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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Encore Presentation: How to Rob a Bank
Aired December 23, 2007 - 1:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Houston has one of the nation's highest rates of identity theft.
JASON CARPENTER, IDENTITY THIEF: It would take me two or three hours and I would have your information -- social security number, date of birth, driver's license number, bank account numbers.
The average victim spends 40 hours to straighten out the mess.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, somebody I don't even know has taken money out of my account.
Identity thieves steal as much as $50 billion per year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of blowing through the front doors of a bank, guns a blazing, they took my identity. That was their mask.
Identity theft is now the most common way to rob a bank.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're doing the same thing Bonnie and Clyde did. They're stealing money from the bank.
It costs us all in the long run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There we go. All right. There we go, sweetheart.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): When Houston Veterinarian Mike Janney opened his clinic in 1999...
MIKE JANNEY, VETERINARIAN: She's real tender down here in her abdomen.
GRIFFIN: ...he also opened a $90,000 line of credit with Bank One.
JANNEY: It was for emergencies only. If I ever needed to get a loan, I didn't have to go to a banker anymore, I could just write a check for up to $90,000 if I needed money real fast.
GRIFFIN: Fortunately, business was good. Janney didn't need the line of credit.
JANNEY: I still have the original first check from this account, check 1001.
GRIFFIN: Then why would he get a notice from Bank One two years later, claiming he owed $85,000.
JANNEY: And I'm thinking to myself, how can this be? I've never even used this account.
GRIFFIN: Around the country, other Bank One customers were asking the same question because they had the same problem. And at first, no one at the bank had an answer.
The case of the missing $12,000,000.
GRIFFIN (on camera): A Bank One fraud investigator described it as a gusher, a problem so big the bank needed help from the feds. What was eventually uncovered is a chilling example of employees stealing the private information we all entrust to our banks.
(Voice-over): Matthew Boyden was one of the federal agents on a case.
MATTHEW BOYDEN, FEDERAL AGENT: Usually I can find at least one counterfeit license in here.
GRIFFIN: Working for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, he enforces the laws against mail fraud, crimes that often use stolen identities.
BOYDEN: That's fake. That's fake. That's fake.
See how it's typed in like this?
You never know who the crook really is. Their entire -- everything about them is under somebody else's name.
GRIFFIN: Many of the thieves Boyden has nabbed are from Houston's large Nigerian community, who, without even entering a bank, have figured out how to hold them up.
BOYDEN: I've had several tell me it's so easy to do, no one gets hurt and it's somewhat our system's fault.
GRIFFIN: In the case of Bank One, authorities say three Nigerian immigrants, Morris Brown Okolo, Joseph Yinka (ph) Sobode, and Idowu Ishola were among the ring leaders.
BOYDEN: They were successful at stealing large amounts of money.
GRIFFIN: How did they do it?
Step one, getting account information. And what could be better than the customer service center where the ring leaders recruited rogue employees to build an information pipeline.
Boyden's investigation turned up this wish list -- name and address, mother's maiden name, date of birth, social security number and account number.
BOYDEN: That's the information that the bad guy needs to do what it is he wants to do.
GRIFFIN: Step two, take over the account.
(On camera): Armed with the account information, the fraudsters impersonated real customers. They ordered new blank checks and had them mailed to vacant apartments, including some in this large complex.
(Voice-over): Step three, rob the bank. The diverted checks, all valid, were written to other participants in the fraud who would deposit them in other banks and wait for the checks to clear.
(On camera): It is a whole new way to rob a bank.
BOYDEN: It's a lot easier and a fairly sophisticated and common way to do it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Some of the juiciest targets were businesses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get one of your boys to give you a hand with that.
GRIFFIN: Ronnie Sanders owns Triangle Metals. Unbeknownst to him, someone called Bank One and said Triangle Metals had a new address, had moved from an industrial section of Nederland, Texas, to this house in Houston, 100 miles away.
RONNIE SANDERS, OWNS TRIANGLE METALS: I would have thought it would have at least been in a business district.
