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Face to face with spammers and scammers

Do you get e-mails from exotic places, pleading for help and promising millions? NBC's Chris Hansen goes on the hunt for a different kind of predator.

Ever get an e-mail like this?  

“My name is Mrs Maryam Ibrahim,...{I am} suffering from long time cancer of the breast...Before my late husband died  {he} deposited the sum of 20 million dollars ..20% of this money will be for your time and effort...”

The writers of these e-mails sometimes appear to be desperate characters in far-off lands, offering millions in reward money — if you’d only help them in their plight.

If you get a letter like this, you probably ignore it, smelling a scam. But there are thousands of others who take the bait, falling for this global, billion dollar racket.

In 2005, we introduced you to Pam Krause. A town treasurer in Wisconsin, she got an e-mail which asked  her to help a desperate widow recover her husband’s fortune. In return, she’d get a reward of millions of dollars. But only after she paid some fees in advance. Altogether, she lost $18,000 dollars. 

And although the scam’s been around for years, people continue to fall for it.

John Hambrick, FBI's Internet crime complaint center: It’s unfortunate, but they do.Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: Are these people stupid who are falling for this?John Hambrick:  Well no, they’re not.  Some are quite well-educated.

Case in point: Nestled along the frozen shoreline of Lake Huron, Harrisville is the seat of Alcona County, Michigan.

In the bitter winds ofwinter, residents are freezing in their tracks. And not because of the weather. 

Resident: It shocks me that a guy that I thought was a pretty smart guy could fall for something like this.

This time, a county treasurer, Thomas Katona, the man who had control of the county checkbook got an e-mail that promised millions if he’d only invest some upfront money first. Police say he took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

First, he sent the scammers $70,000 of his own money. Then, the crooks apparently convinced him to sink at least $180,000 of county money into the scheme.  And a total of $1.2 million may be missing from the public till.

County sheriff Doug Ellinger: The taxpayers of Alcona County are obviously going to suffer some loss here.  Every property owner that pays property taxes is going to feel some sort of loss from this.

Katona faces 11 felony counts, including embezzlement and forgery. When he declined to speak for himself  in court, the judge  entered a plea of not guilty for him.

The e-mail scam in Michigan is just the latest and most extreme example of a decades-old problem that the internet has only made more widespread.

Hambrick: It’s Canada, England, the Netherlands, it’s everywhere at this point.

The FBI’s John Hambrick says at least 10,000 people will be victimized by the  e-mail cons this year alone. The majority of the scams originate in West Africa, especially Nigeria, are called “419 scams,” named for the Nigerian law which makes them illegal there.  

Some operate from Internet cafes where the crooks are able to send millions of messages, hoping to lure the unsuspecting victim.

Hambrick: And the ability to send out exponentially more in terms of volume increases their returns.  A fraction of a percentage of a response is significant to them.  Milllions of dollars are at stake.

But the criminals operate worldwide and appear to be only loosely connected— not necessarily controlled by a single kingpin. The scammers have been around for years. But there are more and more victims.

Hansen: What makes these offers so alluring to people?  What makes the average guy, say “Alright, I’ll invest eight, ten, twenty thousand dollars in this? “Hambrick:  I don’t have an answer for that one.  Hansen:  Greed? Hambrick: I would say, yes, it’s an easy buck,  it’s the potential to be that once in a lifetime windfall of money.

Most of the conmen remain hidden, far away, overseas, protected by the anonymity of the Internet.  And according to law enforcement, that’s where they are most likely to stay.

Hansen: Why can’t the FBI do more about this? Hambrick: In terms of prioritization of resources, we’re focused on terrorism at this point. It’s simply not a high enough priority for us to focus on this.

Authorities say the scammers are part of several international networks based here in West Africa that are nearly impossible to put out of business. The FBI says Nigeria, for instance, has made some progress. But every time a scammer is brought down, another takes his place. As names on  e-mails, these scammers are faceless phantoms, almost impossible to track down.

But what if we could take on the challenge of finding some of these rip-off artists? Make it our mission to smoke out some of these  conmen?

