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Godfather of the Dark Web

Deep within the internet is the dark web, a space where criminals can anonymously buy and sell illegal goods and private information.

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Deep within the internet is the dark web, a space where criminals can anonymously buy and sell illegal goods and private information. Known as the “original internet godfather,” Brett Johnson created one of the dark web’s first online stores where criminals bought stolen credit cards, Social Security numbers, drugs and guns. After serving seven years in prison, Brett turned his back on criminal enterprise and became a consultant for the Secret Service. Brett walks us through how he became a con man, why he changed his ways and how you can protect yourself from cybercriminals.

TIPS:  If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam or would like to report fraud call The Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360Anyone can become the victim of a scam, it’s important to be vigilant and know your vulnerabilities. For instance, if you are looking for a job you are more vulnerable to a work-at-home scam.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Will Johnson: Coming up this week on AARP - The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] There was one site that, where I think we saw 171,000 people registered to that site, and every one of those 171,000 people was there for some nefarious reason.

[00:00:12] I stole from people I knew, people that I never met and didn't care. I was a despicable person then.

[00:00:21] Will Johnson: Welcome back to this week's episode of AARP - The Perfect Scam podcast. I'm Will Johnson, I'm here with my cohost, the AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. Frank, how are you?
[00:00:30] Frank Abagnale: Great to be back, Will, thanks.

[00:00:32] Will Johnson: Frank, I've been thinking maybe there could be a sequel for "Catch Me If You Can. Have you thought about this at all or is it just me?

[00:00:39] Frank Abagnale: I haven't thought about it, but...

[00:00:40] Will Johnson: You can do the other 40 years of your life.

[00:00:42] Frank Abagnale: Right.

[00:00:43] Will Johnson: Right? I don't know who would play the role, but well I guess Leo could come back, Leonardo DiCaprio. Because our podcast is all about scams, we want to spend an episode talking about the Dark Web. The Dark Web is where cybercrime lives and flourishes, drugs, weapons, your Social Security number, you name it. AARP Fraud Watch Network expert, Doug Schadel went on a tour of the Dark Web to see it firsthand.

[00:01:10] Doug Schadel: The Dark Web started back in the early 2000s, it was actually invented by the US Navy. It was trying to get um, some communication channel for their operatives overseas to communicate anonymously. And so they developed this software called The Onion Router, TOR. T-O-R which is what you need to access the Dark Web, but early on, criminals started to see this, and being early adopters of that type of technology, they said, wait, we could communicate anonymously with each other? Let's try that. That's a good idea because we want to sell a lot of drugs. About 80 percent of the criminal activity on the Dark Web is drug trafficking. Every kind of drug you can imagine is for sale on the Dark Web. There is also the buying and selling of digital goods. This is your digital identity and my digital identity, Will. What's a digital identity? Things like your Social Security number, personal information.

[00:02:10] Will Johnson: To delve much deeper into the Dark Web, how it started, how it works, and how it got to where it is today, we went to the source, Brett Johnson. Many consider Brett the guy who made the Dark Web what it is today. These days, Brett's life is transformed. He's using his expertise for the good guys as a consultant with the FBI, the Secret Service, and private companies who are fighting cybercrime.

            I sat down with Brett and we chatted for 90 minutes or so, and I have to say it was a bit of a bizarre experience after talking to so many fraud victims over the course of many episodes of this show. But Brett has an incredible story, and he helps us get inside the mind of cybercriminals.

[00:02:50] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:02:50] Will Johnson: The Secret Service once dubbed you the Original Internet Godfather, right?

[00:02:53] Brett Johnson: They did. I'm not proud of that title, but that's what they said.

[00:02:57] Will Johnson: Brett knows probably as much or more about the Dark Web than, than most people.

[00:03:04] Brett Johnson: Probably more about the Dark Web and online cybercrime than, than most anyone. There may be some people that are still locked up that might know more than I.

[00:03:13] Will Johnson: We'll get to them, eventually. And the reason being is that you actually launched one of the first online stores, if I can call it that?

[00:03:21] Brett Johnson: Yeah, I...

[00:03:22] Will Johnson: Trafficking and, and bad stuff.

