Brett Johnson visits Fraud Busting. He’s the Godfather of Internet Crime-that’s a title given to him by the US Secret Service. He takes us on a wild ride from his beginnings in crime to inventing onine crime forums to a cross country crime spree, being placed on the US Most Wanted List and escaping from prison. He’s done it all. Now he’s now helping companies and individuals protect themselves from the kind of guy he used to be. You’ll get inside the criminal mind and learn simple tools you can put in place right away to protect yourself.
Traci Brown: Brett, thank you so much for coming on. I know we caught you frying a hamburger and we got our time zones mixed, but I’m thrilled that you’re here. Thank you.
Brett Johnson: Thank you for bringing me in. I appreciate it. You’re great.
Traci Brown: I’ve got to tell you, I have listened to . . . I am on episode 24 I think of your AnglerPhish Podcast.
Brett Johnson: Oh, oh.
Traci Brown: So I know a lot of the story. I don’t know the whole story yet, but I want to jump into that because you have a past that’s just fascinating, along with what you’re doing right now.
Brett Johnson: Sure.
Traci Brown: Let’s get to know you a little bit better first.
Brett Johnson: Okay.
Traci Brown: I have gleaned from 20 something episodes of your podcast. I think we have a couple things in common. We do. We do. Your mom’s name is Carolyn Sue.
Brett Johnson: Right.
Traci Brown: My mom’s name is Carolyn Sue.
Brett Johnson: No.
Traci Brown: Yes, yes.
Brett Johnson: I’m willing to bet that your mom isn’t crazy like mine is though.
Traci Brown: You know, I love my mom. All moms are a certain kind of crazy, but she’s pretty awesome. She’s pretty great. And what’s your birthday?
Brett Johnson: 01/22/1970.
Traci Brown: My birthday is 01/22/1974. So we have just a little bit. We need to get an astrologer to call in.
Brett Johnson: Aquarians together.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. Tell us what the deal is. When I listened to that, I had to rewind it. I’m like, really? But yea, here we are.
Brett Johnson: Did you say that?
Traci Brown: Yea, here we are. Good deal. Okay, let’s talk quarantine because we’re both speakers. We’re not on the road. If you’re like me, everything’s been cancelled or maybe gone virtual. Have you been bouncing off the walls? What are you doing?
Brett Johnson: Traci, I have. I’m very fortunate. I keep reading these statistics. The stat this morning was 2 in 5 Americans would have trouble coming up with $400 if they had an emergency.
Traci Brown: Oh yea.
Brett Johnson: And 70% of all Americans don’t have $1,000 in the bank. I’m one of the very lucky ones that we have money in the bank, that we have money in savings. We’ve got our payments put off and everything like that in the hopes that this country gets back to work in a safe way. I’m just wanting us all to get back to work and be safe. We are . . . the country is collapsing. Economically it’s collapsing right now. I understand that we have to be safe, but I’m conflicted by it. I see everyone out of work. We’ve got 33 million people out of work. That 33 million . . . because I used to the fraudster. The 33 million, you’re talking about people who are good upstanding citizens, that they’ve worked hard at everything else, but it seems to be that when we . . . morality tends to be concrete when things are going well.
Traci Brown: Oh, yea.
Brett Johnson: When things start to go south, we adopt an attitude of situational ethics. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve not had to or felt like I had to engage in any type of crime in order to support my family. It looks like I won’t have to. For example, AARP is bringing me in for some virtual dates and everything else coming up, so it looks like at least, I’m fortunate enough that we’re going to be alright, but I’m worried about these 33 million Americans now. We’ve got this thing called friendly fraud now which is people taking . . . they’re gaming the system in order to get goods, services, whatever, without having to pay for it, and then when you look at something like that I think that we’re going to see a lot of people who would engage in that type of fraud engaging in that.
Traci Brown: Well, right. Their back’s up against the wall. Right. Just trying to support the family. Now, you have a couple podcasts, and you talk about this a lot on the Online Fraudcast.
Brett Johnson: Sure.
Traci Brown: That you do which is . . . and I think you’re planning a couple other ones from what I’m gleaning of just small little acts of fraud that is very opportunistic for people who would normally never do it. Do you want to talk about your background first and how you know this, or do you want to get into what we can watch for and what people can do about it?
Brett Johnson: They probably need to know who the heck I am as to why they should listen to me.
Traci Brown: Probably so. Let’s go that way. Let’s go that way. I’ll let you start. You can start in the middle. You can start at the end and work back. Because it’s so fascinating what you just had the guts, and not only that, but the smarts to figure out and pull off because you’re the godfather, the original godfather of internet crime. That was handed to you by the Secret Service, wasn’t it?
Brett Johnson: It was. It’s not a title that I’m proud of. It’s a title that tends to open some doors at times. Sometimes it’s a prison door.
Traci Brown: There’s that. There’s that.
Brett Johnson: I guess I could just start by saying, as you pointed out, the United States Secret Service, they termed me or called me the original internet godfather. The way I got that title, I was convicted of 39 felonies. I was placed on the United States Most Wanted List. I escaped from prison. But the biggest thing that I did was I created and ran the first organized cybercrime community. It was called Shadow Crew. It was a precursor to today’s dark net and dark net markets, and it laid the foundation for the way modern cyber crime works today. The 39 felonies that I was convicted of, that was refining modern financial cybercrime as we know it. Again, absolutely nothing to be proud of. I don’t brag about it. I don’t take pride in that. I don’t do anything else. I think there’s no pride to be found in stealing money from people.
Traci Brown: There is some genius there. Right. Because innovation. I don’t want to condone the behavior, but I do want to recognize the innovation that went on there and then how you can use that now on the other side of things. Because one of the things I have got out of your podcast is that, like I would not expect to hear the things that you say about regret about your past, so raw in a podcast like that. All I do is detect deception. I’m pretty sure you’re sincere on your regret. I’ve got to give props to your editor.
Brett Johnson: He’s great. He’s great.
Traci Brown: At the end of every episode is that damn sappy music. I’m like, “God damn it, Brett, don’t make me cry” because you’re always talking about your remorse for what you’ve done. The point being you had a deep understanding of how this stuff got created.
Brett Johnson: Sure.
Traci Brown: Let’s talk . . . keep us going through the story here.
Brett Johnson: Okay. That was the end result. I went to prison. After I was caught from escaping, I served I think six and a half years actually behind the fence. My life of crime, as you listen to the podcast, it’s the AnglerPhish Podcast, my life of crime begins at 10 years old. I’m from eastern Kentucky. My mother was basically the fraud captain of the entire area at that point, not only her, but that side of the family as well. My father was not like that. My father was the guy who . . . my dad came from a “good family.” That being said, I say he came from a good family. His dad, my grandfather was the country tax commissioner and had went to federal prison for running moonshine while he was tax commissioner and, you’ll love this, he was in Milan, Michigan at the federal prison there. He was elected as tax commissioner while serving federal time.
Traci Brown: (Laughing). How does that work?
Brett Johnson: I know, right. But they let him out. They actually let him out of federal prison so he could go do his job.
Traci Brown: Alright.
Brett Johnson: Alright. My dad was a good man overall. His problem was he was so in love with my mom that he became the enabler of everything.
Traci Brown: Oh, okay.
Brett Johnson: If she had an idea of committing a crime or whatever, he would cosign onto it. I talk about it a lot and I’m not sure people really understand, my mom was a horribly abusive person. I think that my mom, her issue was that she wanted to be loved unconditionally, and she always tested people like that. The way that she tested people was to be as abusive as she possibly could. If I do this to you, will you still love me?
Traci Brown: Huh.
Brett Johnson: She used to bring men home in front of my dad.
Traci Brown: Oh.
Brett Johnson: He would sit there and cry and beg her not to do it, and she would do it anyway. He just didn’t want to leave and lose her. She finally left him. She moved us. We were in Panama City, Florida at that point. She moved us from Panama City, Florida back to Hazard, Kentucky, which is where I’m from. She kept up with that. She was abusive. It was physical but the damage came from the emotional, mental, and verbal. She kept up those partying ways. She would sometimes take me, I was 10, my sister, Denise, 9, she would sometimes take us with her. We would wait in the car. Sometimes we would wait in the living room as she went partying. That’s a nice euphemism for sleeping with other men.
Traci Brown: Yea, right, right.
Brett Johnson: But most of the time she just left us at home. This is the thing with me. I really do, I say it, and I say it in jest on the podcast, but I get the worst parts from my mom and my dad. From my mom I get that criminal mindset, that ability to see past the legal and see different ways to rip people off or scams or build things like that. My dad, I get that fear of being abandoned. I really . . .
Traci Brown: Oh.
Brett Johnson: Oh yea. I mean, with me, I am scared to death of the people that I love leaving. Here I am, 10 years old, mom’s gone for a few days. I’m the kid posted at the window looking outside to see if she’s coming home. Sometimes I walk out in the driveway to see if she if’s she driving down the street. Denise, at 9 years old, 9 years old, this girl, not the least bit worried, just angry. That’s what she was, was angry.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: Mom had been gone for a few days. We didn’t have any food in the house. Denise walks in one day, and she’s got this pack of pork chops in her hand. I’m like, “Where did you get that?” She was like, “I stole them.” I’m like, “Show me how you did that.” She takes me over and she shows me how she’s stealing food. At 10 years old, you just want to eat.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Brett Johnson: We start stealing food. We look across the way because we were needing a loaf of bread because we wanted to make some sandwiches. You can’t stuff a loaf of bread down your pants, so we needed something. Kmart was across the way. We went over there and shoplifted a zip-up hoodie so we could put loaves of bread down the sleeves and walk out with it. Once we found out we could steal clothes, well, we started stealing clothes, then toys and games and music and all that stuff. Mom comes home and finally notices all the stuff we’ve been stealing, the full refrigerator, everything else, asked where it came from. I’m like, “Oh, we found that.” She’s like, “No, you didn’t find that.” My sister, and Denise is still angry to this day, she carries a lot of resentment and anger over this, but my sister stands up, looks at her mom, never lies at all. She says, “We stole it.” My mom looks at my sister, and she says, “Show me how you did that.”
