coming by.
Hansen: She comes by. Is she a relative?
Therese Ball: (inaudible, doesn’t really answer)
Hansen: Thanks very much.
Therese Ball: Ok.
We make more deliveries to this house—Playstations, cellphones, mp3 players... but “Wendy” remains just as mysterious.
Mrs. Ball seems tight-lipped about “Wendy”.
So who is this mysterious Wendy?
We’re hoping that these people are middlemen who can help us answer that question and lead us to the mastermind of the identity theft operation.
Finally, on our fourth visit, a new face, and some new information.
Hansen: Hey how are you today? I’ve got some deliveries for Wendy Kenson.
Jeff Ball: Yah.
This time, Jeff Ball answers the door. Unlike his wife, he starts to open up about what’s happening with all these packages.
Jeff Ball: They’re going to Africa.
Hansen: What’s that?
Jeff Ball: They’re gonna be shipped to Africa.
Hansen: Oh they are going to Africa?
Remember all this stuff has been ordered with stolen American credit cards, and now we’re finding out they’re being shipped to Africa?
Hansen: What do you do with them in Africa?
Jeff Ball: We have a store there.
Hansen: Oh you have store in Africa? Oh Really? Well, that’s cool. What, you get ‘em over here and then you ship ‘em over there.
Jeff Ball: Yeah.
Hansen: How’s that business going?
Jeff Ball: Pretty good.
So there’s a store in Africa, but that still doesn’t tell us much about Wendy.
Hansen: Does Wendy live here?
Jeff Ball: She’s in Australia right now.
Hansen: She’s in Australia?
It turns out, Jeff says Wendy is actually his business partner. That store in Africa is doing so well, Jeff says, Wendy wants to open more stores.
Jeff Ball: That’s why she’s in Australia. She’s opening a store in Australia.
Hansen: In Australia, too.
And as he tells us about the expansion plans, he drops a bombshell.
Jeff Ball: She’s gonna be, she’s gonna be my wife.
Hansen: Oh, oh - so Wendy is going to be your wife.
Jeff Ball: Gonna be. Gonna be.
Hansen: Well, congratulations then. Have you set a date?
Jeff Ball: Not yet.
So we’ve managed to track thousands of dollars in electronics ordered with stolen credit cards right to Jeff Ball’s doorstep. But we don’t know yet if he’s in on the fraud or another pawn. Either way, we’re hoping he can lead us to the kingpin behind the identity theft ring.
Jeff Ball says he’s in business with a mysterious Australian named “Wendy Kenson.”
And just look at the photos his big-time international business partner has sent, supposedly of herself.
He says a romance has bloomed and soon he hopes they’ll get married.
Does Jeff Ball realize the merchandise he’s receiving has been bought with stolen credit cards?
Is he in on it, or is he being duped?
To find out what’s really going on, we decide we need to spend more time with Jeff. So we’re telling him we have more packages — but to get them, he’ll have to stop by our delivery company “office.”
It’s really just a room in a warehouse we rented, about a 30-minute drive from Jeff Ball’s home.
We’ve wired the room with five different hidden cameras.
Remember, Jeff Ball thinks I’m with the shipping company, "CH delivery," and this is just our depot.
Chris Hansen (hidden camera footage): How is that business going- with the African thing?
Jeff Ball: Well, good.
So good he claims he just got paid thousands of dollars ...
Hansen: And it works. You’re getting the money?
Jeff Ball: I’m getting the money.
Jeff Ball: Last night someone deposited over $18,000 in my PayPal account.
Sounds like a lot to us—not a bad payday for reshipping stolen merchandise that could have been ordered with your credit card.
Next, we ask how come the orders are sent first to his house if they’re ending up going to other countries. He says Wendy Kenson coordinates all of it. Jeff says Wendy’s told him she has customers who live outside the U.S. but need to order American merchandise. It’s easier to buy if friends or relatives here in the U.S. simply pay for it with their credit cards and let Wendy forward it overseas.
The way Jeff tells it, it’s all on the up and up.
Jeff Ball: We’re just like a middle person to get it to them in another country.
Hansen: So, these folks all have relatives in Australia, or London, or some other place and those relatives want this stuff.
Jeff Ball: Right.
But we know friends and family aren’t buying it. The credit card numbers are really stolen. Remember ID theft victim Leigh Morton in Nevada?
Her stolen card was used to order a Playstation that was sent to Jeff’s house in care of “Wendy Kenson.”
Hansen: Do you know anybody named Wendy Kenson?
Leigh Morton, ID thief victim: No.
Hansen: Did you ever order a Playstation Value Pack for $262.75?
Morton: I don’t even play video games.
Steven Yu’s card was stolen, too—and used to buy more stuff for the mysterious Wendy.
So, back at the our delivery depot, we’re trying to get Jeff Ball to tell us more about just who Wendy is.
Hansen: Wendy is your fiancée?
Jeff Ball: Yeah.
To hear Jeff tell it, Wendy seems too good to be true. He says she’s a prize-winning model.
Jeff Ball: She just went into competition in Australia too. So, she just got $80,000--
Jeff Ball: --for winning.
And that’s not all—
Jeff Ball: She’s also a millionaire.
Hansen: Oh, she’s a millionaire.
Jeff Ball: Yeah.
And for months, she’s been sending romantic email after romantic email.
So how did Jeff Ball meet her? Take one guess.
Hansen: Did you meet her overseas in Australia? Or—
Jeff Ball: No, I met her on the Internet.
Hansen: Oh, on the Internet.
Believe it or not, Jeff Ball is about to give me a warning—and you may think it’s a bit ironic. Because remember, he’s on hidden camera and he doesn’t know who I am, as he tells me about the dangers of meeting women over the Internet.