[00:03:23] Brett Johnson: Right, I built the first online, the first organized cybercrime community. It was called Shadow Crew, it was the precursor to today's Dark Net markets and it laid the foundation for the way that modern cybercrime channels still operate today.

[00:03:35] Will Johnson: Brett Johnson grew up in eastern Kentucky. He describes his mom as the captain of the fraud industry where he grew up. She was into everything, from stealing a 108,000 Caterpillar bulldozer to slipping and falling in a store and suing the owner.

[00:03:50] Brett Johnson: She was, she was abusive, not, I mean she could be physical, but it was, it was more verbal, emotional, mental. She was negligent. She would leave me and my sister alone for days at a time. By this point she had left Dad, so Dad wasn't there, but uh, I'm 10, my sister's 9. My mom had been gone for a few days. We didn't have any food in the house. And I'm the kid that uh was always scared that Mom was going to come back. You know I'd stay, look out, look out the window, walk out in the street and see if she was driving down the street coming home, so I was always scared and worried. Denise, a year younger at 9, she was, she was always the kid that just got mad. She was mad about it. So we're there for a few days. One day Denise walks in the house and she's got this pack of pork chops with her. I'm like, where did you get those? And she's like, I stole them. I'm like, hmm, show me how you did that.

[00:04:37] Will Johnson: Brett says his life of crime started right then at age 10. Brett, his sister, and his mom all started shoplifting and stealing together.

[00:04:48] Brett Johnson: I don't want anyone out there to think that, that I'm blaming my parent for my choices as an adult. They were my choices to break the law.

[00:04:56] Will Johnson: Well there's something to be said though about environment. And I appreciate what you're saying, but I mean you certainly didn't have the best example, and you were, and you were operating to some extent, you know, without food. It was a necessity.

[00:05:06] Brett Johnson: Right, right.

[00:05:07] Will Johnson: So do you remember the first time you logged onto a computer?

[00:05:09] Brett Johnson: The first computer I had was a Texas Instruments TI-994A. I was uh, 11 I think was what I was at the time. And that was basically just a glorified video game machine is all it was. Um, more importantly, the first time I got on the internet was probably '94, '95.

[00:05:29] Will Johnson: Yeah, that's a better question, right, you're finally connecting with the world outside of eastern Kentucky.

[00:05:33] Brett Johnson: So I, I had been on computers and everything. I was somewhat adept to that.

[00:05:37] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:05:38] Will Johnson: One of Brett's first crimes was dying a gray Beanie Baby elephant the color blue in order to sell the coveted blue elephant on eBay for $1500. He went on to sell baseballs with forged players signatures and around 1996 he learned how to hack into small satellite systems and cable boxes, turning on channels for customers willing to pay him. In a way, Brett stumbled into the world of cybercrime.

            Stories like yours always beg the question, you're obviously a smart guy, you could have turned all this into something legit.

[00:06:10] Brett Johnson: Yeah.

[00:06:10] Will Johnson: Early on. I mean you have now, but did that ever cross your mind or was it too easy, your mindset had been from a young age, you can get away with stuff.

[00:06:18] Brett Johnson: Not, it, that mindset helps, but I got the worst part of my dad and my mom. Alright, so I got the criminal mindset from my mom. My dad was this guy that uh he just wanted my mom to love him, so he'd put up with all this stuff. He would let her bring, he'd beg her not to bring men home, but she'd do it anyway. He'd beg her not to abuse me and my sister, but she would do it anyway, but he let it go on. Just trying not to lose her love. So as I got older, I got, that was the type of mindset that I, I developed. I didn't want people to abandon me. I didn't want to, to lose the people that were important to me, so it was, it was to the point that I got to the point where I didn't want to leave, leave them. I didn't want to go to work. I wanted to make sure I was there to help them all the time. I was very, very codependent person, so and that codependency like that, that uh, that led into that. Um, and I got to the point where, I mean, yeah, I would rip people off and try to justify it. I was always justifying my crimes.

[00:07:16] Will Johnson: And you could live with whatever guilt might be associated with that, or there was, there was none.

[00:07:21] Brett Johnson: Initially there was none. So, yeah, there was, there was no guilt at all because I was sitting there thinking, and, and what happens is, when you're, when you're doing internet crime, there's that separation, so you don't see the victim's face. You're just, you're just looking at the information online, and you don't associate it with a person, and that helps, that helped me anyway to, to break the law even more.