Traci Brown: Oh.
Brett Johnson: She joins us. She not only joins us, but she goes and gets her mom, my grandmother, to join up as well. We were a shoplifting ring. The truth of the matter was my mom ran us as little shoplifters. We would either distract people or we would go in and steal stuff that she was wanting. That’s the first crime I committed. You’ve seen it on the podcast, or heard it, I’m adamant about that as well, my choices as an adult are mine. I have trouble reconciling that because I know that I’m responsible for my actions. Okay. But at the same time, I was kind of raised to be this criminal.
Traci Brown: Right.
Brett Johnson: From the start. My sister, other than that one shoplifting thing, she never breaks the law again. She goes off. She’s a great parent, a great teacher, she’s just a great person overall. Me? I just kept going.
Traci Brown: You did.
Brett Johnson: Yea. As I got older, I got more involved in types of frauds and scams that my mom and that entire side of the family was committing, stolen property, fake accidents, benefit fraud, charity fraud, any number of things you could even think about, drug trafficking at one point, mining illegal coal at one point.
Traci Brown: In Kentucky, yea, that happens, or West Virginia a lot of times.
Brett Johnson: West Virginia it happens as well. Absolutely. We had an illegal coal mining operation, and I learned the intricacies of that, how you actually sell the coal, how you mine it, how you avoid law enforcement, how you plan to get the coal out without law enforcement or mine inspectors finding you and things like that. I learned all that. I even went into growing marijuana at one point. I learned all that stuff. What happen is around – actually when was this? This was 1993-1994. I fake a car accident and I branch off on my own. I fake a car accident, get the money to get married, and move from Hazard, Kentucky to Lexington, Kentucky to go to UK. Got married to this girl, and she didn’t know who I was. She didn’t. She was from eastern Kentucky, and she was, I guess she was an escape for me. It got me out of the area, and I was an escape for her.
Traci Brown: Yea, because she had some problems, this first girl.
Brett Johnson: Got married. You’re taught, I guess certain areas of the country are like that, you know you’re taught that it’s a man job to provide. The woman, she doesn’t have to. She can work if she wants to, but it’s the man’s job to provide. So here I am. I’m gung ho about it. Oh, you don’t worry about working. I’ll do the job. I’ll do the cooking and cleaning. Don’t worry about it. You just go to school. I couldn’t do it all. I had the 18-hour class load, I had a 40 and 50-hour a week job, cooking and cleaning, couldn’t do it, and I lasted I guess about six months doing that. Something gave and what gave was the job, and I go right back into fraud at that point. It started with telemarketing charity fraud. From that it grows into me finding Ebay, and that was my first online crime was Ebay. I had no idea at all how to properly commit online crimes, so my first crime, found Ebay, fell in love with it, knew that was a money-making machine. I had no idea what to really do yet. I was watching Inside Edition one night. Bill O’Reilly’s on there. He’s talking about Beanie Babies. I’m sitting there watching him talk about peanuts and royal blue elephants selling for $1,500 on Ebay. My first thought is, you know, I wonder if there any of those at the Hallmark store. They might just be lying around. I skip class the next day and go around to all the stores looking for the damn thing, can’t find it. I’m like, “Well shit.” They had these little gray Beanie Baby elephants for $8. I’m like, “Let’s try it.” I buy a gray elephant for $8, stop by Kroger on the way home, pick up a pack of blue RIT dye.
Traci Brown: Uh-oh.
Brett Johnson: Go home. Try to dye the little guy and find out really quick that he’s made out of polyester. The dye doesn’t hold. You get him out of that little dye bath, he looks like he’s got the mange. I’m sitting there looking at him like this is not going to work. He’s spotted, bluish all over, everything else. I’m like, “I really need to make this money.” I get on the internet. Metacrawler was the search engine back then, but I get on Metacrawler and I’m looking for pictures of a real peanut. Find one and post it on Ebay as mine. A lady, she believed I had the real thing, she wins the bid, and I ripped her off. I sent her a note. This is that thing of social engineering. What people don’t really understand is that most online criminals are really good social engineers. They may not be sophisticatedly adept at things, but they’re very good social engineers. They understand the technology and the psychology enough to manipulate you into giving up information, access, data, and cash. Here I am. I send her a message. I was like, “I don’t know if I can trust you. Send me a U.S. Postal money order. It protects both of us, and I’ll send you your animal. She did that, and I ripped her off of $1,500. It’s what happens. Long story short.
Traci Brown: Right. Let’s dive back in just quick for a definition of social engineering for anyone listening who doesn’t know the term. It’s basically manipulation.
Brett Johnson: Yea. It’s a lie.
Traci Brown: Yea. It’s lying, but it’s manipulation, but there’s a little more to it. Why don’t you jump into that just quick?
Brett Johnson: Sure. Think of social engineering as a form of a con. It’s a con game, but it’s a one-to-one type gig. What you’re dealing with is, if you’re looking at a computer for example, it’s about layering trust is what that is. Initially, the technology itself provides a base level of trust because people tend to trust the internet. They tend to trust the laptop or the phone that they’re using, that smart phone. That provides a base level of trust. Now, as a scam, or a phishing, or as social engineering attacks begin, you have to realize that there is a predator/prey type of situation. There is an us and them, the us being the criminal, the them being the victim. Okay. The idea is to convince that victim, that potential victim, that you are on their side, that they can trust you. The way you do that is first with the technology. Then as you get the technology, you want them on your side, so you do that by rapport, by causing a problem, by offering a solution, by threatening sometimes, any number of things like that. That social engineering, what it’s designed to do is give up one of four things. If you look at a phishing attack, any type of social engineering attack, what the attacker is actually looking for, what the criminal is actually looking for is one of four things: Information, access, data, or cash, always. It’s important. If I were to call you, and I would say, “Traci, send me $400. I’m going to rip you off.” You’re not going to do that. No. But if I were to call you and the caller ID says Center for Disease Control, which is what we’re seeing right now, the CDC, if I were to call you and say, “Traci Brown, my name is James Lasky. I’m with the CDC. Look, it’s come to our attention that someone in your area, you’ve had close contact with someone who has tested positive with coronavirus. What we need you to do is we need you to take a test.” Probably the response you’ll have at that point, “Well, who is it?” “I’m sorry, but with HIPAA controls and everything in place, we cannot divulge the name of the person. However, we have seen that you were in the same area that they were at the time that this infected person was there. We really need to test you to make sure you don’t have this extremely dangerous disease.” “Sure. What do I need to do?” “Well, what we can do is we’ll send you the test, but we need you to prepay for it. Don’t worry about that. The stimulus program’s passing right now where you’ll be reimbursed for all that cost, but right now in order to get it out to you as fast as we can, we need you to prepay for the test.” You try to layer it. You’ve created a problem. You’ve created a solution, the solution being we’re going to test you from home. We’re also going to reimburse you whatever you’re out. You can go like that. It can be like that. It could be one for PII. That’s for cash. You can also do that exact same call, “You know, we’re going to send you the test, but what we need you to do, we need you to go ahead and fill out this form. We’re going to fax it over to you. We’re going to email the form to you. Get it back to us as soon as you can.” Of course, the form’s got spaces for social security, driver’s license . . .
Traci Brown: The whole thing. Yea.
Brett Johnson: The whole thing. And people will tend, at that point, to comply with that. It’s all about getting people to comply and believe that you’re someone who you claim you are not. It all boils down to trust, how do you manipulate trust.
Traci Brown: That rolled off your tongue real easy.
Brett Johnson: (Laughing). I’ll tell you what happened. The name, James Lasky, what we used to do when we were children and it was me that did it, it was me and my two cousins, we would crank phone call people as kids. I would be a detective. I still had this kind of voice that I’ve got now, this deep resonating, booming voice. I would call people. Usually the people we would call, it was in Hazard, Kentucky, and it’s a small area, everyone knows what everyone’s doing wrong, if you’re growing pot, if you’re running a gambling scene . . .
Traci Brown: Right, right.
Brett Johnson: I would call up the gambling guy and I’d say, “Yea, this is Detective James T. Lasky, down her at the Kentucky State Police Office.” “Yes sir, yes sir.” “It looks like we’ve got a warrant for your arrest. We need you to come on in. Now, don’t make us come after you. It’s better if you come on in. Just come in. Ask for James Lasky. Tell them you’ve got a warrant for illegal gambling. Everything will be alright.”
Traci Brown: You’re horrible. Oh my God. (Laughing).
Brett Johnson: Yea. It was bad. It was bad. It’s like when you’re a kid, because of the abuse, because of your environment, the environment forces you to become a social engineer. Then as you become older, you start using that tool that’s acquired out of necessity to survive. You start using it to steal money and victimize other people.
Traci Brown: Well, yea. It’s reading people and understanding what they’re probably going to do next and how you can start to shift that response to make the world go your way.
Brett Johnson: We had talked on the first podcast that you did over on AnglerPhish, the this is you’re absolutely right, it’s all about reading people. You need to know if you’re on a call center call with someone that you’re trying to commit credit card fraud against or manipulate into giving PII or anything else like that, you need to know within the first few words what it takes to manipulate that person. Do you need to be forceful? Do you need to be friendly? Do you need to get them scared? What do you need to do to manipulate that specific person to comply with whatever you need them to comply with. That’s what it’s all about.