Tonight from London and other places around the world, we’ll show you  how Americans are getting ripped off in a torrent of internet scams.  But this time...on hidden camera... you’ll see how Dateline turned the tables. 

It’s an investigation where a financial predator gets taken for a ride.We’ll  make them believe they’re the ones who are going to make a fortune and make it too much for them to resist.

With millions being stolen each year by elaborate rip-offs that originate overseas, would it be possible to unmask the scammers?

One man has been trying for years.

"Bill": The satisfaction that I get is that I have these guys busy with me and they’re not making any money off of somebody that might actually fall for it.

“Bill” (who doesn’t want us to use his last name) is what you’d call a “scam baiter,” kind of an avenging angel of the Internet.

Bill: I was getting a lot of junk email from them and it was taking a lot of my time to go through it and delete it and it was very frustrating. So I decided, I’m gonna have some fun. I’m gonna waste some of their time.

When he’d receive an e-mail promising money—he’d play along and send messages back to them to set up fake meetings:

Bill: They were receptive to my response and  I started running them all over the place—to airports in cities to pick me up and I wasn’t going to be there, and that was satisfying.

So we hired Bill to help us. His mission? To go online to hunt for scammers. If he saw a pitch that looked suspicious, he’d alert us.

It didn’t take long.  We soon realized we might have several schemes to investigate.

'Locked in a foreign bank account'
The first came in the form of a business proposition from someone claiming to be a government official in South Africa.

He claims there is money locked away in a foreign bank account, an account he can’t access himself. Only we can help him transfer money out of that account—and if we do, we’ll get a big reward.

The writer asks us to treat the information “with the utmost discretion.”

Bill responds, using the fictional name “Jim E. Dimoni.” He convinces  asupposed government official, who calls himself “Paul,” that he’s eager to know more.  In other words, he pretends he’s a sucker.

Soon it’s time to talk on the phone with someone who’s likely an actual criminal. And that’s where I step in, posing as businessman  Jim. E. Demoni.

I tell him I’m very interested in theopportunity and who wouldn’t be?  I’m told  I can earn millions. I ask my overseas “friend” Paul to help me understand. He explains I will get my millions if I help in the transfer of another huge amount of cash...

Hansen (on phone): So this money is just kind of floating around and you just need a place to park it?  You can get your share and then I will get my share? Man who identifies himself as Paul Zebedy: Exactly, exactly.

Of course, the whole thing has to be kept  strictly confidential. 

Paul:  I dont want you to discuss this with any persons, even with your wife.

I’d find out a lot more about that later.  In the meantime, “Paul” and I even have our own secret code.

Paul: So whenever I call you I will tell you “In God We Trust.”Hansen: "In God We Trust."

Paul starts sending me faxes, papers I need to sign and other official-looking documents. These are supposed to convince me the whole thing is legit. 

And I get more calls. My pal “Paul” wants to chat almost daily. I guess I am (that is, Jim E. Demoni is) doing a great job because Paul offers me a bonus reward.

Paul: I think I should be.. I should be adding some $500,000  for you, because you are such a wonderful man.Hansen: You are? You’re actually going to give me more money?Paul: Yes. I’m telling you I’m going to give you more money as soon as the funds get to your account.

Wow, not bad.  And very enticing....

And soon, Paul, the government official, puts me  in touch with a second character, a banker whose job it is to  take care of the transfer of funds.

He’s not so friendly though. He’s all business. And it sure seems complicated---

Banker: It is official and it will be documented.  So whatever message you are giving me, I passing it through the central system for documentation.  And um..there is uh nothing uh personal about this.  So I will just  uh document it in the central uh system.

Now we’re getting closer to unmasking these crooks, closer to putting a face on these crimes.

It will happen in London, a meeting where we will shake hands and close the deal.  The scammers call it a “signing ceremony”.

Hansen: No.  Not like a drinking ceremony or—no—no—no dancing girls or anything like that.Paul:  No no no...