[00:07:42] Will Johnson: So when does the Dark Web start? So eventually you start one of the first online stores. Am I jumping ahead too far?

[00:07:46] Brett Johnson: No, not, not at all.

[00:07:48] Will Johnson: The Dark Web, did it exist?

[00:07:50] Brett Johnson: No, so, so cybercrime at that point in time, so, so I've been in it since cybercrime was a small crime, and then it turned into a business, and today it's its, it's its own economy, alright. So um, yeah, '90--, '96 was when I was uh selling pirated satellite cards, alright? Now, around '97 is when I, when I decided that I needed to launder the money, and by doing that I need a fake ID. So I have no idea where to get a fake ID, so what I do is, is I get online, look around, think I find a guy that supplies IDs, I send him my picture, I send him $200 and he rips me off. Okay? And I get upset. I get really upset. So I start looking around for anybody that can actually supply an ID. I can't find it. The closest I come to is a website called counterfeit library, and the only thing they sold were counterfeit degrees. That was it. But they had this forum on there, and no one was using it, so I go on the forum and the only thing I do is complain every single day about being ripped off [00:08:50] by this fake ID supplier. So, about the same time I'm there, these two other gentlemen show up. One of them's called Beelzebub, he's from Mostrof, Saskatchewan, the other guy is Mr. X from Los Angeles...

[00:09:01] Will Johnson: And your name was eventually Gollum Fun?

[00:09:03] Brett Johnson: My name at that point was Gollum Fun.

[00:09:05] Will Johnson: You came up with it? Were you a Lord of the Rings fan?

[00:09:06] Brett Johnson: Yeah, I was a Lord of the Rings guy. Yeah, that's me. So, I get, I'm complaining and Beelzebub, he's talking about how he can make IDs. So one day he messages me on ICQ, that's a messaging service, and he was like, Gollum, he said, I can make an ID for you. And I'm like, you can? He's like, yeah, and I was like, well make one and send it to me. He's like, look, I can give it to you free, but he said I'm not going to do that. I'm going to charge you $200. And he said I'm going to do that because you, if you're going to be in this business online, you have to trust people. And I'm, it gets me so bad, I'm like, you know, what, cause by this point I'm already friends with the people who run the website. And I'm like, I'll tell you what, I'll send you $200, just so I can get you kicked off this forum when you rip me off. So I send him $200, sent him my picture, two weeks later, two weeks later I get this Indiana ID in the name of Steven Schweck is the name. What Beelzebub does is since he wants to sell IDs, he gets this idea that he'll make me, he wants me to be the reviewer of every single [00:10:06] product or service that comes on that forum. Now by this point, I've become friends with the people who own the website, and I've asked them, can I control the forum? And they're like, yes, you can have it. So I took over the forum, Beelzebub wants me to review every single product and he says, you need to do this so you understand how these products work. You can ask questions, you get to see everything that comes in, and you can learn how to do it. And I'm like, that's a good idea. Let's do that. So I start doing that, and we, simply word of mouth, because there was no other site like that on the planet.

[00:10:35] Will Johnson: I was going to ask. It seemed like...

[00:10:37] Brett Johnson: That was the first place and they, they came flocking in.

[00:10:40] Will Johnson: And you're just reviewing products?

[00:10:41] Brett Johnson: Just reviewing products.

[00:10:42] Will Johnson: People are putting on the site.

[00:10:44] Brett Johnson: So someone's got a fake ID, I have them send me a fake ID.

[00:10:47] Will Johnson: And is everything fake or bad or is there any like legitimate commerce going on?

[00:10:52] Brett Johnson: Legitimate commerce, how?

[00:10:53] Will Johnson: Like a t-shirt, or...

[00:10:54] Brett Johnson: Oh, no, no, no, no.

[00:10:54] Will Johnson: Or I've got a weed whacker to sell.

[00:10:56] Brett Johnson: No, it was all, it was all illegal goods. So if someone had, if someone was operating the counterfeit checks, they would have to send me some checks in order to be able to sell on the forum. Same thing for fake IDs or credit cards or anything else like that.