Traci Brown: Well, yea, and it becomes over time a sixth sense where you can just start to read people. Okay, let’s get back into your story. The little elephant beanie baby – was it an elephant? No.
Brett Johnson: It was an elephant, royal blue.
Traci Brown: Okay. Yea, yea. You used ebay. All of a sudden you realized the benefits of ebay. What happens next? Take us through the high points and low points.
Brett Johnson: That crime, that was my first online crime. I did that under my own name. From there, I start listing items that don’t exist. Back then on ebay you could actually put up kind of like an advertisement of buying things as well. I would buy people’s video game collections or comic book collections or coin collections and just not pay them for it. I’d have them pre-send it to me. I would open up a FedEx account. That way it made me look more legitimate. I would say, I’m this company, I’m this store. What you can do is use my FedEx account. Shipping won’t cost you anything. Just ship it to me and we’ll go over it and we’ll send you out the check from that point. I’d never send the check out. Selling fake items, as I got better, I understood more and more about how that dynamic of online crime, of defrauding people, actually worked, so I started worrying about the identity of things like that. Of course, I did not have a fake ID. What happens, what changes that, is this was probably 1996 or 1997, I had been selling pirated computer software and video games. That led into installing mod chips, first in the gaming system so you could play the pirated software, then into cable boxes so that you could watch all the pay-per-view, all the movie channels, everything else, then finally I started programming satellite DSS cards, those 18-inch satellite systems like DISH Network and RCA. I started to program those cards, turning on all the channels, all the pay-per-view, everything else. Right as I started doing that, a Canadian judge ruled that it was legal for Canadian citizens to pirate satellite DSS signals.
Traci Brown: Really?
Brett Johnson: Oh, this numb nuts up there. What he actually says, this is what he says, he says, since RCA doesn’t sell the systems up, my citizens can pirate that signal. This is typical of a lot of crime, typical, these types of decisions and regulation where it’s just out of the blue, no one knows what the hell is going on, but what happens in the United States is as soon as that decision comes down, an entire industry kind of opens up in the U.S. Before those cards would sell for $200 or $300 a piece. Now, there was such a demand coming from Canada for those cards, you could go down to Best Buy, you buy the system for $100, take it out in the parking lot, open the system up, pull the card out, throw the system away, program the card, ship it to Canada for $500 a pop. I started doing that. Paypal comes online about the same time, so everyone’s paying by Paypal at the same time as well. I start making a lot of money doing this. I have so many orders, I can’t fill them all. I’m the fraudster at that point. I’m thinking, you know, why do I need to fill any of the orders? They’re in Canada. I’m down here. Who are they going to complain to? They’re not going to come down here, not going to happen. So I started ripping everyone off, stealing even more money at that point. At that point, I’m profiting, I guess $4,000 or $5,000 a week as a college kid. I’m like, this is good money. Get worried about how much is coming in. I’m like, okay, what I need to do is I need to get a fake driver’s license, set up a bank account under that, deposit all the money into that account there and then withdraw via ATM. No idea where to get a fake driver’s license, so I get online, looked around, thought I’d found a guy. His name was Fake ID Man, what a great name.
Traci Brown: Yea. How could you go wrong with that?
Brett Johnson: Oh yea. His name was Fake ID Man. He said he had all 50 states available, all the security features, all the holograms, everything else. Idiot Brett believes that. I sent him $200, sent him my picture. He rips me off.
Traci Brown: Of course.
Brett Johnson: Of course, he did. Because they’re criminals. I was a criminal too. It’s expected. But I got mad. I hadn’t been victimized before. I was the predator, not the prey. The result was ultimately ShadowCrew.com. What happened was is I got mad. I still needed the driver’s license. At that point in time, the only avenue you had to commit some sort of organized cybercrime online was an IRC chat, an internet relay chat, this rolling chat board where you had no idea who you’re talking to, if they had skills, if you could network with them, if they had an item, if they actually had the item, if it worked, what the quality was, anything else like that. It was horrible. What happened was the first two sites were CounterfeitLibrary and then ShadowCrew, and I built and ran both of those, but it provided a trust mechanism for criminals to use. Now, because if you think about it, everyone that’s online, whether you’re shopping at Amazon or you’re shopping in SilkRoad, one of those illegal marketplaces, everyone online has to be able to trust the platform that they’re on. If we don’t trust the sellers that are Amazon, we’re not going to shop on Amazon. Okay. Same thing with the illegal site. If you don’t trust the person that’s across the line, who you have no idea who they really are, and they’re engaged in illegal activity anyway, you’ll never shop there. So we build a trust mechanism. It came in the form of a forum type structure, what I call a large communication channel. Now, you can go there, and you can reference conversations that are days, weeks, months, potentially years old. You can engage in those conversations outside of different timelines, time zones as well. Just by looking at someone’s screen name, you know what that person’s skill level is, if you can trust them, if you can network with them, if you can learn from them. If someone has an item for sale, we have review systems in place. We have a vouching system in place. We have escrow systems in place. All these things are designed so that ultimately you can trust the transaction or the person you’re dealing with no to be law enforcement, security, or anything else, or not to rip you off. That’s what ShadowCrew and CounterfeitLibary did. ShadowCrew goes on to make the front cover of Forbes, August 2004 headline, Who’s Stealing Your Identity? and October 26, 2004, United States Secret Service Arrested 33 People in Six countries in Six Hours, and I was the only guy publicly mentioned as getting away. Of course, I was picked up a few months after that.
Traci Brown: Right, right. How has that unfolded, I guess, into now, into what the cybercriminals are doing? We’re going to get back into the story, but let’s jump into this.
Brett Johnson: Sure.
Traci Brown: How long do you think it would take you to find the personal information of, I don’t know, let’s say, me, and how much would it cost you?
Brett Johnson: I can get your social and your date of birth right now for $2.90.
Traci Brown: Right. That’s enough to do what with?
Brett Johnson: What would happen was I get your social and your date of birth for $2.90 from a website like RoboCheck.cm. That’s a criminal database that advertises the social security numbers and dates of birth for 170 million Americans. Okay. I get your social, your date of birth. Now, in the United States, everything is based on KBA – knowledge-based authentication. Those are the security questions that are asked when you open up an account or change existing information, anything else, go get your credit report, things like that. I start by getting the social, the date of birth, $2.90. From there, there are a few avenues I can take. I need to pull a background check and credit report on you. I can go with TLO, which is TransUnion’s kind of skip tracing software which gives an in-depth background ground of the person. I can buy that on the dark web right now for $25 a pull, or I can set up my own TransUnion TLO account so I can use that. I can use Delvepoint, which is one of the TransUnion competitors. If I don’t have the ability to get either one of those background checks, then I go to other type of background check services, BeenVerified, Spokeo, Intelius, WhitePagesPro, People, things like that. I get the background check not only of you, but every single associate of yours. For example, BeenVerified, for like $20 a month, I can pull unlimited background checks on whoever I want. I get the background check on you and every associate of yours in hopes of getting your mother’s maiden name, which is not difficult.
Traci Brown: Right. Yea.
Brett Johnson: From there, it’s time to pull your credit report. I go to the exact same place you go to pull your credit report, AnnualCreditReport.com. Why? Because AnnualCreditReport asks those KBA questions, those security questions, but they don’t have a time limit on those questions. I can literally, I can literally sit there all day long with a background check and with Google and try to get all the correct answers of any of the questions that come up. Say I miss one of those four or five questions. I don’t get the credit report from there. That’s still okay because my next stop is CreditKarma where they ask the exact same security questions except the answers are different, except for the correct answer, so now I have the credit report. Next step is LinkedIn to find out where you work, GlassDoor to find out how much you make, Facebook to find out if you posted anything of interest. That’s it at that point. Some security questions involve color of cars, for example. The way you get the color of a car is you just sign up for an insurance quote and it will pull the cars that are associated with that specific address.
Traci Brown: Oh wow. Okay. Okay.
Brett Johnson: You can do that. All told, I can build a complete identify profile within 20 minutes of a person and do that.
Traci Brown: Twenty minutes on all of that.
Brett Johnson: Yes, and within that, from there, what do you do? Well, what do you want to do?
Traci Brown: Buy a car, buy a house.
Brett Johnson: Buy a car, buy a house, take out new loans, engage in new account fraud, take over existing accounts, HELOC loans, student loan fraud, synthetic fraud, you can do that. There’s just tons of stuff. Here’s the interesting thing. A lot of people, you hear this over and over again that, well, we need to make sure that our information is protected. You hear this constantly. Secure your information. The truth of the matter is that everyone in this country has already been compromised. Your information is out there.
Traci Brown: Can’t stop it. It’s done.
Brett Johnson: Right. The question becomes, and this is something we have to understand, if our information has already been compromised, and it has, what can we do to make sure a criminal, if he has the information, can’t use the information. That’s the step we need to be at right there. Understand that the ship has already sailed about data being compromised, so how do we make sure a criminal can’t use our information, and that’s what I talk about a lot is that.
Traci Brown: Got it. Well, number one thing people can do is lock their credit.
Brett Johnson: Absolutely.
Traci Brown: It is a pain.
Brett Johnson: That is the number one.
Traci Brown: It’s a pain, but . . .
Brett Johnson: (Laughing).
Traci Brown: It helps a lot. I got one of these PPP loans.
Brett Johnson: Yea.
Traci Brown: The first time, for my business, the first I applied they were like, you don’t qualify because we can’t get your credit. I’m like, come on. It’s a pain. But for good reason.
Brett Johnson: For good reason.
Traci Brown: Okay. Let’s jump back into the story. I’ll let you jump in wherever you want. Because you’re building ShadowCrew. You make Forbes . . .
Brett Johnson: Yea, so ShadowCrew . . .
Traci Brown: . . . which is good and bad. Right.