By now, I’ve spent nearly 2 months exchanging calls and e-mails—and incredibly, no one has asked me for a dime.  According to law enforcement, the most sophisticated scammers are patient.  They reel their victims in slowly and get them mentally and emotionally invested. Then they go for the gold.  And that’s just what happened next.

Now, for the first time they hit me up for money.  After I’ve already agreed to go meet them in London, I’m told I’ll need $14,000 in cash, fees to cover the so-called “signing ceremony”. 

Jim E. Dimoni/Hansen: This $14,000 U.S. cash payment that I need to bring with me to release the larger funds into my account....and that’s kind of a new thing that I’m just hearing about right now. 

14,000 is a lot of money, but  remember, I’m supposed to be getting millions in return.

Then a week before I am set to travel, another twist. It’s a personal crisis for my business associate, Paul. He needs a $3,500 loan to save his family’s home. 

Paul:  I’m short.  If you can get me $3500 I will complete it to make it up to $7,500 to give them tomorrow morning.  I don’t know if you can do that for me.  It’s just a favor I need from you right now.

To keep things going and to make sure he continues to believe we have real money to burn, we wire a tiny fraction of what he asks: $200 dollars. 

Paul writes he’s “not happy”.

In the meantime, we’ve been wondering, who is this guy, “Paul”?  We couldn’t confirm his address and the government department he claims to work for doesn’t seem to exist. But we  do trace his  phone number— and find it’s the same number connected to a batch of overseas scams.

So, I guess “Paul” has a few other identities running on the Internet.

In fact, in one e-mail, Paul signs a name we’ve never seen before—a “Mr. Yumna.”  It must be a mistake. I pretend not to notice the slip-up.

Soon, we are back on track on our way to London to meet not just Paul, but some of those other scammers we’ve met through e-mails. They’re face to face meetings where in all probability they’ll try to fleece me — but the tables are about to be turned on a very different kind of online predator.

Posing as a businessman who hopes to get his hands on a fortune, I am in touch with several different potential scammers. 

Chris Hansen, posing as a potential victim (on the phone): Yes, it’s Jim Dimoni from the United States.

While we want to meet the supposed government official named Paul. We make plans to meet other scammers as well. 

The scam usually happens when the victim is told he’ll get a huge bundle of cash in return for helping someone in need. But first the victim has to turn over thousands in processing fees—that’s where the scam comes in.  After I tell the man on the phone he’ll get some cash, I’m assured I’ll get millions.

As soon as I wire these scammers some money, they obviously smell blood, convinced they can score big. They agree to do something law enforcement says they rarely do: meet in person.

Hansen (on the phone): Am I going to be meeting with you in London or somebody else?

We worry these financial predators might be dangerous, we don’t know who they are, and don’t want to be caught alone on their turf.  So it’s critical that we  lure them to a public meeting place.

That’s what I’m trying to do when I talk to one of them on the phone. 

Hansen: I don’t know who’s picking me up. I’m not getting in a car with a stranger. You think I’m an idiot? 

But I also need to convince them I have what they want.

Hansen: No, no, no. You listen to me for a second . I’m walking around with all this cash.You’re making me anxious.

Our first meeting ends up just outside London, in Greenwich, home of the famous clipper ship, the “Cutty Sark.”  It’s with a so-called diplomat who has promised us a box of cash.  In fact—$3 million. The diplomat calls himself simply “Anthony.” 

The woman with me is a Dateline producer, acting as my assistant and she is wearing a hidden camera. After a short wait, the diplomat gets right down to business.

Anthony: First thing is I will need a copy of your passport, for clearance.

For a diplomat, “Anthony” isn’t very diplomatic.  He’s glued to his cellphone and doesn’t like it when I ask when I get my money.

Hansen: Do you think we can  finish this today? Anthony: I can finish it today.  Depends on you. Instead of standing here.

“Diplomat” Anthony wants $5,800. If I pay, He says he’ll release a big pile of cash that’s being stored at the airport and I’ll get my $3 million bucks.

I’d love to bait him more, but I sense he’s getting antsy and suspicious so  I decide to tell him who I really am.        