GRIFFIN: When a batch of freshly printed checks arrived at the phony address, the heist went into overdrive, $37,000 $38,000, $39,000 checks -- fraud, totaling $195,000.
SANDERS: It's a form of bank robbery, that's for sure. GRIFFIN: Some of the largest checks were pay to the order of Floyd Turner and pay to the order of Ronald Humphrey. Turner and Humphrey are former professional football players, teammates on the 1994 Indianapolis Colts.
SANDERS: Is this for real? It's just really hard to believe.
GRIFFIN: Believe it.
BOYDEN: The people running this scheme were looking for individuals who could move large amounts of money without suspicion.
GRIFFIN: Authorities say the two athletes laundered more than $1 million in checks, money that was split with the Nigerians who were calling the shots.
BOYDEN: Generally, at the bottom end, we found people who would cash a check would get 50 percent of the face value and then have to send the money back up.
GRIFFIN: The scheme was nearly perfect -- get account information from an insider, call the bank to order new checks, and then raid the accounts.
But eventually, the bank's fraud investigators and federal agents were able to connect the dots to 30 conspirators.
The people at the bottom who were caught first, including the two football players, pled guilty. They ratted out the higher ups. Prison time for heavy hitters -- as much as 168 months. That's 14 years.
BOYDEN: Several of these people viewed it as an innocent or victimless crime.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Is it victimless?
BOYDEN: Absolutely not.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bank One was the victim. Its customers didn't lose a penny because the bank ate the loss -- $12 million.
BOYDEN: A lot of money has been wired overseas or out of the country. It's gone.
GRIFFIN: Joseph Sobode told us he was not a ringleader.
Ishola and Oloco didn't respond to our interview requests.
The athletes, Turner and Humphrey, also declined to be interviewed.
As for Bank One, now merged with J.P. Morgan Chase, a spokesman told us the bank has tightened up security to better monitor customer service reps and account information.
For all banks, it's a never ending battle, because frauds mutate like a virus.
BOYDEN: It's evolution at its finest.
GRIFFIN: When we come back...
JESSICA DUROE (ph), IDENTITY THEFT VICTIM: They told me I had a credit card and that I owed them $3,000. And I told them, that's impossible.
GRIFFIN: You know those credit card applications you dump in the trash? Well, they can be as good as gold to an identity thief.
Every year, banks mail out 5 billion -- yes, billion with a B -- 5 billion credit card applications.
According to a federal study, more than half of us throw them away, unopened. That's why David George, a Nigerian immigrant, made regular forays to Houston ZIP Code 77057.
77057 has block after block of densely packed apartments, a constant turnover of tenants, and a treasure trove of junk mail. In other words, 77057 is identity theft heaven.
The Case of the cash in the stash.
GRIFFIN: David George was a modern-day alchemist. He could turn junk mail into cold cash.
BOYDEN: What we're able to do is go back and find each and every one of these accounts.
GRIFFIN: Postal Inspector Matthew Boyden and Harris County Investigator Mike Kelly finally stopped him.
MIKE KELLY, HARRIS COUNTY INVESTIGATOR: Probably the most prolific criminal I've ever arrested.
GRIFFIN: When they searched David George's suburban home, they found industrial-scale crime.
BOYDEN: We found about $2.4 million or $2.6 million, credit card fraud.
GRIFFIN: Bundles of stolen mail were everywhere -- in the drawers, the closets, and attic. There were credit card applications in the bathroom, and 115 credit cards in every name, but David George.
KELLY: If it had to do with identity theft and credit card fraud, we found it at that house.
GRIFFIN: Stashed in his safe and several banks, $580,000 cash.
KELLY: He wasn't employed -- or, I guess you could say he was self-employed.
GRIFFIN: Self-employed and well organized.
David George kept a list of his targets from ZIP Code 77057. Among them, Jessica Duroe (ph), 22 years old, a student with a poor credit record.