Brett Johnson: Good and bad. That was fun. I had actually retired from ShadowCrew when we made the front cover. Here I am. Every now and then I would check into the ShadowCrew site to see how things were going. I had another screen name that I used that I just monitored things no. I checked in this one day and they’re talking about the Forbes issue, and I’m like, Forbes? The initial response from everyone, it’s like you could almost hear it was, “Yes, we made it!” Then it was followed by, “Oooh, this can’t be good.” It was just both things at the same time. What happened was we had this thing called the CVV1 hack. We were phishing people and back then when you phished data from people, you could ask them every single thing on the planet. It didn’t have to be login and password. You could ask social, driver’s license, bank account numbers, passwords, mother’s maiden name, you could ask everything, like 30 different fields, you could ask, and they would give you all that information. We were getting debit card numbers and pins, is what we were getting. In order for you to encode that card number onto a card and take it to an ATM, you have to have complete track two data, and that track looks like it’s the card number. There’s an equals sign, then there’s a 16-digit algorithm outside of that. You have to know that algorithm. You can’t generate it. You can’t guess it. You have to know it, or the card won’t encode. What happen is we figure out, first of all we figure out that Washington Mutual had not implemented the hash on that card, on their bids, so what that meant was if you had a Washington Mutual debit card number and the pin, you could take the debit card number, an equals sign, and then any 16-digit number beside of it, it would encode properly. You could take it to the ATM and cash it out. We found out pretty quickly that it wasn’t just Washington Mutual. It was most banks in the United States were like that. Okay. All of sudden, to give you an idea of what was going on, up until that point, the only type of real fraud that we were engaged in was online credit card fraud. You would buy an item, you would get it, have it shipped to a drop address, you’d take it, resell it on ebay, is what you’d do. Okay. A good carder, that’s what you call those people, a good carder would profit $30,000 to $40,000 a month on that, just doing that, not difficult work. What happens with the CVV1 hack, it’s no longer $30,000 to $40,000 a month, it becomes $30,000 to $40,000 a day.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Because you’re pulling it out of ATMs.
Brett Johnson: Pulling out of ATMs and you have almost an unlimited number of cards that you could do this with. Okay. We start seeing IP numbers coming in from different government agencies, the United States, the UK, EU, everything else. We’re being pinged by different government agencies at the same time we start to see local and state law enforcement websites and forums specifically talk about ShadowCrew. Alright. Then, we have this kid, his name was Enhance. This was back in, at this point, it’s 2003 or 2004. We have this kid named Enhance. Back in 2003 or 2004, Paris Hilton had her T-mobile phone list compromised and it was published on the internet. That was this kid. Okay.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow.
Brett Johnson: He also compromised or intercepted text messages of the United States Secret Service and them investigating ShadowCrew. I got a hold of those messages, and I’m at the top of the heap. I’m like, you know, this end is coming. We are going to get in trouble. About the same time that we’re seeing all that, I happen upon this idea of tax return identity theft. I’m that SOB that creates this thing. What it is you start with dead people. You file taxes on dead people. Then it turns into stealing tax information of living individuals and filing before they can. The reason that everyone has their tax return delayed and everything is the SOB that’s talking today to you. I was stealing at that point $160,000 a week 10 months out of the year.
Traci Brown: Wow. Now, how much do you need?
Brett Johnson: (Laughing).
Traci Brown: Is it just the thrill of doing that? Because you can’t really do a lot with bank accounts. This is cash.
Brett Johnson: It’s cash. You can’t do anything with it. What happen is I got to where I could file a tax return once every six minutes Sunday through Wednesday, file returns, typically 200 returns a week. On Thursday I would take a road trip, plot out a map of ATMs, Friday and Saturday cash out, Sunday come home, $150,000 in twenties would fit into a backpack like you see kids carry in high school or college.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Brett Johnson: So, $150,000 in twenties in that. I had a spare bedroom in Charleston, South Carolina. I’d open up the door, chuck the backpack in the room. One day you wake up and you’re like, got to do something will all those backpacks.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Brett Johnson: That’s when you find out, you start learning how to launder money at that point. How much is enough? The question is, it would never be enough because you quickly lose understanding of the value of money is what happens.
Traci Brown: Oh really? Because it’s just so easy to get it. It’s nothing you had to like to bust your but for.
Brett Johnson: Yea. My budget, these days I budget because I have just so much money coming in. There’s a budget. But my budget back then was literally, someone would ask me, do you have a budget? Yes, steal more money. That’s what I would say.
Traci Brown: Got it. Okay.
Brett Johnson: You do. You lose complete understanding of the value of money. Here I am, when I become a legal guy, I’m in my 40s learning how to budget because I’ve never done that.
Traci Brown: When you first went legal, were you just like, what the hell? Oh my God. Like at what point does it hit home? Whoa.
Brett Johnson: Back when I was a criminal, so Christmas for us, it was all about excess. You would have the tree, presents under the tree, presents falling out five into the floor, everything else like that. You don’t worry about money because it was either stolen goods or you used stolen money to buy it and there was excess of that. The first Christmas as a legal person, when I actually had money, because there were several Christmases as a legal person where I didn’t have money.
Traci Brown: Yea. It took a little bit to get going. We’ll get into that in a little bit. Okay.
Brett Johnson: The first Christmas when I actually had money, me and my wife we sat down and we were like, what’s the budget going to be? We settled on $500 a kid. I was like, alright, that’s it then. That’s it. Honestly, Traci, that was . . . I think about that now and just that $500, to me that means so much more than anything that I would have stolen and had under the tree for people. I don’t know if I mentioned this to you, but as I became legal and the career is going and everything else like that, I would go through the house here and Michelle, my wife, she didn’t know what I was doing. It took her a while to understand because I wouldn’t say what I was doing. I would go through the house and just verbally I would point out something. I’d say, I stole that. I stole that, and I stole that. I would get rid of it. I would give it away or throw it away, whatever, and go buy a replacement of it.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Okay.
Brett Johnson: She got made. She was like, you know, this is nice stuff we’ve got. She got mad and finally we ended up going to counseling and everything. Finally, it comes out in counseling. With me, seeing everything that’s been stolen and all the harm, and it’s about just redoing, trying to do things right. It means a lot more to me. I don’t steal the money I used, and I don’t make what I did as a legal person what I was stealing as criminal. The rewards, I make good money, but the rewards of people saying that I help them, or I get people that listen to the AnglerPhish podcast and they’ll talk to me about, not about fraud, but about how they were abused. I don’t know if you’ve gotten to those episodes yet where I talk about a couple letters that were sent to me, but that makes all the difference in the world. It truly does. It lets me know I’m on the right path about things, you know.
Traci Brown: Yea, I can tell. It’s a good thing your editor doesn’t edit my stuff because we . . .
Brett Johnson: (Laughing).
Traci Brown: Okay. Let’s jump back in, so you got backpacks full of money.
Brett Johnson: Yea, yea.
Traci Brown: How does it go? What’s the . . .
Brett Johnson: How it goes is you start . . . criminals, more experienced online criminals are extremely good about research, so I spent a lot of time reading indictments, reading news articles about different types of fraud, everything else, and trying to figure out how that was done, how to avoid. If it’s an indictment, someone was arrested. The way I view an indictment is first of all, that crime works.
Traci Brown: Oh, okay.
Brett Johnson: It works. He did it. He stole the money. It works. He got caught, so how do you fix that? was my entire idea in doing a lot of this stuff. Okay. What happens is I start reading articles and books on laundering and stuff like that, find out, you know, okay, operate a lot of cash-based businesses. I had a detail shop. I had a stage production company. I had little businesses like that. I had bank accounts in the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Caymans, throughout Europe, and then finally it bounced enough that it got to Estonia, Bank Latico was the final destination for that stuff. Now, that being said, then the feds get a hold of you, they’re very diligent. They arrested me February 8, 2005. My last seizure notice was January 2010.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Okay. Okay.
Brett Johnson: They got, they scarfed everything, they went through everything and took it from there. The idea is you bounce it around enough, you change names enough that you hopefully by the time it reaches its end destination, you can’t really track it down or it looks legitimate enough that it sits there without being looked at really hard.
Traci Brown: Got it.
Brett Johnson: That’s the idea of a lot of that stuff. You learn how to launder money. With me, I was . . . back to the story you talked about, I married Susan. She was my first wife. I was married to her for nine years. I think for both of us it was escaping our lives. I wanted out of Eastern Kentucky, away from my mother. My wife, Susan, she wanted away from her parents. She wanted to escape as well. We kind of joined together. We had nothing in common, absolutely nothing, but we were married for nine years. The first three years she really had no idea what I did for a living. She thought I was a reseller on ebay and then the local police department starts to show up and ask questions and she finds out pretty quick I’m a criminal.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Brett Johnson: The next six years I lied to her about everything, about me stopping, wanting to stop, everything else, and I just kept going bigger and bigger and bigger the entire time. She finally, what happened was is she cheated on me. I think the reason she cheated on me was, I think that’s the only way she knew that I would actually end the relationship.
Traci Brown: Oh, really. Okay. Okay.
Brett Johnson: I don’t know if that was conscious or subconscious, but that’s what I tell myself. The reason she did it, that is true, that’s the only thing that I would say “we are done” right there. I find out she’s cheating on me, and we break up. We ultimately get divorced. At that point, I told you earlier in this recording that I get the worst part from my dad, that fear of being abandoned. That’s what happened. I caused that but it drove me into this depression. I got suicidal. I went around the house all day long in kind of this stupor, you know, just crying and everything else. Ended up because I knew I was getting suicidal, I picked up the phone book and called a psychologist. To show you this weird sense of humor I’ve got, I’m going through the Yellow Pages and I’m like, Psychology, Criminal Psychology, probably need that. (Laughing). I called this lady up and I’m crying on the phone to her. She’s like, “Come in today.” I go in and I tell her everything. I see her for about four months. I think she did some good. I don’t think I was ready for it.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: She’s trying to get me to stop breaking the law and go into real estate, and I keep telling her, “Is there a difference?” She’s like, “Yes, there’s a difference.” But I get lonely. I saw her for about four months. I was 34. I saw her for about four months. I didn’t start drinking until I was 34.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: I had never been into a strip club, so one night I get lonely and horny.