Hansen: I’m not really Jim Dimoni. I’m an investigative reporter from the United States. I work for a television show. We’re doing a story on people who try to scam Americans.

Anthony runs off at this point, quickly.

But there seems to be a never-ending supply of scammers, ready to grab our cash.  We have another meeting to attend— this time in a hotel suite back in London.

And this time it’ll be a little more difficult to run away. Remember that supposed South African official who calls himself “Paul” on the phone? It turns out we won’t be meeting with him—he’s passed us on to another scammer.

He’s supposedly an international banker named Mr. Bassille who’s arranged a signing ceremony to close the deal.  I’m to give the banker $14,000 to cover his fees.  In return, I’ll get $2.5 million.

Sounds like a good deal. So we pull out all the stops. We buy a bottle of champagne because there is going to  be a signing ceremony to seal the deal.

And all the festivities wil be captured on hidden cameras we’ve installed throughout the suite.

We wait in the hotel.  Finally, word that the banker, Mr. Basille is on his way.

Hansen: And what I will do if you just come into the lobby.  I’ll have my assistant, Lillibet, will be looking for you... 

A few minutes later, I get a call from my “friend” Paul who first arranged to have us meet Mr. Bassille at the signing ceremony. But would these scammers actually show up at a hotel suite? 

Finally, my assistant escorts him  up to the suite wearing her hidden camera.

The prospect of $14,000 is luring avery different kind of predator from his secret lair and onto our turf.

Hansen (hidden camera footage): Hey, how are you?  Nice to see you.Mr. Basille: Fine thank you. Hansen: Come on, please Mr. Basille.Mr. Basille: Thank you very much.Hansen: Please have a seat over there. Can I get you water or anything or—Mr. Basille: A cup of coffeeHansen: Coffee... with some coffee coming.Mr. Basille: Oh, okay.Hansen: Uhm, room service is awfully slow here today.

I want Mr. Basille to be comfortable.  The pleasantries continue.

Hansen: So how was your day?Mr. Basille: Fine.  Hansen: GreatMr. Basille: A little bit tired.  I came in last night and— Hansen: Oh , where did you come in from?   Mr. Basille: Through Air France—Hansen: Oh, from Paris or—Mr. Basille: From Paris, yeah.

Mr. Basille seems charming. He shows  me his so-called credentials:

Mr. Basille: That’s my passports. Two passports.                               

He decides it’s time to get me on the phone with one of his business associates—maybe because he wants to convince me he’s part of something big, something real.

Mr. Basille: Hello, yeah, hello sir. This is Basille, please can I—I’m here with—Jimmy Dimoni, please connect to him, please. 

This man seems sure he’s about to get 14,000 bucks from a sucker.  But he wants more....and even suggests gifts for his associates. I offer  jewelry and more---

Hansen: And what about a gift like champagne, cognac, fine wine?

He has other ideas—

Mr. Basille: That would be good but I think those guys. They appreciate cash.Hansen: Yes, cash is king.Mr. Basille: Whatever—yes. Yeah, they’ll appreciate cash.

We’re not giving theguy the thousands of dollars he wants.  But we are giving him the runaround— some big-time scam-baiting.  And we want to stall him as long as we can...

Hansen:  Well, I have a little custom here.  And it’s a little early, but I think we should toast this with just a little sip of champagne. My clocks a little messed up here from all the travel, but always good to have a touch of champagne.  So, now, do you have kids.Mr. Basille: Yes.Hansen: How old?Mr. Basille: The first one is eight. And then the twins.Hansen: Twins.Mr. Basille: Yes. That’s when they were 16 months

There’s  no way to know if those are really pictures of his kids, but the scammers know to use fake pictures of family members to make them appear more trustworthy. 

Just then, I get a  pre-planned phone call from my “assistant”.  I continue to stall him...

And remember, what I’m doing here is role-playing, I’m Jim E. Dimoni, American businessman.

Hansen:  Right.  Okay.  Good.  Well, we’re gonna—I’ll explain that in a minute.  We’re gonna have a little champagne toast and we’ll get moving along. Thanks, Lillibet.  Bye now.  (HANGS UP)  Well, here we go, Mr. Basille.  Cheers.