[00:11:09] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:11:10] Will Johnson: Eventually Brett partnered with a group of Ukrainians running a website called Carder Planet. It's stolen credit card numbers and Brett knew how to cash them out.

[00:11:19] Brett Johnson: So, uh he partners with us, we turn over, we, we, from there we transition over to Shadow Crew, and Shadow Crew is basically the, the forerunner of today's Darknet Market.

[00:11:30] Will Johnson: Brett went on to run the site for three years adding up 4000 members.

[00:11:34] Brett Johnson: A member that knew what he was doing could profit 30 to $40,000 a month just running stolen credit cards. Buying a product, cashing it out.

[00:11:43] Will Johnson: They eventually figured out how to encode the magnetic strip on fake credit cards that they then used to get cash out of ATMs. This brought in a lot more money.

[00:11:52] Brett Johnson: We started stealing, instead of 30 to $40,000 a month, it was 30 to 40,000 a day.

[00:11:57] Will Johnson: You could only get out so much money from the ATM though, right?

[00:11:58] Brett Johnson: Right.

[00:11:59] Will Johnson: So you'd go to a couple different ones?

[00:12:00] Brett Johnson: Yeah, you'd map, you'd literally map a route of ATMS out.

[00:12:03] Will Johnson: But around 2001, Brett started noticing law enforcement sniffing around on the site.

[00:12:08] Brett Johnson: So I start looking for a way out, and about the same time, I'm the guy that uh, I'd guess you'd call it, say I'm the SOB that created this thing called internet or uh Income Tax Identity Theft.

[00:12:21] Will Johnson: Sounds familiar.

[00:12:22] Brett Johnson: Sounds familiar, so the reason that uh if you look at today, people filing tax returns before you're able to, stolen identity. I'm that guy. I'm the guy that started that. Um, so I started that back in 2003 at this point. So that's 2003 I'm doing that. I'm stealing, at one point I was stealing 160,000 a week.

[00:12:43] Will Johnson: So you were doing that.

[00:12:44] Brett Johnson: Doing that, and...

[00:12:45] Will Johnson: And that you, then you started getting freaked out?

[00:12:48] Brett Johnson: Yeah I got real freaked out. I was scared I was going to get 30 years in prison, so I end up quitting the website.

[00:12:54] Will Johnson: So you were getting freaked out. Were you making a lot of money too at this point?

[00:12:58] Brett Johnson: Well I, I wasn't making anything, I was stealing a lot of money. Um, so on income tax fraud, on Cardian, when I was doing Cardian it was a profit of 30 to $40,000 a month. Now on the income tax fraud, it jumped up. On income tax fraud I stole $160,000 a week for 10 months a year.

[00:13:13] Will Johnson: And you're putting all this money under your mattress?

[00:13:15] Brett Johnson: I'm putting all this money initially in backpacks. So one of those Jansport  backpacks you see kids carrying back and forth to classes all the time, that will hold $150,000 in 20s. I already know, that's exactly what it holds. Alright, and I had this... I got to the point I'd just file a tax return every six minutes, I'd file tax returns from Sunday through Wednesday for 8 hours a day, 200 tax returns a week, so out of those 200, 80% would fund. On Thursday I'd take a road trip, plot out a course of ATMs, Friday morning, or actually Saturday morning at uh at about 2 am I'd start cashing out at ATM machines and, and that weekend I'd pull nothing but 20s out of ATM machines. Come back on Sunday; start back again. Though the money would go in a backpack initially and I had this, I had this ranch style house in Charleston, South Carolina, man I'd take the backpack and I chuck it in the spare bedroom, and I had this, this room full of backpacks, each backpack had 150,000.

[00:14:14] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:14:18] Will Johnson: Let me uh, ask when did things go from these ATM trips to all of a sudden, or maybe not all of a sudden, maybe over time, it's not just credit card numbers, but there's guns and drugs?

[00:14:33] Brett Johnson: The, the rules that I had on Shadow Crew, there were three rules. And those rules were no counterfeit currencies, no drugs, no child pornography. And we, we never dealt in child pornography at all. Um, drugs, or guns started making an appearance because we had a guy that worked at uh, it was Glock or Beretta. He wo--, he worked at one of the factories. And he was able to get guns out that did not have serial numbers on them, and he was selling them for 2000 a pop at that point. So we started offering that. Drugs, what happened was, my, my second-in-charge, he always wanted drugs to be introduced. So for the last year of Shadow Crew, the first thing we allowed in was Ecstasy being sold. So we had people that would be 40,000 tablets of this stuff. Um, once Ecstasy was in there, we had people that were selling pot, marijuana, and then finally was the uh, the oxycontin.

