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To catch an ID thief

If you're like most Americans, you know all too well how pervasive credit card fraud is. You might have been a victim yourself. A few years ago, I got a call from my bank asking if I had charged $24,000 dollars at a store in New Zealand? I most certainly had not, but I had bought my son something on a Web site that apparently was not secure and thieves were able to obtain and use my number.

In a groundbreaking investigation a year in the making, we'll take you into the thieves' markets on the Internet, where your stolen credit card numbers and identity information could be for sale at this very moment. Very seldom are we able to infiltrate a criminal syndicate the way we do in the case of our investigation into identity theft and credit card fraud.

We'll also show you who is involved in this multi-billion dollar fraud and we'll track the identity thieves all the way from the United States, through Europe and into West Africa. It was challenging, risky, but rewarding.

There are also a few light moments. As part of our investigation, we actually form an online electronics company and a delivery service so we can follow the trail of merchandise purchased with stolen credit and debit cards. We find that a number of items ordered are going to the same address and the man who lives there is re-shipping the items overseas, not knowing he's part of a criminal enterprise. In order to learn more about the operation, we invite him to the "offices" of "CH Delivery" to pick up some of the packages. It's actually an old warehouse-like building we've rigged with hidden cameras and microphones.

When the man comes in, I greet him and we start chatting. I ask him how he got into this business and he tells me it all started in an Internet chat room when he met  an attractive woman named Wendy who ultimately has become his business partner. He then leans over to me and gives me a warning about chatting online and what can happen if you get caught soliciting teenage girls for sex.

"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."

He's talking about our "To Catch A Predator" investigations, but he has no idea who he's really talking to. Now, I'm not wearing a disguise-- just regular clothes a delivery company employee might wear: a fleece and a ball cap. He goes on to describe several scenes from our shows. Apparently he's a big fan.

As you'll see, he's about to find out that we're investigating a predator of a different sort and I am about to ask him to help us.

'To Catch an I.D. Thief' aired Dateline Tuesday, March 27, 8 p.m. on NBC. Click here for more on the investigation, including Web-exclusive videos, and video to the entire episode. Here are tips on protecting your identity.

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