I tell him there’s going to be a slight delay getting him the money.

Hansen: I was gonna get that $14,000 wired from my bank in New York here.  There was a problem at the last minute and I’m waiting—the banks aren’t open yet in New York and will not open for a couple hours.Mr. Basille: Okay.

As a token of good will, I give him something....

Hansen: So basically, what I had Lillibet do was go to the ATMMr. Basille: ATM. Okay.Hansen: And I just wanted to give you some cash right now just in good faith, and by then end of the day in a couple of hours, I’ll get the rest of it wired. So this is $500,  just take this as a show of faith that I’m not goofing around here, and when the banks open in New York, we’ll—Mr. Basille: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Our so-called international banker seems satisfied with a mere $500 cash for what is supposed to be the start of a multi-million dollar transaction.  

I play along... And act like I’m excited about the millions I am about to  receive. In fact, I want to window shop for all the things I’ll soon be able to buy.

Hansen: We’ll finish this champagne and we’ll get a ride. I got a driver.  He’ll take us over to the Rolls Royce dealership, and we’ll take a look at some cars and—Mr. Basille: Uh-huh (Affirms).  Uh-huh (Affirms).Hansen: --as long as you got time, I mean—Mr. Basille: Yes.Hansen: --you might as well hang out.  I mean, you know, yeah.  Yeah.

But it won’t be okay for long, because  Mr. Basille is about to find out who I really am... and he won’t be very happy about it.

We’re in Berkeley Square and we convince Mr. Basille to come window shopping at aRolls Royce dealership. I tell him I’m looking for a good way to spend my expected windfall.

But Mr. Basille has no intention of ever turning over any money to me.

As far as the cash I am supposed to give Mr. Basille, he’s never gonna see his either. But for now, I tell him  it’s “still delayed” and tell him we’ll meet up later.

Mr. Basille shows up right on time, but I don’t. We’re trying to find out how far we can push these scammers to see if we can learn more about their operation.

Later, I call him from my  hotel suite. I let him know of the change and he seems more than happy to come by.

My assistant, wearing a hidden camera, brings him up on the elevator. He’s looking for his cash. I’m supposed to pay him $14,000 and he’s supposed to give me $12.8 million.

But I’m not the sucker he thinks I am.      

Chris Hansen: I’m concerned that there’s no guarantee that at the end of the day you just leave London with this cash and I never see that $12.8 million.Mr. Basille: So, what kind of guarantee do you want from me?Hansen: I haven’t even seen a business card from you saying that you’re connected with this bank.Mr. Basille:  Well, I’m sorry.  I didn’t bring a business card.  I show you the passports.Hansen: But, you don’t even have a business card from the bank?Mr. Basille: I have the business card, but I didn’t come with the business—I was in a rush to come here. Sincerely. Really, anybody can print a business card.  It’s easy to imitate.Hansen: Right.  But, I mean, typically people have ‘em.

I tell Mr. Bassille we’ve been on to him all along. 

Hansen: Here’s what I suspect.Mr. Basille: Uh-huh (Affirms).Hansen: I suspect, and while you seem like a very nice guy, I suspect that you’re part of a scam and that Paul is part of a scam.  And, I suspect that this is one of the those deals where you get some guy to put up $14,000 in the hopes of getting  $12.8 million dollars.Mr. Basille: No.Hansen: And, then you never—you never see the $14,000 again.Mr. Basille: No, no, no, not at all.  

Then we confront Mr. Bassille with information we had concerning his accomplice, the one who called himself Paul on the phone.

Remember, we learned Paul’s phone number was associated with other Internet scams.

Hansen: The same phone number that Paul uses right, it’s also being used by a guy named Douglas Cuomo, who’s tied to a “Please help me type scam.”  It’s tied to a Uma Viad who is involved in a lottery scam and to a Sandy Zuma who’s involved in “International transactions.”Mr. Basille: See that’s the problem. Lots of people pick up their cards, and they’re from different people working in the bank. And they use it to defraud people.

