Fake banks lure customers online

At first glance, it looks much like any other Internet bank. Pearl Atlantic Credit & Trust says it offers loans, project financing and online banking, with deposits insured by the FDIC. There are even pictures of a CEO, Victor Bartruff, and other officers.

When NBC News checked further, we found that Bartruff was indeed a bank president, but at Pinnacle Bank of Oregon. His picture had been stolen by Pearl Atlantic.

"I have nothing to do with that bank," says Bartruff. "I never heard of it until you had contacted me and asked me if I was involved with it."

So we decided to call the bank's number in the Netherlands, using an assumed name.

Operator: "Pearl Atlantic, good afternoon. How may I direct calls please?"

Lisa Myers: "I want to speak to someone about a loan."

We're told we must first open an account and deposit money.

Operator: "$4,000, yeah."

Later, the amount goes up.

Myers: "So to open an account I would need to send you $5,000?"

Operator: "Yeah, then you have to fill out the information necessary, send us a copy of your ID."  

We decided to visit Pearl Atlantic's address in the Netherlands. There was no bank, only a court building. Where was Pearl Atlantic?

"I never heard of it," said one worker at the court building.

Bank regulators in the U.S. and the Netherlands tell NBC there is no legitimate bank by that name. The Web site was set up by someone using a non-existent address in Brooklyn, N.Y.

We called back the so-called bank about what we found.

Myers: "What kind of scam is this?"

Man on the phone: "What do you mean by 'what kind of scam, ma'am?'"

Myers: "Well, you appear to be a fake bank."

Man:  "Madam, please, would you mind your language?"

Moments later, the man hung up.

"Artists against 419," a grassroots consumer group which targets these scams, says the fake bank appears tied to an e-mail scam.

"We probably find five or ten more a day on average," says a woman who volunteers at the group and asked that we not use her name. "We keep finding new ones."

The Federal Trade Commission says a likely motive is identity theft, and that these scams are tough to stop.

"For every enforcement action that we take, I'm sure that there are new fraudulent Web sites set up," says the FTC's Eileen Harrington.

Authorities say there is no way to know how many consumers were fooled by Pearl Atlantic. Pinnacle Bank says its systems were not compromised. The day of our last call, Pearl Atlantic's Web site became unavailable, at least for now.