[00:15:34] Will Johnson: On October 26th, 2004, the US Secret Service arrested 33 people in six countries in six hours. Brett was the only one who got away. But not for long. In 2005 the law catches up with him.

[00:15:48] Brett Johnson: What happened was, is I was in Charleston, South Carolina, I was picking up some diamonds from a UPS delivery for a COD order, cash on delivery. Gave, I met the driver at the drop address, told me, I told him my name, he said, I've got the package for you. He hands me the package, I hand him the check for, I think it was $23,000. And I turn around and there's the FBI and the Charleston, uh South Carolina Police Department with guns drawn looking at me.

[00:16:16] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:16:17] Will Johnson: While Brett's sitting in County Jail, he gets a visit from the Secret Service. They cut him a deal. In a few months he's out showing the good guys the inner workings of the Dark Web.

[00:16:26] Brett Johnson: Same night I get out, I've got $30 left, I got to uh, soon as the Secret Service leaves me, I walk out of the hotel room, walk over to Walmart and buy a prepaid debit card so I can start back in tax fraud again. I worked for the Secret Service for 10 months, and during that 10 months I broke the law every single day.

[00:16:44] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:16:45] Will Johnson: Brett gets thrown back in jail. But he's out again in no time and breaking the law. He heads to Vegas, then to Orlando, Disney World where he tries to blend in visiting the parks almost every day. But he's captured again, thrown back in jail, sentenced to 76 months.

[00:17:02] Brett Johnson: White collar criminals, they initially send those people, if they don't have a criminal history, they send people like me to a, a federal camp, which is a low security, you're allowed to work outside of the actual prison compound and everything. I got a job outside of the compound and lasted for six weeks, and then one day walked off. I had some, some associates of mine drop off a package with cash and a cell phone and an ID and left. Um, made it to about 300 miles away. Meanwhile the US Marshalls are canvasing the entire area, and I'm waiting on some Ukrainians that I knew to deliver more money to me. They never did. And uh, uh I get caught, and at this time I'm sent to Texas.

[00:17:39] Will Johnson: Were you doing like the whole disguises and everything?

[00:17:41] Brett Johnson: Oh, I had, you see me now. I mean I dyed my hair this flaming red. I had this big red bushy goatee and everything else. And uh, um, yeah, I didn't look like me at all at that point.

[00:17:52] Will Johnson: But they found you.

[00:17:53] Brett Johnson: They did. They did.

[00:17:55] Will Johnson: So Brett's back in jail and amazingly his dad, who you might remember early on was not in his life, shows up.

[00:18:01] Brett Johnson: And my dad comes to visit at a, at a county  jail they were holding me at. The county jail had a visitation for 10 minutes. And he asked me, he's like, can I do anything for you? And I'm like, uh, you can my sister I said hello to her. So he calls Denise up, and Denise is, I'm in Kentucky, and Denise is in North Carolina, 7½ hours away, and he tells her that, and Denise, pregnant, gets in the car and drives 7½ hours to come see me for 10 minutes to tell me she loves me. And uh, right after that I'm sent to uh, spent 8 months in solitary confinement, and I'm sent out to Texas to a prison and I don't see her again for five years. And uh, I took 2½ years of that to uh, to get to the point where I understood that the reason I was in prison and um, it wasn't because I was doing it to help people, it was because I chose to break the law.

[00:18:55] Will Johnson: Just doing soul searching on your own?

[00:18:57] Brett Johnson: Yeah, you get to, uh most people they get to the point um, because prison's extremely boring as well, when you're not in extreme violence, you're just, you’ve got time to do nothing but think. So um, you get to the point where you either, you either accept what you’ve done, or you just get mad and blame it on somebody. And I was fortunate enough to uh, to accept what I had done. So I got out uh, I got out in 2011 and no taste for breaking the law at all. But uh, when you're released from prison, you um, you're released with the same tools you go in with. So I was under three years’ probation, could not touch a computer. So um, the only job I was able to get was pushing a, a manual lawnmower, and I was happy doing it. I was making $400 a week doing that and I was, I was good. I was in a great and uh lawn season ended.