Traci Brown: Now, that’s a great combo right there.
Brett Johnson: Yea, that was it. I started reading online about these strip clubs and where you may be able to get laid.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: I go into a strip club and for me this upper tier fraudster, I’m really naïve when it comes to personal relationships.
Traci Brown: Alright.
Brett Johnson: I really am right there. I walk into this strip club and literally I am that guy that falls in love with the first stripper that he sees.
Traci Brown: Oh my.
Brett Johnson: The first one. She walks up to me. I’m at the bar. I order a drink. She walks up to me. She’s like, “Will you buy me a drink?” I’m like, “Sure.” The drink was this nonalcoholic thing that ran $40. I’m sitting there going, $40?! She’s like, “Yea.” Like okay. She’s like, “We can go and talk in the back room if you want to.” I’m like, “Okay. What’s that cost?” “Well, you just have to buy a bottle of champagne.” A bottle of Korbel champagne, $400 later.
Traci Brown: Ooh. Korbel man.
Brett Johnson: Korbel. I go back there, and I ended up just talking the rest of the night. I was just talking to her. It turns out, I didn’t know that at the time, but that’s evidently what a lot of men do is they just go and talk. They want someone to listen to them. I go in and talk to her for I think three or four hours. She drinks the bottle and of course, she’s sizing me up. Where do you live? What kind of car do you have? What kind of watch you got? Sizing me up the entire time. I don’t get it. Go back home. Walk in the next week. Pull her off to the side. I was like, “Look, I really like you. I would like to take you to dinner if you don’t mind.” She’s like, “Well, I work at night, but we can go to lunch.” I’m like, “Sounds great.” I ended up falling in love with her. I went crazy over her. I really did. Moved her in my house. After I moved her in the house, I found she was addicted to coke. Not only was she addicted to coke, but she was prostituting herself for the coke, and I got it in my head, a couple things I got in my head, the first was if I could keep her mind off the drugs, I put her through rehab and everything, but I was like, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her mind off the drugs. To me that was spending money, whenever she wanted something.
Traci Brown: And you had plenty of it.
Brett Johnson: I had plenty at that time. Then the next thing I thought was, I guess that was more subconscious, was if I could fix her, I could fix me. If I could just hold out, she’ll see that I love her, and it’ll be okay. This woman, to this day, I wondered about what happened to her, but she would not be intimate unless she was just completely wasted.
Traci Brown: Oh, yikes.
Brett Johnson: Here I am, I proposed marriage. We have a wedding date set, everything else. I go through all of my – because I had all my money, most of the cash laundered over to Estonia. ShadowCrew gets busted while all this is going on. Shadow Crew is busted October 26th. By this point I’m running out of stateside currency because I was spending all this money on Elizabeth and everything that’s going on there. I can’t go back into tax fraud because tax season has ended for the year. I can’t go into credit card theft because you have no idea who you can trust now because the Secret Service has invaded everywhere. The only thing I’m left with is running counterfeit cashier’s checks. I had taught people, because ShadowCrew was a teaching platform. I had taught people religiously, never, never run paper. I started running paper. I ran paper. I was stealing coin collections, bullion, stuff like that, jewelry as well, and just trying to make ends meet enough because so much money was going out. I was trying to make ends meet until tax season would pop back in. What happens is I get it into my head that I need to propose to her. I didn’t have enough money because she wanted Tiffany rings. I didn’t have enough money to buy Tiffany engagement rings, so I pass a counterfeit cashier’s check for the Tiffany rings. The next month, because I’m thinking, okay, I got her the Tiffany rings. We can just get a regular wedding band. Oh no, she wants a Tiffany wedding band. So I have these Tiffany bands ordered and I don’t have enough money to pay for those. They’re being shipped collect on delivery, COD, and I’m like, I’ll just go pick those up. That’ll take care of that. Tax season is starting back up soon. It’ll be alright. I’m picked up. What actually happens is a controlled delivery. The FBI is there. The Charleston Police Department is there, probably 30 people in the parking lot where I’m picking this thing up at.
Traci Brown: Oh boy.
Brett Johnson: I had a drop set up at an apartment complex and didn’t notice that there were 30 people, including all the UPS execs in the area, looking for Brett Johnson. Yea, so I was arrested. At that point, Elizabeth finds out what I do for a living because I had lied to her too. Within 45 minutes of the arrest, the Secret Service comes in, takes over the case. What had happened was the arresting officer was an FBI agent. Her name is Cynthia McCance. She brings me in and they’re interviewing me. She opens up this folder. She’s got one sheet of paper in the folder. She picks it out, slides it across the table to me. She’s like, “Does that look familiar?” It’s a picture of a fake ID that I had used a couple years prior.
Traci Brown: Oh boy.
Brett Johnson: Yea. I looked at her and I said, “Yea, it’s a little heavier version, but yea, that’s me.” As soon as I say that, the door opens. These two Secret Service agents walk in, sit down, they look at me and they’re like, “We’d like to talk to you about some stolen credit cards.”
Traci Brown: Uh-oh.
Brett Johnson: I’m like, “Ahh.” They let me sit in the county jail for a week at which point two Secret Service officers, agents from New Jersey, they fly in, because at that point, New Jersey was the hub for all cybercrime investigations for the Secret Service.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: They fly in from New Jersey, pull me out of a cell, and they’re like, “We got your laptop.” I’m like, “Yea.” They’re like, “Have you got anything on your laptop?” I’m like, “Yea.” “Well, what have you got on it?” “Well, I’ve got a lot of stuff.” They’re like, “Well, you’re going to be charged with whatever’s on it.” I’m like, “I figured.” Then one agent looks at me and he was like, “Is there anything you can do for us?” I was arrested February 8, 2005, three weeks before I was supposed to marry Elizabeth. I was absolutely crazy about her. I looked at the agent and my exact words were, “You let me get back with Elizabeth and I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” He looks at me and was like, “Okay.” They let me sit there for 90 days to get a taste of what jail is like. Had the bond lowered from $329,000 down to $1,000. My sister pays the bond. I walk out. The first person I call is not sister, mother, anybody else. The first person I call is Elizabeth. “I’m out.” She’s like, “I’ll be there.” It’s like midnight and me and a Secret Service agent are standing in the parking lot of the Charleston, South Carolina jail. Elizabeth had a friend that owned a limousine company. She pulls up in a limousine, gets out, pops the trunk, gets these two plastic storage containers out that have my clothes in them, drops them on the pavement, comes over, hugs me, tells me, “Call me later”, leaves.
Traci Brown: No!
Brett Johnson: I’m sitting there bawling like a baby. The Secret Service agent, he looks at me. He’s like, “Is that your fiancé?” I’m like, “Yea.” He’s like, “Dude, I am so sorry.” I’m like, “Yea.” I had $30 to my name. They had seized everything else. I no longer had a house, anything else. I had $30 to my name. The Secret Service agent, he has to pay for my hotel that night. He has to give me money to eat. As soon as he leaves, I call Elizabeth and beg her to come see me. She does and I feed her this line of bullshit. “Oh, everything is going to be fine. I’m working for the government now. Everything’s going to be great.” She believes it. She leaves. I take that $30, walk to Walmart and buy a prepaid debit card so I can start back in tax fraud that same night.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Okay. It was just immediate.
Brett Johnson: Immediate. Immediate. For the next 10 months, I continued breaking the law from inside Secret Services offices and everything else until they find out that I’ve been ripping them off and lying to them. They revoke my bond, put me back in jail. I was only under state charges at that point, so the state judge rules that they’ve revoked the bond improperly. I walk out, take off on the run, go on a cross-country crime spree, steal $600,000 in four months, wake up one morning, and I have been placed on the United States Most Wanted List. Again, idiot that I was at that point, here I am, I’m looking at me on the U.S. Most Wanted List. I’m like, and I said it out loud, “Well, Mr. Johnson, you’ve made the U.S. Most Wanted List. What now?” Now, I’m going to just . . . and that’s exactly what I did. I was in Las Vegas.
Traci Brown: You hid out in Vegas and Disney and a lot of places.
Brett Johnson: Vegas, Disney, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, all the way through there. When I say hiding out, I mean I had veneers put on. I’ve still got the veneers to this day. I had LASIK eye surgery. I did all that stuff.
Traci Brown: The whole thing. Wow. Okay, okay. What happens next?
Brett Johnson: What happens next is I was on the United States Most Wanted List. I had planned on buying a house in Florianopolis, Brazil, is what I had planned. I was going to run down there. I was going to get a passport and run down there. Once I’m on the United States Most Wanted List, it occurred to me, well, you’re not getting on a plane or a boat. You, my friend, are screwed. You best lay low for a while. I figured, I’ll go to Orlando. I’ll camp out there a year and everything will be alright. Let the heat die down. I go to Orlando. One of the things I used to teach about when you’re on the run is that you have to cut all ties and behaviors. If you’ve constantly done something, you have to change your behavior completely. Not only that, but you have to cut all ties of family and friends. Well, that second thing is far easier said than done.
Traci Brown: Oh, that would be hard. That would be so hard.