DUROE (ph): I wanted a credit card, but I was told that I was under restriction at the time, that I could not apply for any or get any until I had some hospital debts cleared up.
GRIFFIN: But if Jessica couldn't get a card in her name, David George would do it for her.
Step one, take the trash.
A few months after Jessica moved out of the neighborhood, Bank of America invited her to apply for what's called a secured credit card.
(On camera): Secured credit cards are marketed specifically to people with bad credit. To qualify, they have to send money to the banks up front. It's a deposit the bank keeps in case the bill isn't paid.
For David George, that $99 deposit was just the cost of doing business.
(Voice-over): Step two, steal the victim's identity by buying stolen credit reports -- $50 a pop in a thriving underground market.
BOYDEN: This is a stack of credit reports that he had. Each page represents a person.
GRIFFIN: And these, to an I.D. thief, are critical.
Filling out Jessica's application, David George had all the answers.
DUROE (ph): That's my social security number and my birth date.
GRIFFIN: But he lied about her job and her salary.
DUROE (ph): I wish I made that much when I was going to college. That's like being rich.
GRIFFIN: Which brings us to step three, change the address.
David George used his girlfriend's house as a front. He wrote the new address on Jessica's application and sent in the $99 deposit. Days later, he had a credit card, in Jessica's name.
DUROE (ph): Gold, like money.
GRIFFIN: Gold like money for Bank of America. It would charge as much as 64.58 percent in finance charges and interest.
DUROE (ph): That's just ridiculously high. They figure they got a sucker. They should make a ton of money off of that.
GRIFFIN: But in fact, it was the other way around.
OPERATOR: What would you like to do?
GRIFFIN: David George used the credit card for cash advances. Essentially, loans -- totaling $2,100.
OPERATOR: Don't forget to take your cash.
GRIFFIN: He also went on a $1,000 eating and shopping spree.
Mexican food at Doneraki, barbecue at Pappas, Chinese at Chang's Cafe, and why not pick up a few things at the H-E-B supermarket?
DUROE (ph): I could have easily shopped at any of those places, but it wasn't me, though.
GRIFFIN: Especially not the $23 charge at Chuck E. Cheese.
DUROE (ph): I'm not big on Chuck E. Cheese.
GRIFFIN: To keep from maxing out the card, David George sent in several large payments, even before the bills were due. The checks all bounced.
All Bank of America could do was cancel the card and keep the security deposit.
The rate of return to David George on his $99 investment was more than $3,000 percent.
(On camera): The banking industry says this type of fraud is now rare because applications with a change of address are double checked. But for Bank of America, the new scrutiny comes a day late and much more than a dollar short.
(Voice-over): It took a combination of junk mail, a stolen identity, and a phony address.
DUROE (ph): The bank just got ripped off.
GRIFFIN: David George pled guilty in 2003. He declined our request for an interview.
What's he doing now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's in the federal penitentiary.
GRIFFIN: It was a lucrative gig while it lasted. It was a major caller for the cops and a costly lesson for Bank of America.
When we come back...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't kill anyone. I didn't rape anyone. I didn't shoot anyone, anything like that. GRIFFIN: The case of the spam scam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's fraud. I didn't commit any other kind of crime. It's fraud. It's identity fraud and fault.
GRIFFIN: If your Internet company sent you an e-mail like this, telling you to submit your credit card information to keep your account from being closed, would you do it? Please be advised, this is mandatory.
JASON CARPENTER, IDENTITY THIEVE: You know, it would be easy to see why people would fall for it. Because it looks very real.
GRIFFIN: Internet criminals call the scam "phishing." It's mass mailing for identity theft.
CARPENTER: I knew right from wrong, and I knew this was wrong. I just like to see how much I can get away with.
The case of the Spam Scam.
CARPENTER: I'm a criminal, but I'm not a major criminal. This was a hobby.
GRIFFIN: As a teenager in suburban Houston, Jason Carpenter's hobby was identity theft, which is why he's in federal prison.
CARPENTER: The way I looked at it, I thought it was just fraud, it was just pretty victimless.