[00:19:47] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:19:52] Will Johnson: In the meantime, Brett met Michelle and got married, but out of work again, he goes back to what he does best.

[00:19:59] Brett Johnson: Michelle's the only one working. She's the only one bringing money in. I'm like uh, I gotta do something. I gotta do something. I gotta, I gotta to be worthy of this. So I get online, buy stolen credit cards and start ordering food, and I get caught and I go back to prison for 10 months. And Michelle, she uh, she stood by me. She uh, she (chokes up) excuse me, she um, she never questioned it, never uh, never hesitated, she was just right there.

[00:20:30] Will Johnson: Something about that last stint in prison seemed to do the trick or more importantly having someone on the outside like Michelle who didn't give up on him. He gets out determined to do things the right way.

[00:20:41] Brett Johnson: So I get on LinkedIn of all place. One of the big cybercrime cops, you know he was involved for most cybercrime busts from dating back to when I was committing the crime to current to date, out of Pittsburgh. I messaged him on LinkedIn. I'm like, hey I respect every single thing you’ve done. I think you've done a great job, really respect you, and by the way I would uh I'd like to do things legal. And the guy, he believed me.

[00:21:06] Will Johnson: Brett gets the introduction he needs to start a new life. He starts consulting with law enforcement, companies, and sharing all he knows about the Dark Web. That's where he is today; exposing the secrets of a small online community that he helped grow into the massive dark web that it is today.

[00:21:23] Brett Johnson: To give you an idea of how, how, how much its grown since I committed it, when Shadow Crew was shut down we ended with 4000 members. Last year, July 5th, a website called Alpha Bay on the Dark Web was shut down. When it was shut down they had 240,000 members for just one website.

[00:21:40] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:21:42] Will Johnson: And when you think about the guy who uh early on starting out online, you said, you know, you made that first fraudulent sale of a Beanie Baby that you dyed blue. Is that a different guy than the one I'm looking at today?

[00:21:56] Brett Johnson: Naw, I don’t think it's a different guy. Um, I, I'm not, I'm not that guy that's going to say that I'm different. I'm still that guy. Um, I think the difference is, is that I, I just um, I understand that I was hurting that person. I don't think I cared back then. But um, I've been fortunate enough to uh, to being given the opportunity to see that you know, my actions do affect others that uh, you know, I did a lot of harm. I stole, I stole from people I knew, people I never met and didn't care. Um, I think looking back on that it's just um, I was a despicable person then. And I, I, I'm not saying I'm a good person now, but I'm a better person, and um, I'm just trying to uh, I'll never be able to make amends for that, but I'll be able to, I think that from this point on I can make sure that my future decisions are, are ones that help instead of hurt.

[00:22:57] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:22:59] Will Johnson: And I'm back with the AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. So, a lot of scams and frauds would not be as successful as they are without the lists of people and their phone numbers and their credit cards and everything else unless...

[00:23:14] Frank Abagnale: Selling data, I was always reminding people money uh money comes in two forms; in the form of currency and in the forms of data, so data is money and basically they're selling data on the Dark Web and they're selling information on the Dark Web. The same thing the chatroom did only it was just a scroll, like an adding machine piece of tape going by on the screen with data on it. Now it's just much more sophisticated.

[00:23:37] Will Johnson: So let me ask, as a word of advice for our listeners, if your credit card is stolen, or your debit card or whatever it may be, your bank account number, and you're worried about, oh, this is getting sold now on the Dark Web, what can we do?