Brett Johnson: My mom was . . . at that point I hadn’t . . . nowadays I don’t really speak to my mom, but back then I was. She was very poor and here I am stealing all this money. I’m like, well, I can send her some money, let her know I’m okay. I sent her a FedEx package with a cell phone in it and like $3,500 cash. They let that go through. I expected it to be intercepted USPS. I did not expect it to be intercepting FedEx and UPS at the same time. They intercepted that, took the phone. Back then it was called a trigger fish. Today it’s called a sting ray. But it’s a cell phone emulation device or a tower emulation device.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: It allows the Secret Service to track the phone location within seven feet, intercept text messages, a whole line of stuff.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: I was in Orlando, Florida. I had paid for a timeshare in cash for nine months. They were still building the timeshare complex. I go and buy $30,000 in furniture to put in the place and everything else. I’ll just camp out here. Everything will be fine. I lasted two months. What happened was they used the trigger fish to find out where I was. It was September 16, 2006 at this point. September 16, 2006 at 10:30 in the morning, it was a Saturday. I get a knock on the door. I get up, go look out the peep hole. No one’s there. I was used to the builders coming by and asking if everything was alright, so I just opened the door, step out in the hallway and walking down the hall are two Secret Services and an Orange County deputy. They turn around, look at me, and was friendly, like “Hey Brett, how are you?” I’m like, “Hey guys, I’m doing good. How are you?” They’re like, “Oh, we’re doing pretty good.” I’m like, “Would you like to come in?” They’re like, “Well, we need to put you in cuffs first.” I’m like, “Yes, I figured that.” They put me in cuffs, take me in. Bobby Kirby was the head agent at that time. He looks at me. He’s like, “Brett, you have anything in the apartment?” I’m like, “Yea, in the bedroom there’s $150,000 cash.” He’s like, “Seriously?” I’m like, “Yea.” He’s like, “Anything else?” I was like, “Well, there’s an AK-47 in there too.” He stops. He says, “Are you shitting me?” I’m like, “Yea, I’m just kidding about that.”
Traci Brown: Geez.
Brett Johnson: They throw me in the Orange County jail. This story just keeps getting weirder. Right. They throw me in the Orange County jail. I didn’t know that the only time you get off in federal prison is the drug program. Now remember, I didn’t start drinking until I was 34.
Traci Brown: Sure.
Brett Johnson: My mom was an addict, and I was always scared of using drugs. Okay. This meth dealer that’s in federal holding in Orange County as well, he kind of takes me under his wing. His nickname was Yeti. He tells me, he’s like, “You know, Brett, the only time you get off in federal prison is the drug program. You get a year off.” I’m like, “Yeti, I don’t use drugs.” He was like, “Well, you can find a drug problem, can’t you?” I looked at him. I’m like, “You know, I can find a drug problem.”
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: They give me this thing called ….. and what that is as you’re being transported, they stop at every single county jail they can to wear you down. They process you through, and then once you’re processed through, they load you back up, move you to the next county jail. It took about two weeks to get from Orange County, Orlando, back to Charleston, South Carolina. Every county jail I stopped at, you fill out paperwork and processing: Do you use drugs or do you use alcohol? My answer was always, “Yes, and I need all the help I can get.” By the time I get to South Carolina, there is this paperwork trail of Brett Johnson saying he’s an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine.
Traci Brown: Oh.
Brett Johnson: My lawyer, my first lawyer, was Strom Thurmond’s son, Paul Thurmond.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: I paid for him. Yea. I paid for him with illegal funds, so they made me drop him. They gave me this public defender who, I swear to God, looked exactly like Billy Dee Williams. Exactly.
Traci Brown: (Laughing).
Brett Johnson: His name was Jimmy Rogers. The only thing Jimmy Rogers did for me, he stands up at my arraignment and he asked the judge to order a psychological evaluation. The judge says yes. The psychologist comes into the county jail, a four-hour evaluation, halfway through the psychologist is like, “Do you use any type of drugs?” I’m like, “Yes.” “What do you use?” “Cocaine.” “Smoke or snort?” “I snort.” “How much?” “An eight ball a day.” He looks at me, and he’s like, “That’s a lot.” I’m like, “Yea.”
Traci Brown: (Laughing).
Brett Johnson: He was like, “Do you trouble out of that?” I’m like, “Yea, I can’t get an erection.” He looks at me again.
Traci Brown: Oh my God.
Brett Johnson: I had gotten that, no shit, Traci, I had gotten that because I had watched the movie, Boogie Nights.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: That end scene with Mark Wahlberg where it’s just not standing to attention, I’m like, that had to be real. I looked at him, and he’s looking at me, and I’m like, “Is that right?”
Traci Brown: No. (Laughing).
Brett Johnson: He looks at me and he’s like, “It could happen.” I’m like, “Alright.” That whole sequence makes it into PSR, the pre-sentence investigation.
Traci Brown: Okay, okay.
Brett Johnson: What that is, when you’re federally charged with a crime, the probation office and the prosecutor, they do this in-depth background check on you that recommends to the judge how much time you should serve. That drug thing made it in my pre-sentence report. The day of sentencing, I have been telling everyone in the unit if they sentence me to any more than 60 months, I am not staying. I am leaving. They’re like, “Oh, you’re going to escape.” I’m like, “Yes, I am.” The day of sentencing, the Secret Service is there, the prosecutor is there. The prosecutor is standing up, and I mean he’s screaming to the top of his lungs at this point. He’s like, “Brett Johnson has manipulated the Secret Service. He’s manipulated the prosecutor, and today, he’s manipulating you, Your Honor. We insist on the upper limits of the guidelines.” I’m sitting there going . . .so the judge looks at me and she was like, “I agree”, 75 months, the most they could give me. I’m like, “75, that’s more than 60.” I looked at my lawyer, and I was like, “Can you get the drug program for me?” He was like, “I don’t know. I’ll ask.” He stands up. “We ordered the drug program for Mr. Johnson. The judge says no, but I’ll recommend he gets evaluated for it.” I looked at my lawyer. What does that mean? My lawyer’s like, “You’re probably not going to get it.” I’m like, exact words, “How soon can you get me to the camp?” He says, “I can get you there pretty quick if you don’t appeal.” Quote. Brett Johnson looks at him and says, “Fuck the appeal. Get me to the camp. I’ll take it from there.” He looks at me like I’m the biggest idiot in the world at that point. He’s like, “Okay.” Six weeks later, I get to the camp. I had had family and friends research, because you can have a camp recommended. I had family and friends research a camp that wasn’t supposed to have a fence around it.
Traci Brown: Prison camp, we’re talking about.
Brett Johnson: Prison camp.
Traci Brown: It’s not a . . .
Brett Johnson: Not Boy Scout.
Traci Brown: Yea, not Boy Scouts. Okay.
Brett Johnson: We settled on Ashland, Kentucky because all the books said no fence. Okay. Get to Ashland, Kentucky, a 14-foot fence, razor wire on top. I’m like, “I don’t climb.” I go in as I’m being processed. I looked at the guard and I’m like, “Are there any jobs outside of the fence?” He was like, “Well, you can work in the National Forest.” I’m like, “No. I’ll die out there.” He was like, “Well, you can do the landscaping.” I’m like, “I can run a Weed Eater.” So the next day I walk into the landscaping office. Just to show how this thing operations, the way the mindset in some prisons is, you walk in the landscaping office and the guard is there at his desk. Behind his desk, the entire wall is this blown up aerial photo of the compound and the outlying area. As I’m talking to him, I can literally plot my escape. I worked there for six weeks, and I escaped. My dad helps me escape is what happened. People always ask how I escaped. My dad helps me escape.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: I escaped.
Traci Brown: What did he do? Pick you up around back or something?
Brett Johnson: No. My poor dad. He shows up at my sentencing. I hadn’t had a real conversation with my dad in 20 years. He shows up at my sentencing. He stands up in front of the judge. “I’m here for Brett. He can live with me. I want to make sure he gets a good start.” He starts visiting me in prison. Third visit in, he looks at me and he was like, “You know, I’ve been reading about you online.” I’m like, “Yea.” He’s like, “Yea.” I go, “Okay.” He was like, “That’s a lot of money you made.” I’m like, “Yea.” He was like, “Do you think you could teach someone how to make that money?”
Traci Brown: Oh!
Brett Johnson: (Laughing). When I first started telling that story, I told people that I though my dad was back in my life and I was just disappointed. It’s more complicated than that.
Traci Brown: Sure.
Brett Johnson: I think that what it was is my dad, because he hadn’t talked to me in 20 years, I think that he just saw me through the prism of my mom, that criminal mindset and everything. I think that’s the only way he knew how to communicate with me. What I did was I chose to manipulate him into helping me escape. I taught him how to do tax return fraud. In exchange he gave me every bit of money he had in his bank which was $4,000, a change of clothes, a driver’s license, and a cell phone. I escaped. I walked off. I was gone for three weeks. The U.S. Marshalls, they come in to get me because they canvassed a three-state area. I had to use my real ID because I was waiting for fake IDs to come, which never showed up. The U.S. Marshalls come and get me, arrest me, send me to prison. I spent eight months in solitary confinement, and they sent me to a real prison in West Texas where I get to meet the Aryan Brotherhood and everything else.
Traci Brown: Oh boy. Yea. They’re a gem, all of them.
Brett Johnson: Oh, yea. I go through three prison riots, see two murders, and four suicides while I was there.
Traci Brown: Wow.
Brett Johnson: What happens though, the turnaround for me begins with my sister. I met Elizabeth, the dancer. My sister disowned me because of that. She wouldn’t talk to me for a year. During that year is when I’m arrested, I go to work for the Secret Service, screw them over, go on a cross-country run, get caught, go to prison, escape from prison, my sister doesn’t talk to me the entire time. After I get caught on the escape, I’m in a county jail in Lexington, Kentucky. My dad comes to visit. They’ve got a 10-minute visitation. He says, “Can I do anything for you?” I’m like, “Yea, you can tell my sister I said I love her.” He does. Denise gets in the car. She’s in Hickory, North Carolina, gets in the car, drives seven hours to come see for 10 minutes to tell me she loves me. I didn’t see her again for five years.