GRIFFIN (on camera): It is victimless, if you ignore the consumers with ruined credit who feel violated and ultimately pay for the cost of fraud through higher prices.
CARPENTER: Being a young white man, being that it was a white collar crime, I wasn't scared of the consequences because I thought that it would be probation.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Carpenter, at 19, was a computer geek and a regular in the online chat rooms. That's how he met Jonathan Riches of Tampa, Florida. Riches bragged he could access databases illegally and could look up anything on anybody.
JONATHAN RICHES: I can tell you if there's another Jason Carpenter nationwide with the same birth date.
CARPENTER: Oh, yeah?
RICHES: If there is, you take his social.
GRIFFIN (on camera): But instead of stealing identities one at a time, they worked on a massive scam. Exhilarated by their sense of invincibility, they went phishing.
(Voice-over): Step one, send the spam.
It had all the elements to look authentic. AOL tries to block spam e-mails and constantly warns subscribers that it doesn't ask for personal information online. But the fraudsters figured they could fool those who are new to computers.
CARPENTER: People like that are just less likely to already be aware of scams.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So AOL users are easy prey in this world?
CARPENTER: Very much so. It's a joke among computer hackers and fraud artists.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The e-mail, sent to thousands of AOL subscribers, said AOL was updating its records. It asked for credit cards, social security number, mother's maiden name and driver's license.
SHAUNA DUNLAP, HOUSTON FBI: A lot of people were tricked.
GRIFFIN: Shauna Dunlap, Houston FBI, led the investigation.
DUNLAP: And when they clicked send, it was giving the crooks everything that they needed.
GRIFFIN: Step two, reel in the catch.
Replies went to a dummy Web site, where Carpenter and his buddies retrieved the information. They used it to order fraudulent credit cards.
CARPENTER: What I thought at the time is that most of the credit card companies earmarked so much money every year for fraud. I didn't see it was such a big deal.
GRIFFIN: Step three, live it up.
Carpenter charged computer parts and other electronics at retail Web sites. He had the merchandise shipped to this vacant house with a note on the door -- this is a deaf residency. Please leave the packages if no one answers.
(On camera): And that whole thing about the deaf residency? I mean, you're smiling. This was well thought out.
CARPENTER: You know, the delivery companies are there to please.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Carpenter's partner in crime, Jonathan Riches, had bigger aspirations.
For each fraudulent credit card Agent Dunlap found -- and there were hundreds, Riches had a phony driver's license.
DUNLAP: So that he could go into a store and not only produce the credit card, but also the I.D. to go with it.
GRIFFIN: Riches bought this $6,000 four-wheeler, this $6,600 jet ski, and all this jewelry, including a $9,000 engagement ring for his girlfriend.
DUNLAP: And I think there's a certain adrenalin involved. And Riches told me himself that he got a certain high from doing this.
GRIFFIN: He charged computers, cameras and clothes to sell on E- Bay. He charged Western Union money transfers, using fake I.D.s to claim the cash. And he charged cash advances with a cock and bull story in several banks.
DUNLAP: One of the stories that he used was that, you know, they were on their honeymoon and they had to divert because his grandmother was ill and they needed the money to help care for medical expenses.
GRIFFIN: Riches scammed enough to pay cash for this house -- $107,000 -- with $37,000 more stashed inside.
DUNLAP: This was a full-time job for him, and he worked very hard at it.
GRIFFIN (on camera): The scheme collapsed when a police officer in Houston noticed all those deliveries being made to the deaf residence. He was suspicious and tipped off the FBI.
(Voice-over): Jason Carpenter says, by then, he wanted out and agreed to cooperate.
CARPENTER: I got tired of stealing. I didn't want to hurt people. I didn't want it to get out of control, but it already had.
GRIFFIN: When the FBI nabbed his partner, Jonathan Riches, the 26-year-old high roller was -- humbled.
DUNLAP: Riches got very sick, very nauseous to his stomach and threw up several times.