[00:23:51] Frank Abagnale: Well you know, my philosophy that I mentioned and written about many times is, I don't have a debit card. I only use a credit card. Not credit debit, just a credit card, VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover Card. Every day of my life I literally spend the credit card company's money. I don't spend my money. My money sits in a money market account, it earns interest. Nobody knows where it is because it's never exposed to anybody. I got to the grocery store, use my credit card, I go to the cleaners, I use my credit card. I get on the airplane to come this morning, I use my credit card. Now, I will do everything in my power to protect my number, but if someone gets my number tomorrow and charges 1 million dollars on my credit card, by federal law my liability is zero. Um, and when I use my credit card and I pay the bill or part of the bill that's due, my credit score goes up, so I build my credit score. When you have a debit card and you use a debit card, once it gets exposed they're stealing your money out of your bank account. And you could use that debit card for the next 20 years [00:24:51] 10 times a day and you will not raise your credit score by so much as an inch. It'll stay the same. So, I only use a credit card. If I buy something online and they don't deliver it, I'm protected. If I buy something online that's broken, they won't take it back, I'm protected. If I go online and the whole site is fictious and I order something and I never get, I'm protected. So I always tell people, I'm not too concerned about my credit card being on the Dark Web, because the truth is, I have no liability for that card, as long as I report to the credit card company that that was not me who made those charges, within the 30 days of the receipt of my statement, I have no liability for those cards.

[00:25:31] Will Johnson: So what about cash? Do you get cash out?

[00:25:32] Frank Abagnale: I ask my bank only for what is called an ATM card. I do not want it with a VISA, MasterCard logo. I do not want it to say debit.

[00:25:41] Will Johnson: They used to have these.

[00:25:42] Frank Abagnale: Right.

[00:25:43] Will Johnson: I think it was like the first...

[00:25:43] Frank Abagnale: And they still do. So I say to my bank, I only want a ATM card.

[00:25:48] Will Johnson: Alright, so use a credit card of take Frank's suggestion and get an ATM card to get cash out.

[00:25:52] Frank Abagnale: Right. And even if, to be honest with you, if I was traveling and as I do, I just came back from overseas and I want to get cash out of a machine, I'll use my VISA card or MasterCard. They do charge me a fee, but the fee to me is cheap insurance that no one's actually getting access to my bank accounts, they're only getting access to VISA's account.

[00:26:12] Will Johnson: So someone who has been deeply affected by your words and advice is Jen Beam who manages our Facebook page, the Fraud Watch Network Facebook page, and she has actually altered her shopping schedule and the way that she gets cash out basically. So she, she's very careful but due to your words, and she's going to join us right now.

[00:26:32] MUSIC SEGUE

[00:26:34] Will Johnson: Jen, thanks for being here once again.

[00:26:35] Jen Beam: Hi Will, thanks for having me.

[00:26:37] Will Johnson: What a segment we have planned with you. This is a Jen Beam tell al.

[00:26:41] Jen Beam: Oh, it is.

[00:26:42] Will Johnson: Jen Beam got scammed.

[00:26:43] Jen Beam: I did, I can't believe it. I manage the Facebook page for Fraud Watch Network, I see scams every single day, and I got scammed.

[00:26:52] Will Johnson: It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. So tell us what happened.

[00:26:55] Jen Beam: Okay, so um, because I work so much on fraud issues, I have quite a habit, I check my credit card statements regularly, and I also have credit freezes on my uh accounts, the credit bureaus, and I just, I think I'm doing everything right, and I was checking my credit card statement one morning and I saw two monthly charges for TransUnion Credit Monitoring. And these two charges were $19.95 a piece, and I saw red. I just got super mad because what I thought was, TransUnion um, was starting to charge for their, they double-charged me for their credit monitoring, so I just suspected that they were being kind of shady with me, so I just got very emotional, and I just didn't think through. So what I did was, I called the 800 number that was listed on the charge on my credit [00:27:56] card statement. There I was, verifying my personal information, so the nice woman on the phone, I actually kind of made a noise, I was like "OHHH" and I hung up the phone on her, and then I immediately called the credit card company which is what I should have done in the first place.

[00:28:13] Will Johnson: Jen Beam manages The Fraud Watch Network Facebook page, and Jen where can people learn more?

[00:28:19] Jen Beam: Please come and follow me on

[00:28:23] Will Johnson: Alright, thanks once again. Thanks to my cohost, The Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale.

[00:28:31] Frank Abagnale: Great being here, Will. Thanks for having me.

[00:28:32] Will Johnson: For more information and resources on how to protect yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim of a scam, visit AARP's Fraud Watch Network website, Thanks to my team of scam busters; Julie Getz, Brook Ellis, audio engineer Steve Bartlett, and audio mastering done by Julio Gonzales. For AARP - The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson.


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