Traci Brown: Oh, boy.
Brett Johnson: It took two and a half years, it took two and a half years behind the fence for me to understand that the reason I broke the law wasn’t because of family or friends, or anything like that. The reason I broke the law was because I chose to. I got out in 2011. No taste of breaking the law whatsoever. I was under three years’ probation. I could not touch a computer. I had job offers from Deloitte, and a couple of others. I couldn’t take them. I got to where I was applying for fast food. I couldn’t take that because that was touching a computer. From there, I tried a waiter’s position and that answer was “No, that’s a computer and credit cards, idiot.” I didn’t have a job.
Traci Brown: You’re stuck. Like you’re totally stuck for the time. What . . .
Brett Johnson: I was bumming money from my dad and my sister. I was bumming money from them. I had a roommate that took care of half the rent. I was on food stamps so I could eat. I didn’t have any money. They tell you to get something you care about when you leave prison, so you won’t recidivate. I had a cat, is what I had. I had enough money to feed my cat, and I didn’t have enough money to buy toilet paper.
Traci Brown: Oh, man. Okay.
Brett Johnson: I went to the Dollar General store, bought the cat some food, and on the way out, they had a kiosk there with toilet paper and that was the first crime I committed right there was stealing toilet paper. About the same time, my wife now, Michelle, I’ve put her through hell with my crime and everything else, but my wife now, Michelle, she finds me, and I ended up moving in with her about two months after that. Finally got a job, manual labor. I was mowing grass, pushing a lawnmower. Got a job. I was busting my ass. I was happy doing that. The job ended. When it gets cold, the grass doesn’t grow.
Traci Brown: Sure.
Brett Johnson: Job ends and that tick that I’ve got, if you want to call it a tick, motivation, whatever you want to call it of got to prove myself, got to show my love through material goods or whatever, that reared its head. I was like, I’ve got to do something. She’s the only one working. I’ve got to show her I’m worth it. I figured at the end of the day the least I could do was bring food in the house. Get online and get some stolen credit card data and start ordering food and depending on who I’m talking to is when I gloss over that.
Traci Brown: Oh, okay. Alright. Alright.
Brett Johnson: It starts as food. But she’s got two boys, so food turns into, well, the boys need some clothes. I start stealing clothes. I’ll do some nice stuff for Michelle too, so I start stealing clothes. It turns into all this other stuff. It’s that perverted form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Traci Brown: Sure. Yea, yea.
Brett Johnson: I get picked up on a food order is what happened. I ordered steaks from Niman Ranch and just to give them their proper plug, there are no better steaks in the country than Niman Brother Ranch. They’re outstanding.
Traci Brown: Okay. Good to know. Good to know.
Brett Johnson: They’re good. Maybe I can pay them back a little bit. Got picked up on that, and I go back to prison for 10 months. At my sentencing on that, the only people, the only people in the courtroom, I have U.S. Marshalls, the prosecutor, probation officer, the judge, and Michelle. Michelle stands up and she tells the judge that I’m a good man, that I’m a better dad to her kids than their actual father is. I’m sitting there crying. The probation office stands up. We think he’s a good guy. We think it’s just a one-time thing with him. The prosecutor says the exact same thing. I go back for 10 months.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: That’s when I found out, you see most people have, I guess most people, I have this idea that most people have very healthy relationships. I found out that Michelle needed me for me at that point, not what I could give her.
Traci Brown: Not for stuff. Yea.
Brett Johnson: Not for stuff. I had never had that. I had it with my sister, but I never had that in a romantic relationship or anything like that. I found that out about this. Get out after 10 months. We get married shortly after that. I’m off probation so I can touch a computer, but there are no job offers. Who’s going to trust the guy that stole everything?
Traci Brown: Yea.
Brett Johnson: To this day, I know what it takes for me to go back and commit crime. I know what that is, and I knew I would go so far without breaking the law again, so I looked at Michelle and I was like, let me see what I can do. I signed onto LinkedIn, reached to this FBI super cop by the name of Keith Mularski. He was involved with some of the ShadowCrew stuff, Silk Road, all these other major cybercrime busts. I send him a message, and the message was, “Hey, I respect every single thing you did. I think you did an outstanding job. I just wanted you to know that. By the way, I would like to be legal.” The guy, he responded within two hours.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Okay.
Brett Johnson: He took me under his wing, gave me references, advice. He’s retired now, but he does the exact same thing to this day, and that right there was . . . if he hadn’t responded, or he had come with anything else, any other type of response than that, I think I’d probably be back in jail today. But he kind of reinforced the idea that I could do something other than break the law. From there, it was the head of the . . . identity Theft Resource Council, he took me under his wing. Karisse Hendrick, my podcast partner over on Online Fraudcast, she was the first person who gave me a paid speaking job.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: It was all about that. The question comes up whether I’m tempted anymore or anything like that, what happened was, as that was going on, I was still preparing. I didn’t know if it was going to be successful or not. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make a living as a speaker or a consultant.
Traci Brown: Right.
Brett Johnson: Microsoft hears that I’m going to be at this presentation. One of their fraud guys, one of their head fraud guys, he flies down just to talk to me. He pulls me off to the side and they end up giving me a job. About a month or two months into working for them, I hadn’t been breaking the law, but I’d been doing the preparation work, in case everything fails, I can go into synthetic fraud, I can run a marketplace, I can do all this stuff.
Traci Brown: Okay, okay.
Brett Johnson: I was sitting at home. I was back home in Birmingham one night. Everyone was asleep. It was literally an ah-ha moment. It hit me that I was through breaking the law at that point.
Traci Brown: Just like turning a corner.
Brett Johnson: Yea. I knew. I was like, I’m done. I hadn’t reached out to Keith Mularski or anything at that point. About a week after that, I sent him an email and I was like, “I didn’t reach out to you. I didn’t want to have to lie to you. But I just wanted you to know I’m okay now.” Since that point, I’ve not been tempted on anything. It’s like, I don’t know what to say. The reason I’m able to do what I do today, the only thing I’ve done is not break the law. The big thing is that people have given me a chance to use the knowledge I’ve got to help people, instead of hurt people. I go to Quantico twice a year to work at the Academy to talk to the people there. I’m privileged I get to work with AARP. I work with some of the biggest companies in the world, either speaking or consulting with them. I’m not sure I deserve the life that I’ve got, but I’m really damn grateful for it.
Traci Brown: I can tell. Yea.
Brett Johnson: Excuse me. Sorry about that.
Traci Brown: Yea. No. I mean, why wouldn’t a company want in-depth knowledge there as opposed to someone who’s guessing at what goes on.
Brett Johnson: Yea. But I’m very fortunate. I’ve got that going. We’re talking TV now, doing books, everything like that. I’m very blessed. I gave a virtual presentation to USC a few weeks ago and one of the students there, they asked me, they were like, “Do you have any regrets or would you take anything back?” I told the student, I was like, you know, honestly, I look now. I regret a lot. I regret all the victims. I really do. But I don’t think, it’s like every single thing that I’ve done or had done to me has led to what I do now and the person that I am. I like me now. I do. I like the guy I am.
Traci Brown: Virtual high five on that.
Brett Johnson: Yea. I don’t think I would take anything back, but I do have deep regrets about the harm that I caused. There you go.
Traci Brown: Wow. So raw. So raw. What does your wife think of all this?
Brett Johnson: Oh, geez. My poor wife. I have put her through the ringer.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Brett Johnson: Michelle, we moved from Florida to Birmingham because her parents were getting sick and they were in the twilight years. Came up here to take care of them. Her poor dad, right as I was cresting as that legal person, as everything was coming into being is when her dad is diagnosed with liver cancer.
Traci Brown: Ouch.
Brett Johnson: He’s diagnosed with liver cancer. He dies within six weeks of being diagnosed. Her mom dies within nine months of that. Here I am, and Michelle was the one working at that point. At that point in time I was able to say, hey, you don’t worry about working. You do what you need to with your family to take care of them. I can handle this. That’s exactly what she did. She went through all the depression and everything else at that point. She went through all the depression and didn’t see this big change that was going on with Brett Johnson because she was so involved with that. As she’s coming out of that, I’ve done this 180. I’ve been the guy that, I used to be this criminal mind, used to be this kind of hustler dude, didn’t really have any direction, any focus, or anything else like that, so she doesn’t see that change from Brett Johnson not really being driven or focused on anything to all of a sudden it’s bam, bam, bam, bam, now my focus is making sure I’m not remembered as the guy who stole everything. I want to help people. I want to cause as much damage to cybercrime as an environment as I can, everything else like that. She kind of comes out of this haze that she’s been in with depression and sees this guy that she doesn’t know anymore.
Traci Brown: Oh, man. Okay.
Brett Johnson: It caused a lot of stress. I mentioned the thing about me going through the house and pointing out things that were stolen. She’s seeing me doing that. Like, what are you doing?
Traci Brown: You’re throwing out our stuff.
Brett Johnson: Yea. She’s seeing all this, and it resulted in counseling and a lot of marital strife and everything else. We’re coming through it, but what do you do about that? You’re faced with a thing where your parents die. Of course, you’re going to shut off at that point.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Brett Johnson: Then you wake up and the guy that you’ve been married to, he’s gone through a big change all of a sudden.
Traci Brown: Right.
Brett Johnson: He’s traveling all over the place. He’s got phone calls coming in. He’s plotting businesses, everything else like that, and he’s no longer that guy that’s kind of this happy go lucky guy that has no direction. Now he’s like bam, bam, bam. It’s been a huge change. I think we’re working through it, but it’s been a huge change.