GRIFFIN: Days later, in jail, Riches regained his confidence. In a phone call to his parents, he was indignant about the FBI because, he said, he was only trying to make a living.
RICHES: I bust my butt for four years and they took everything.
GRIFFIN: He wanted to lawyer up and plea bargain.
RICHES: It's just like how, you know, "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, you know -- he killed 17 people and he got five years in jail, because of the information that he gave, you know.
GRIFFIN: Riches figured he'd get it down to 18 months in boot camp with the right lawyer.
RICHES: I want to present myself professional. I don't want to be just like a slouch that doesn't have an attorney. I want to be professional here.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Even with his plea bargain, Riches is serving 10 years in prison. He declined our request for an interview.
(Voice-over): Jason carpenter also pled guilty, but jumped bail before being sentenced. Rearrested six months later, he was at it again. He is now serving 17 years in prison. The fraud totaled nearly $350,000.
When we come back, how this man used stolen identities as a front to loot the bank accounts of some of Houston's richest companies. The case of the corporate coffers, when we continue.
GRIFFIN: Oyenoka Chikem (ph) Charles Osamor had a plan to get rich quick.
While some of his fellow Nigerians were stealing identities to drain personal bank accounts, Osamor realized they're small fries compared to corporations.
Why steal $50,000 at a time when he could pocket $500,000 using the same stolen names?
BOYDEN: It is robbing a bank and you're wearing a mask and your mask is somebody else's identity.
The case of the corporate coffers.
GRIFFIN: Oyenoka Chikem (ph) Charles Osamor, looked like the classic immigrant chasing the American dream.
After coming from Nigeria to Houston as a 17-year-old student, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1987 from Texas Southern.
(On camera): Osamor then opened a succession of businesses -- a frozen yogurt shop, a physical therapy clinic and at one point, a clothing boutique shop in this trendy mall. But getting rich in America was apparently taking too long, so Osamor took a shortcut.
(Voice-over): Step one, the fraud begins with stolen corporate checks, checks that make their way to Osamor.
BOYDEN: I've interviewed -- or spoke with companies who create 2,000 checks a day. And several of those checks are six figure, a million dollar checks.
GRIFFIN: This check was written by the El Paso Corporation. El Paso is one of the country's largest suppliers of natural gas. Pay to the order of B.J. Services, $132,000. B.J. Services never got the check. The feds don't know how the check was stolen. There are lots of possibilities. BOYDEN: Many times, those checks are then sent to an envelope stuffing company and then perhaps a private courier takes them to the post office, so there's a variety of point of compromise when those can and have been stolen.
GRIFFIN: But what good is a stolen check if you don't have a way to cash it?
Step two, create a phony address.
This commercial mail drop is one of several that Osamor used. The application says the mailbox is for Scott Weinbrant, who supposedly works at B.J. Services and lives in Houston.
SCOTT WEINBRANT, IDENTITY THEFT VICTIM: I've been to Houston once in my life.
GRIFFIN: The real Scott Weinbrant is a businessman whose personal information had been stolen.
WEINBRANT: It's like being violated when somebody does something like this to you.
GRIFFIN: Weinbrant's identity was used to effectively move B.J. Services from this $4 million building, with nearly two acres of floor space, to this five-inch postal box that rents for $10 a month.
WEINBRANT: It was putting me in the hot seat for something I had no association with.
GRIFFIN: The phony address for B.J. Services made the next step possible.
Step three, open a brokerage account by mail or Internet.
This is one of Osamor's (ph) applications for an account in the name of B.J. Services. That would be the B.J. Services at the five- inch postal box. The account's authorized person, complete with his real social security number is Scott Weinbrant.
WEINBRANT: This is definitely, again, not me feeling this out, nor is it my signature.
GRIFFIN: The application says Weinbrant is not only the president of B.J. Services, he's also the owner.
WEINBRANT: I had never heard of B.J. Services company.
GRIFFIN: Never mind trivial details, the application was notarized.