Was he claiming he was being defrauded? It was time for Mr. Bassille to find out who I really am.

Hansen: Well, there’s something else I have to tell you.Mr. Basille: Yeah.Hansen: And, that is, I’m not who you think I am.  I’m not Jim Dimoni.  I’m an investigative journalist from the United States, and we’re doing a story on suspected scams—financial scams that come out of Africa.  And, we suspect that, in fact, this is one of them.Mr. Basille: Hello.  Hansen: So, if there’s anything else you’d like to tell us, we’d like to hear it.  If not, you’re clearly free to go at any time.  But, this is stacking up as one of those scams.Mr. Basille: I want to tell you, I can tell you what? Who are these guys taking my pictures? Can I see their  ID, please?Hansen: Well, they’re not in a position to have to show you the ID.  I’m telling you who they are.Mr. Basille: No.  But, they don’t have any right to take your pictures of me.Hansen: In our room, they do have a right to take pictures.Mr. Basille: Okay.Hansen: So, if there’s anything else you’d like to tell us.Mr. Basille: Nothing.Hansen: Then you’re free to leave.

Oh... one more thing... remember that money we gave him earlier?

Hansen: I must ask you beforehand, though, I’d like to get that $500 back.(Basille hands the money back)Mr. Basille: thank you.Hansen: Thank you very much.Mr. Basille: Thank you, sir. 

There he goes.  For this man, the scam is over.

What did the FBI’s John Hambrick think of Mr. Bassille?

Hambrick, works for FBI on Internet crimes: This guy is not at the top of his game, he is a mule, a soldier in the game, you can tell he’s nervous.

Still,  Hambrick says if I had been a real scam victim, Mr. Basille would have taken me for everything I had.

Hambrick: They will stay after the victim til the victim is out of money.  If we are talking about $60,000 dollars that a guy has left in his retirement account, they’ll take it all.

Remember, we don’t have the power to arrest him.  And as the FBI’s Hambrick told us earlier,   with limited resources, there’s little time or money to  chase these con men down.

But investigations like ours might help. And we are about to take our hidden camera investigation to the next level.

Apparently these conmen  don’t all talk to each other—and while it’s a widespread crime—it may not be that organized...

Hansen: Give me a sense for how this works behind the scenes, is this like a corporation? Hambrick:  It’s more like organized chaos...

After we expose two con-men, they disappear. But there are others eager to take our money--

Back in New York, I talk on the phone with a man, who calls himself "B.S. Martins." He tells us about a $20 million horde of cash hidden away in the nation of Senegal. And if we help transfer it to another country, there will be  millions in it for us. 

But first, we have to go to Amsterdam to meet him. He offers to pick us up when we get into town.

B.S. Martins: Probably I’ll make a reservation for you in a hotel and from there I’ll pick you up.  Okay?

In Amsterdam
They say you can find anything you want in Amsterdam. When we arrive, we are looking for a scammer.

We don’t want any of “B.S.”  people picking us up, though. We  are set up in  a hotel suite with hidden cameras...just like in London. But here, the scammers are less willing to come by for a visit.  

Typically, the scammers want control and Amsterdam was no exception. 

John Hambrick, FBI: They do want to control the situation,   This is like a script they are following, and when you take them out of their element, you’re rocking their world.

We want to rock their world  bigtime. But Amsterdam  police  say the scammers will insist on having it their way, taking  us to a place like this: a building with a legitimate bank on the first floor. And to make it appear they work with the bank—they simply rent offices in the same building.

Chief inspector Rene Vanderwouxx: If you get in the building fresh from the US, just arrived to the airport and you go to the office building you think, “Okay, I’m at the ABN-AMRO Bank.”  But, you’re not.You’re just in an office that’s been rented by the hour by the bad guys...

That could be dangerous, so I’m not going to meet at any bank office.   As far as we are concerned, that’s a deal breaker.

Even though I say I don’t want to go with them they say they’ll send a car. Sure enough, our security consultant spots that very car outside the hotel.