Jeff Ball: Be careful with the chat room. Don’t start talking to girls that say 'Oh she’s 20, but she’s actually 12.'
Jeff Ball: Like you watch “Dateline”? A lot of these guys want to have sex with a 13-year-old and they show up and get caught
Hansen: Yeah… I’ve seen that show.
Jeff Ball apparently knows all about our “Predator” series, but it’s obvious he doesn’t know he’s actually talking to someone who has more than a passing knowledge.
In fact, I learn he’s quite a fan of the Dateline series. He knows all the “greatest hits.”
Hansen: Did you see that one “Dateline” show where the guy came in naked?
Jeff Ball: Yup. I can’t believe it. He took off his clothes, came in naked. I saw the one where the doctor showed up.
Hansen: --just recently, the doctor showed up, yeah.
Jeff Ball: Yeah, I’m like, 'a friggin’ doctor?'
Jeff Ball: One got busted twice. Did you hear that one?
Hansen: I heard about that.
Jeff Ball: Guy got busted on the first show. And, you know what? He got busted again on the second show.
Jeff Ball: Same guy.
I’m thinking it’s about time tell Jeff who we really are and what we’re really up to.
But that’s when he gives us some news about Wendy.
Jeff Ball: She’ll be coming home tomorrow, I hope.
Hansen: Who’s that? Wendy?
Jeff Ball: Yeah.
This could be our chance to meet Wendy face-to-face and get to the bottom of this.
Hansen: I think we all ought to get together when she’s in town.
Jeff Ball: I’ll talk to her.
We hang around. But, not surprisingly, the mysterious Wendy doesn’t show up.
So, we invite Jeff back to our “CH Delivery” office.
Hansen: Come on in. Good to see ‘ya.
He’s cleary disappointed his fiancee didn’t come to see him. And he begins to open up. First, he admits he never got that 18,000 dollar payment as a partner in Wendy’s business.
In fact, he hasn’t made a dime....
Jeff Ball: All the stuff I been sending, I haven’t got paid yet.
Hansen: Really? Well, how much have you had to invest in all this?
Jeff Ball: Everything I had.
Jeff Ball: About $40,000.
Jeff Ball: Savings, checking, everything.
It turns out, Jeff Ball has been duped all along. Overseas identity thieves have been using the picture of a beautiful woman to convince him to launder and ship stolen merchandise. They’ve even convinced him to pay for the shipping.
Remember he still thinks I’m Chris from CH delivery. I tell him I think he’s been swept up in a scam.
And one by one, I show him the orders we uncovered and the people who told us their identities had been stolen to pay for all the expensive electronics being delivered to his home.
Hansen: So we’ve got one, two, three, four examples where we know stolen credit card or stolen debit card numbers were used.
Jeff Ball: I understand what you’re saying. So all this might be bought by stolen credit card.
This isn’t going to be a good day for Jeff Ball. Now that Jeff is beginning to realize he’s caught up in a scam, we’re about to tell him who we really are.
So far, the trail has lead to middlemen like Jeff Ball in Penn Yan, New York, who themselves may be pawns.
Jeff Ball: I’ve been scammed.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: You’ve been scammed.
He’s been scammed with romantic e-mails and eye-catching photos—a woman he met on the Internet has convinced him to go into business with her and accept packages apparently ordered with stolen credit cards ..
Then forward them on to Europe and Africa.
Wendy Kenson has even convinced him to pay for the shipping.
Not only has Jeff Ball helped the thieves in their ripoff, apparently he’s been ripped off himself.
Jeff Ball: I got caught up by listening to her.
Hansen: Listening to her. Did you ever suspect you were part of an identity theft ring or a credit card fraud ring?
Jeff Ball: No, I did not.
And remember, until now, Jeff thinks he’s been talking with Chris of CH delivery. He still doesn’t know I’m with Dateline - and that we’re recording all this on hidden camera.
Hansen: Remember last time when you visited, we had that conversation—about chatting on the Internet and having to be careful because that program, “Dateline” is out there doing stories on computer predators?
Jeff Ball: Oh, that. Oh yeah.
Hansen: Well you know, I’m that guy. I’m Chris Hansen with “Dateline NBC.” And we’re doing a story on another kind of predator, a predator that steals people’s identities, their credit card numbers, and uses them to purchase things and often resell them.
Jeff Ball: Hmm.
Hansen: And it appears, based upon our investigation, Jeff—
Jeff Ball: Yeah.
Hansen: —that you’ve gotten caught up in an international conspiracy.
Jeff Ball: I got caught up into a scam. I’ve been caught up in something—Oh man. I mean I might a lost all that money. (sighs)
But what about Jeff’s new love and business partner, that swimsuit model, Wendy?
Hansen: Do you really know who Wendy is?
Jeff Ball: Hmm.
Hansen: Have you ever met her face to face? And you gotta tell me the truth.
Jeff Ball: No.
Jeff Ball now realizes it may all be a cruel hoax costing him thousands of dollars and threatening his marriage.
Now, he has a decision to make:
Hansen: We are gonna continue this investigation and try to show who is ultimately responsible for this. You’re in a position to help me do it.
Jeff Ball: Okay.
Hansen: Will you help me?
Jeff Ball: Yeah, I will help you.
Jeff Ball not only agrees to help, he lets Dateline take over the e-mail account he uses to talk to Wendy the thief. From now on, when the Internet thieves think they’re talking to Jeff Ball, they’re really talking to us.
As you’ll find out next week, the trail is going to lead us far from Penn Yan, New York, across the Atlantic—as we go on the hunt for Wendy and her gang of international identity thieves. Dateline, April 3, 8 p.m. on NBC.