BOYDEN: In theory, you're supposedly having an independent party verify your signature, but he had his own notary stamp that he used to notarize all his documents.
GRIFFIN (on camera): We got a seal ourselves. I want to show you this seal. It's kind of funny.
(Voice-over): Ours is in the name I.D. Thief.
Getting a notary public stamp in Texas is easy because you don't have to be a notary public. You just write down how you want it to read, pay the $25 and viola, a notary public is born.
ROGER WILLIAMS, TEXAS SECRETARY OF STATE: Frankly, I don't think we have a problem in Texas.
GRIFFIN: Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams oversees the state's notary system. He recommends that anyone who depends on a Texas notary, check with the state to make sure the stamp is valid.
WILLIAMS: To make sure that we're not dealing with something that's fraudulent like this.
GRIFFIN (on camera): But shouldn't there be a law, a rule or something that says, you know what? You can't make fake stamps for a notary public.
WILLIAMS: I think it's important that we understand that we also don't put the burden on small business. Texas is a very pro-business state.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): With Texas notary stamps there for the asking -- step four. Deposit the stolen check and cash out. It's a race to move the money out of the country.
BOYDEN: The minute a check clears, I've seen them wire it out that day.
GRIFFIN: Meanwhile, the real B.J. Services was waiting to be paid.
(On camera): And whoever was going to get that check 90 days out would probably be billing or knocking on the door of El Paso Energy, saying, hey, when are we going to pay me this bill?
BOYDEN: That seems to be when we would find most of them.
GRIFFIN: And by that time, the money is already offshore.
BOYDEN: It came and went.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): All it took was stolen corporate checks, commercial mail drops for a phony address and a brokerage account to launder the funds.
WEINBRANT: Yes, it's amazing that this can happen.
GRIFFIN: What eventual gave Osamor away was being linked to the phony addresses. He was caught on tape. His fingerprints were on incriminating documents.
(On camera): He probably thought, they'll never figure it out. BOYDEN: Yes, he proclaimed his innocence all the way through trial.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Even so, a jury convicted Osamor of conspiracy, fraud and possession of stolen mail. He was sentenced to 14-1/2 years. The prosecution linked him to $5.6 million worth of checks stolen from seven corporations.
Did you find out who was getting him the checks?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Boyden had stopped a crime, without solving the mystery.
When we return...
BOYDEN: They're not scared of me. They're not scared of the federal government.
GRIFFIN: Immigrants kicked out as criminals...
Sneaking back to do it again.
GRIFFIN: When Anthony Olobumno Bonojo was a new immigrant, struggling to support his family, he had no trouble supplementing his income with a quick money scheme, run by fellow Nigerians.
ANTHONY OLOBUMNO BONOJO, IDENTITY THIEF: Their view is that, well, no matter how much they took from the bank that the insurance will pay back the bank.
GRIFFIN: He became an accomplice using stolen identities for credit card fraud and laundering checks. Getting caught, he says, opened his eyes to the underside of Houston's Nigerian community.
BONOJO: That's basically their target all the time: How can I make the money right quick? What can I do to make the money?
Land of Opportunity
GRIFFIN: Nigerian independence day in Houston.
Members of a local organization, the Nigerian Union, are celebrating not only 45 years of freedom from British Colonial rule, but also their new lives in the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a place where you can come and put in honest work and progress. GRIFFIN: Houston has one of the nation's largest Nigerian communities. At least 60,000 by some estimates, and well educated. More than two-thirds are college graduates, a higher rate than their white neighbors. Among the elite, a vascular surgeon, two married professors, a chemical engineer, and Airline Pilot Isaac Agbaniyaka.
ISAAC AGBANIYAKA, AIRLINE PILOT: The well-educated Nigerians, they do honest jobs, even if it means doing menial jobs to survive.
GRIFFIN: At the same time, U.S. authorities say Nigerian crooks are on the leading edge of financial fraud.