But the car soon hits the road. Dutch police trace the license plate to a man with a criminal conviction.

But after the scammers refuse to come up to our hotel suite, it looks like they’re hitting the road as well.

Hansen: I think it’s reasonable to believe the word got out.

But Amsterdam isn’t the end of our story.

Back in London
Another e-mail, another scammer.... one of the messages we receive is supposedly from a woman who says her husband had hidden away a fortune:

"I am Mrs. Farah al-Hashemi, the wife of (the) Iraq military finance corps chief..."

By the way, she is also supposedly dying and if we assist in finding the hidden fortune—she will give us a $2 million reward.    

I’m role-playing again, this time as investor “Rich Greenbach’.   The dying woman puts me in touch with still another diplomat, and again we’re told to go to London to meet him.

In London , since we know some scammers are on to us, instead of installing hidden cameras in a hotel suite, we hit the theatre district, the West End, where we rent a private club. We even pay staff to come in and hire actors to fill the tables.  

We’re supposedly meeting that  “diplomat”, a man named Mr. Amoah.

And when I arrive at the meeting place I give him a call. We just don’t  know if he’ll  show. He seems nervous about coming to the club. For some reason, he says he’s worried about his safety.

But after some long negotiations, he agrees to come to our pub.

Right away, Mr. Amoah is ready for a drink.

Hansen (hidden camera footage): Yeah.  Do you want tea or do you want a beer?Mr. Amoah: A beer.

He goes on to explain it’s because he’s a diplomat that he can expedite the payment of my reward money.

Mr. Amoah: If you are a diplomat, in the section of security companies, you are allowed to move security cargoes to anywhere.  But, the only thing is, is that if anything goes wrong, it’ll be all over the television... it’ll be all over the newspapers.Hansen: It’ll be all over the television?Mr. Amoah: Yes.Hansen: Now, why would it be all over the television?Mr. Amoah: Because—then we have to be careful.Hansen:  Because we don’t wanna end up with this over television.

But as you know, it didn’t quite work out that way.

In London, in our rented pub equipped with hidden cameras, we’re  meeting Mr. Amoah, who says he’s a “diplomat.” I’m supposed to give him $12,000, a fee to expedite my receiving two million dollars as a reward for helping a poor sick widow.

Of course we know this is all a major league scam.  But I want to appear to be a diligent businessman so I ask for some identification.  And some proof this is all real.

Hansen:  So the document, your diplomatic documents, are actually kept at the airport? So you can’t carry them with you?Mr. Amoah:  No, No. No. No. You don’t do that.Hansen: But what if you get stopped and..Mr. Amoah: Nobody will stop me..Hansen: You have to prove to somebody that you’re a diplomat though?Mr. Amoah: You go to the airport. Hansen: So you just go to the airport?Mr. Amoah: Straight.

He also wanted to know where my $12,000 fee was. Since he’s never getting any $12,000, I stall him and I tell him there’s a problem with the bank but will meet him later with the cash in Trafalgar square.

Remember, we’re getting an inside look at how the scam works but we’re also baiting him on behalf of all those who’ve been scammed worldwide.   So I continue to hold out the promise that he’s got a ready and willing sucker at his disposal.

Hansen: Can you meet me back at the pub in one hour?Mr. Amoah: One hour time?Hansen: One hour time and I’ll have it all together. I appreciate it and I apologize for that. But I’m trying to.. those are great looking shoes by the way. I love thoseMr. Amoah: If I’d known you had wanted.. I would have brought you some.Hansen: In one hour back at the pub. We’ll be done. OK. Alright. Thank you my.. Sorry for the trouble. Alright. Alright. Thanks very much. We’ll see you in one hour then. Alright. Alright. Good.

He’s lured by the smell of easy cash and he comes back to the pub right on time.

And now, it’s time to tell him I am not a sucker after all.

