Secret online world of ID thieves

Online identity thieves offer to sell credit card PIN numbers.

Identity theft is a global problem costing Americans billions of dollars every year.

But it's stunning to find just how open these thieves are when talking about stealing your identity. It's so out in the open, so casual, almost as if they're talking about buying a car. Which, ultimately, is what's so alarming.

We use our credit cards almost every day, buying everything from gas to groceries. But just how safe is your identity?

"There was a short survey for $25," said Janet Davis of California, Mo. "I thought why not do it?"

Davis found out the hard way that it can be taken away in an instant. Her life savings - just over $500 - was withdrawn from an ATM in the Bronx, NY, a thousand miles away.

The internet has made it much easier for these high tech thieves to do some high tech dumpster diving.

"The new twist is they're getting much more creative in how they're trying to entice people to provide their personal information," said Bridget Patton, with the Kansas City FBI.

We wanted to find out how they operate. So we went undercover, online, to find out how your information is being bought and sold. And what we found was eye-opening.

One common way is with a program called mIRC, or internet relay chat. One computer expert referred to it as the "dredges" of the internet.

And we found plenty of chat rooms filled with would-be thieves, all looking to take advantage of people like Davis.

In one chat room someone wrote, "Selling Canadian ID's, be anyone you want!" Another said they were selling PIN numbers and CVV's - the security code on the back of your card.

We began a conversation with a man whose online screen name was D3X and posed as a potential buyer. D3X told us he had credit card numbers and would sell them to us - $250 bucks for gold and platinum cards since they have higher limits.

"I have a lot of each," he wrote in the online chat.

D3X asked us to wire the money through Western Union to the seaside resort city of Varna, Bulgaria, in Eastern Europe. Authorities say Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria in particular, are hotbeds for identity theft.

So in less than two minutes, for $200, we could've bought someone's identity - it can happen that quick.

The problem in catching them is that they're often far away, move fast and hide behind anonymous accounts.

"It's very difficult to catch them, especially because many of them are across borders," said Travis Ford, consumer educator for Attorney General Jay Nixon. "US law enforcement jurisdiction ends at the borders and without cooperation from these governments it's almost impossible to get our hands on those people even if we could find them."

What's frustrating for anyone who falls victim to identity theft is that there's no real incentive to go after the crooks, according to one government official.

The $500 bucks Janet Davis lost through an online Central Bank e-mail scam was a lot to her but it's peanuts to the FBI since they need much more than that to start a case. And since she was reimbursed by her bank, local authorities also have little reason to get involved.

But that, in part, is why it's so important all victims come forward.

"So possibly we can see if there's a nexus of these type of scams or the same scam going across the United States," said Patton. "So that we can get an investigation or a prosecution into these matters."

The FBI wouldn't identify a dollar amount, nor the number of complaints they would need to get in order to actively investigate. They would only say that it would have to be "substantial."

The agency has partnered with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, and encourage all victims to report their story to help prevent this from happening to others.

If you feel you've been the victim of an identity theft scam it's important to call your bank, and report it to your local FBI chapter, or online at