A 2006 State Department report on international money laundering says Nigeria's historically "weak laws, systemic corruption, and lack of enforcement" have helped Nigerian criminals "perpetrate all manner of financial crimes at home and abroad... including bank fraud, real estate fraud, identity theft, and advance fee fraud."
STEVE PETERSON, U.S. STATE DEPT. And so they can perpetrate these crimes against citizens in the United States and elsewhere and repatriate the proceeds of those crimes back into Nigeria, so that it would be difficult for investigators to follow the money.
AGBANIYAKA: You know the adage that says "One bad egg spoils the bunch."
GRIFFIN: Community leaders like Agbaniyaka say Nigerians are no worse than any other group.
AGBANIYAKA: If you look at the Hispanic people, they are into a lot of worse crimes than Nigerians. They're into drug problems, the Colombians. If you look at the insurance fraud, identity theft, the Asians are into it big time.
GRIFFIN: There are no official statistics on Nigerians who commit crime. So we looked at cases filed here at Houston's federal court... to better understand who is doing what.
Looking at all kinds of crimes... over three years... we found only 54 Nigerians: About 2 per cent of the defendants.
No surprise: the Nigerian community is about 2 per cent of Houston's population.
AGBANIYAKA: There's always some few people that are not just on the side of the law.
But when we looked closer - at the types of crimes - we found that that 2 per cent of the population accounted for 25 per cent of the defendants linked to identity frauds.
While our review covered only federal court, it seemed to suggest that Nigerian criminals in Houston tend to specialize.
MATTHEW BOYDEN, U.S. POSTAL INSPECTOR: The people I've spoken with or interviewed in these cases basically have stated they were taught this by other people in their community that were involved in the same thing.
VICTOR BOSAH, CONSUL GENERAL: I do not agree with those statistics at all.
GRIFFIN: Consul General Victor Bosah is one of Nigeria's representatives in the U.S.
He questioned our Houston court statistics - saying he was aware of only a handful of fraud cases.
BOSAH: That is not enough to stigmatize our people. No. It is not enough to generalize that every Nigerian in that community does the same thing. No, I do not agree with that.
GRIFFIN: Bosah says new laws in Nigeria... and tough enforcement are making a difference.
BOSAH: And there has never been a time in the history of my country that the institutions against financial crimes and corruption have been so strengthened than now.
GRIFFIN: The honest Nigerians condemn the criminals as misfits. Rogues. But the rogues don't seem to care. Some who are caught and deported... come back to do it again. The easy money: just too good to pass up.
(Voice-over): This man, for example, after being convicted in New York of smuggling heroin from Nigeria, Thomas Muchechu Tiwu (ph) was deported in 1994. Nine years later, Boyden arrested him in a multimillion dollar bank fraud, this time using the name Idowu Ishola. He had come back illegally.
BOYDEN: Several have told me they've across come across from Canada, walked across, or come back through Mexico.
GRIFFIN: Another case. In 1988 Jumoke Awoskia pled guilty to conspiracy in a federal bank fraud case. She, too, was sent back to Nigeria.
Two years later, she sneaked back into the U.S. with a new passport and a new name. But she was up to the same old tricks.
BOYDEN: She used fraudulently obtained credit cards extensively to purchase high-end jewelry.
GRIFFIN (on camera): For herself? Or to pawn it?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Finally, the case if this mystery man.
When Boyden arrested him in 2004, he had more than 40 stolen credit cards and a dozen cell phones to run his scam. But who was he?
He'd been deported to Nigeria in 1983 under the name Kehinal Monsouri Ajavi. He sneaked back as Solomon Adewale Adebanjo, and then took the name Colton Jude Hollier. A federal Judge, stymied, concluded: "his true name is unknown."
BOYDEN: Several people I've interviewed, they can't really remember what name they were born with. They've had such a long range of names, they don't really know who they actually are.
GRIFFIN: None of these fraudsters, now in prison, responded to our interview requests.
Immigration authorities told us that after they do their time, they will be deported again.
Which brings us full circle to the question, why do they all come here?
BOYDEN: It's America.