Hansen: Remember how you said that you were concerned that something like this could be splashed all over the TV news?Mr. Amoah: That is if I don’t know...  Hansen: There’s something else you don’t know.  And that is I am not really Rich Greenbach..My name is Chris Hansen.Mr. Amoah: Yeah.Hansen: And I’m a television news reporter in the United States.Mr. Amoah: Okay.Hansen: And we are doing an investigative story—Mr. Amoah: Okay.Hansen: —on people like yourselves who appear to be trying to steal money from American investors... I work for a show called Dateline NBC.  And you’ve just been caught.Mr. Amoah: No problem.

Hansen: What was gonna happen with that 8,000 Euros?  It was gonna go in your pocket and you were gonna split it with your cohorts, right? There was no consignment.  There’s no box of money at the airport.  How often do you rip people off this way?  Tell me?   Mr. Amoah: I’ve told you sir, I don’t depends on you...Hansen: I think it depends on you.  I think you were gonna steal 8,000 Euros from me today.Mr. Amoah: Me?

Hansen: You. You and the rest of your organization.  Do you really expect me to believe that a diplomat has to keep his passport at an airport?  I mean, do I look stupid to you?Mr. Amoah:  No.Hansen: You know that’s not true.  Right?Mr. Amoah: Yes.Hansen: You lied to me, right? Mr. Amoah: Can I get some drink or something?Hansen: You want something to drink?Mr. Amoah: Yeah.

Mr. Amoah clearly isn’t ready for this, that’s why he continues to sweat profusely.

Mr. Amoah: There’s no problem.Hansen:  I’m trying to get answers from you.Mr. Amoah: Oh.Hansen: Yeah.  So, tell me how this works.  How many people are in your organization?  The answer is not at the bottom of that beer glass by the way.  The answer’s up here.  And I’d appreciate you giving it to me.Mr. Amoah: You what?Hansen: Tell me what was gonna happen with that money had I given it to you and had you walked out that door?  Tell me. Mr. Amoah: But you called me.  I never called you anyway.  You called me.Hansen:  I called you because I was put in contact with you from another man who was trying to rip us off,  as part of the same scheme.Mr. Amoah: So, what do we do now? Hansen: So, what—you tell me.  You tell me.Mr. Amoah: I don’t have anything to say.Hansen: You don’t have anything to say?Mr. Amoah: I’m finished discussing with you.

Hansen: You’re finished discussing this with me.Mr. Amoah: Yes please.Hansen: All right, I have one more questions for you.  I’d like to get that $200 back I gave to you.Mr. Amoah: No problemHansen:  Well, you’re free to leave, by the way.  There’s nothing I can do to keep you here.Mr. Amoah: Sorry?Hansen: I said, you’re free to leave.

Mr. Amoah eventually leaves empty-handed.

But we don’t. In just a few days, we are able to put a few faces into the rogues gallery of Internet conmen. They’re players in a sprawling criminal network that continues to steal millions from victims.

FBI special agent John Hambrick: It was interesting  that your efforts were so productive in terms of getting as far as you did with the face to face.  That was substantial. 

Substantial, because as we learned in our investigation, these scammers are usually phantoms, role-players, acting their parts  behind a string of fake names, Internet personas and email addresses. 

But even after we caught these characters in the flesh, they were able to disappear into thin air.

Hambrick: From my perception there is not one man and you take him out,  you’re gonna take down the network. It’s more diverse than that - there are several kingpins. Hansen: It sounds like this scam is going to be going on for the foreseeable future. Hambrick: It does.  This scam is going to be out there.  And the bottom line is, if you want to send your life inheritance to another country, there’s someone there who’s willing to receive it.

And so, some advice for those who receive an enticing e-mail from a stranger in need of help or a friend offering untold riches.

Hambrick: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Delete the e-mail.  If you don’t know who sent you that e-mail, delete it.

Next week, we’ll take you inside a scam that won’t go away by just hitting “delete.”  It’s the world of identity thieves, who victimize consumers by stealing their bank and credit card information to the tune of nearly $5 billion dollars a year.

We’ll watch as those identity thieves steal credit card information in real time, and go on spending sprees.

Then, we’ll go on the hunt for them, and find out where that stolen loot is heading.

It’s a journey into a criminal underground that claims millions of victims each year.