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updated 3/27/2007 7:50:35 PM ET 2007-03-27T23:50:35

Experts estimate that 8 million Americans are victims of identity theft every year. But who is behind these crimes? How exactly do thieves pull them off?

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In our year-long investigation, Dateline NBC tracked down the identity thieves.

Here is what we did:

  1. Bait cards
    We obtained credit cards with real lines of credit – but fictional names – from a major credit card issuer. With the help of Dan Clements of Card Cops, an Internet security company that tracks identity thieves’ activity online, we dropped the card numbers into a virtual den of thieves: an online chatroom where crooks buy and sell your personal information. Within seconds, thieves were using the cards to go on illegal shopping sprees. Ultimately, they made purchases in 16 countries on every continent – except Antarctica.
  2. Online store
    We created an online electronics store called HansenDiscountElectronics.com Never heard of it? It’s almost impossible to find without the actual Internet address. And the only place we ever advertised it was in the same chatroom frequented by identity thieves. 
  3. Delivery service
    We created CH Delivery to deliver the merchandise that thieves had ordered from  our online store using stolen credit card numbers. Many of the people receiving the goods were middlemen who apparently did not realize they were helping thieves ship stolen goods overseas.

—compiled by Kevin Livelli

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