GRIFFIN: When we come back...
(On camera): Should I be worried about a lot more people like you out there?
CARPENTER: If anybody is going to do anything, there's not much that you can do to stop it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Why identity theft is likely to get worse before it gets better.
GRIFFIN: Dean Anderson was a victim. His identity, stolen by a bank employee in Houston, was used to loot his line of credit. Talk about easy.
DEAN ANDERSON, IDENTITY THEFT VICTIM: My name is Dean Anderson, and it's signed, Anderson Dean. It's a glaring forgery.
GRIFFIN: His bank ate the loss -- more than $100,000. Even so, Anderson feels violated.
ANDERSON: And I feel like my privacy has been invaded.
Get used to it.
OPERATOR: If you'd like to protect your identity, press one.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You know what I think? I think identity theft is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
It's as much a part of modern life as those annoying phone menus that replace customer service.
OPERATOR: If you'd like to live in a modern world, press two. GRIFFIN (voice-over): We've pressed two without even realizing it. Think about your information on computers and the payroll department where you work, at your doctor's office and where you shop. There are no requirements for security encryption. How vulnerable are you?
Well, in 2005, the personal data of 50 million Americans was lost, stolen or hacked. Some of it may end up on the black market.
CARPENTER: You would be surprised at the amount of credit card information that's actually circulated around the Internet.
GRIFFIN: Jason Carpenter is serving 17 years for a major identity fraud.
CARPENTER: If I was really driven, it would take me two or three hours and I would have your information -- social security number, date of birth, driver's license number, bank account numbers.
OPERATOR: If you'd like to stop the bad guys, press three.
GRIFFIN: Our modern financial system is built on an old foundation -- trust. We trust that a signature on a piece of paper and numbers on a plastic card are worth money. The bad guys are trading on that trust.
BOYDEN: Every day, it's educational to see what they're going to do and how they're going to manipulate the system.
NESSA FEDDIS, AMERICAN BANKERS ASSOCIATION: The criminals are like water. When they see an obstacle, they try to go around it and the trick for the banking industry is to anticipate their next move.
GRIFFIN (on camera): With banks and credit card companies bearing so much of the cost, you would think they would be leading the charge for tougher privacy laws. Well, they're not. Consumer advocates say banks are putting profits ahead of privacy.
OPERATOR: If you'd like banks to make big money, press four.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The industry convinced Congress to place the burden of privacy on us. Banks now have the right to share our personal information with their subsidiaries -- insurance agencies, brokerage firms and credit card companies.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), SENATE BANKING COMMITTEE: The most valuable thing they have is the data on millions and millions of people.
GRIFFIN: Banks can even sell our information to the highest bidder, unless we tell the bank no.
FEDDIS: This isn't a burdensome task for a consumer. They receive every year a privacy notice and how one opts out. It's not burdensome. It's a phone call away.
GRIFFIN: But only about 5 percent of us make that call. The phone number for opting out is often buried in legalese.
ED MIERZWINSKI, U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST FINANCIAL GROUP: The banks send five pages of deceptive boilerplate that no one reads or if they do read, they're asleep by tend of it.
GRIFFIN: Banks insist they guard our personal information as closely as they guard our money, that they have a vested interest in stopping identity theft.
FEDDIS: They are responsible for the fraud losses and banks don't like to lose money.
GRIFFIN: But identity thief Jason Carpenter believes banks are fighting a losing battle.
(On camera): How could they have stopped from you pulling this off?
CARPENTER: That's a tough question to answer, because I don't think there is an answer.
GRIFFIN: They couldn't do it?
CARPENTER: As far as identity theft, there's really not anything that they can do to stop that.
OPERATOR: If you'd like to rob a bank, press five.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Think about it from the bank robber's point of view. A stickup guy gets, on average, $7,000 or $8,000, according to the FBI -- Hardly enough to retire.
But using stolen identities, there are no security cameras, no armed guards and you can work from home.
Reporting from Houston, I'm Drew Griffin.
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