Traci Brown: Good. Well, you know, bumps like that always tend to end for the best.
Brett Johnson: That’s true.
Traci Brown: If you’re paying attention, right, to what’s going on inside. It is tough to look inside, no matter if you’ve got stuff going on like what you’re talking about, or even had a good life, or what you would say Pollyanna. There are extremes. It’s brave. It’s really brave.
Brett Johnson: It’s like Nietzsche said, I’m that cereal box philosopher, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Traci Brown: There you go. There you go.
Brett Johnson: Nietzsche or Kanye, one of the two said it.
Traci Brown: Well, yea. I hear yea. He’s got some gems, that guy. Let’s talk about what can people do now. Like how are you helping companies? What can individuals do? Because we started off with, hey, you know what, the economy is going crazy and there are going to be people who have situational values. What are you seeing? What are you hearing about that’s on the rise from fraud out there?
Brett Johnson: Everyone’s talking about it. But the problem is that you really can’t overstate it enough. Coronavirus is something that the fraud community, when I say that I mean the criminals, have never really seen such opportunity before because you’ve got the economy tanking, because you’ve got people that are desperate, people that are scared. You have different information coming in from different news media sources.
Traci Brown: Oh, I know.
Brett Johnson: I read an article yesterday in Forbes, from the CDC to John Hopkins to the White House, they all have different models. No one knows what the hell is going on with this thing. That just sows more desperation, more paranoia, everything else. Because of that, all that has created this. It really is, I’ve said it a few times and I hate to keep saying it, but it really is a perfect, a perfect storm for cybercrime. You’ve got the stimulus checks. The government is so intent on getting those out to the people who need them that there’s not much security around that. As long as you have the person’s social, their date of birth, an address, a phone number, and a way to have the check deposited, as long as that person has not already for the stimulus check, you can steal it. It’s that easy. It’s that easy right now.
Traci Brown: Yikes. Those things are hard to get anyway.
Brett Johnson: They’re hard to get. I don’t have one because I hadn’t filed taxes for this past year. I went and filed taxes, but the criminals, that’s one of the things you find is that the people that deserve and need the checks, they have a much harder time getting them than the criminals do because criminal don’t mind forging documents or lying or anything else like that. Stimulus checks, the loans, the paycheck protection loans, everything else, those are being defrauded now. There was a case last week of two guys in Massachusetts I think where they had got like $500,000 in loans, some stuff like that. They’re indicted now. Well, they were caught. There are all kinds of criminals who aren’t being captured on that right now.
Traci Brown: Oh, right.
Brett Johnson: You’ve got that. You’ve got coronavirus being used to launch phishing attacks, there’s still PII. You’ve got it being used to get people to click on documents to install ransomware or malware on business systems. You’re seeing that. You’re going to continue to see that as long as this pandemic is in the forefront of our society now. That’s the big thing. What do I talk about companies? It’s important to realize that from either a consumer point of view or a company’s point of view, you need to understand what your place is in the cybercrime spectrum because you have a place. It’s not like you can opt out of being a victim of cybercrime. You have a place for that criminal to try to victimize you. What I mean by that is the way that I will victimize you as a criminal differs as a person if you are a CEO or you work payroll compared to if you’ve worked food service for 20 years.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Brett Johnson: I’ll still victimize you, but the way I will victimize you differs. If you’re a CEO or payroll, I’m looking to spearfish you, to build up enough trust so I can engage in business email compromise, to install ransomware on your system, something like that. If you’re food service, I’ll still victimize you. I’ll use your identity to set up bank accounts to launder money. I’ll use it to commit synthetic fraud, something like that. For a business, it’s the same thing. What type of business do you have? Is it a business that I can break in and steal the information and resell it on the black market, or is it information that’s just specific to your company that your company has to have to operate? That will determine whether I steal the information and resell, or I try to lock down the information using ransomware. I’ll still victimize you, but the way I will do that depends on where you are in that cybercrime spectrum. I talk to people about that, get them to understand where they are, and design security around that, around how a criminal will actually attack you.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow, because it’s custom now. It’s not just blanketed anymore.
Brett Johnson: It’s custom. It’s custom. Every vertical is a little bit different, so you need to understand where you sit in that and how criminals will look to victimize you. For people, you mentioned it earlier, the first thing you need to do is freeze the credit. On September 18, 2018, credit freezes became free. They are complicated to set up.
Traci Brown: Yea. It’s a pain in the ass.
Brett Johnson: The credit bureaus, they hide the links. They want you to pay for monitoring, everything else like that. Credit freezes are free. You need to freeze the credit of every single person in the house, including the kids because kids are the number one victims of identity theft, 25%.
Traci Brown: Oh, yea, and you never know because the kids aren’t out trying to buy stuff.
Brett Johnson: Right. You never know. Freeze the credit of every single person in the house. Understand that a credit freeze only stops new account fraud. For children, it’s outstanding. For adults, it’s only new account fraud. Even if you’ve got your credit frozen, I could still use your stolen credit card information to buy products. You have to monitor all accounts as well. That means email, bank, credit card, tax records, retail merchant log ins. You monitor all accounts. Where you can, you place alerts on those accounts so you can be notified if anything changes on the account. The third thing is the big one, I mean all those are big ones, but the other really big one is 80% of every single person on the planet uses the same password and login on multiple websites. That’s this whole idea of what’s called credential stuffing because I may send out a phishing email that looks like it comes from Bank of America. You’ll get the email and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh, that’s obviously a phishing attempt. I’m not going to fall for that.” Your level of awareness is really high on financial matters like that. But if I send out a phishing email that looks like it comes from Hulu, is your level of awareness going to be the same? Probably not. You’re probably going to say, “Hulu? Does anyone even watch Hulu? The only thing they’ve got is The Handmaid’s Tale. That second season sucked.” But if you use the same password and login, then that 400-pound kid in his mom’s basement, it’s an automated program, he goes to sleep one night, he’s got the login and password plugged in and it hits multiple websites to see what it works on. He wakes up the next morning. He’s got your bank account, your credit card, your tax records, everything else across the board. It’s important that we practice good password security. What that means right now is a password manager. I don’t care which one you use, just use one of them. There are a few, like Apple’s got one that’s built into the browser, but use a password manager. It takes all of that problem of proper secure passwords out of your hand. Those are the three big ones. Other than that, it’s about being diligent. The way a scam works, and it does not matter whether you’re scamming a company or a consumer, the way a scam works is the criminal is going to try to layer enough trust variables up there that you don’t continue to dive deeper until you find out that it’s fake, that it’s a scam.
Traci Brown: Okay, okay.
Brett Johnson: It’s important that you do proper research, that anyone who calls you, shows up at your door, you get snail mail, whatever that looks like, if they end up asking you, if it’s an unsolicited request for information, access, data, or cash, that you never respond. Never. It’s about being diligent, vigilant enough and understanding that even though you’re signed on for a security company, either as a company or as an individual, whether it be LifeLock, Identity Guard, what have you, that you still understand that your security is your responsibility. No one company is going to save you. You still have to take an active role in your security as well.
Traci Brown: Absolutely. The folks at ID Shield reached out to me.
Brett Johnson: Oh, yea.
Traci Brown: They actually have a really good product.
Brett Johnson: They do.
Traci Brown: I’ve gone through the weeds of it. Yea. They’re helping me out a little bit here now.
Brett Johnson: They’re good. They’re a good company. They understand and they do a good job, but they can’t protect you from everything. It’s also . . .
Traci Brown: It’s true.
Brett Johnson: It’s your responsibility to also be diligent in your security.
Traci Brown: Well, yea. One of the things they do that’s kind of neat is they’ll have private investigators that will actually take up the fight for you, so you don’t have to spend hours on the phone.
Brett Johnson: You’ve got to love it.
Traci Brown: With the IRS and everything. Yea, that was one of the big things.
Brett Johnson: I’ll tell you what. I don’t have . . . I use Mint. I was compromised. My card was compromised. I was driving to Atlanta to catch an airplane to go to India. I was compromised on the drive over. Here I am, trying to chase all this down, trying to figure it up, and when you talk about a company that will take care of that for you, that makes all the difference in the world because you’re trying to do business and everything else and you really don’t have the time to chase down all the leads and call all the companies and inform them of everything.
Traci Brown: And sit on hold and the whole thing.
Brett Johnson: That makes a world of difference. It truly does.
Traci Brown: Yea. That’s kind of a new thing. It’s kind of cool. We’ll see. Have that relationship move forward, but yea, yea. Brett, I’ve got to tell you, you’ve been just a gem and really taking . . .
Brett Johnson: Well, I took up too much time.
Traci Brown: We might end up splitting it – I don’t know – into a couple episodes. But thank you so much. We’ve got to have you back.
Brett Johnson: Absolutely, Traci. I’d love it.
Traci Brown: Keep us posted on the latest scams. Tell everyone, what are your podcasts, how can they get a hold of you, the whole thing.
Brett Johnson: Alright, so the podcast, first is the OnlineFraudcast. That’s at OnlineFraudcast.com. It’s also on Spotify and iTunes. That basically deals with – actually, we’re redoing some of that where it’s going to handle all the different types of fraud. It has been strictly just merchant-based fraud for small businesses, but it’s going to handle all types of fraud, for the consumer and merchants. The other podcast is the AnglerPhish podcast which has been talking – the first season is the Brett Johnson live story. The second season so far has been bringing people in and talking about cybersecurity or the difficult issues that our society faces. That’s going to be re-tweaked over the next couple weeks to add a few more elements as well. I’m also launching a YouTube channel on Cybercrime 101. That will launch in the next 10 days and that’s going to be talking about little videos of these small scams, these opportunistic type of scams that are being committed that are kind of on the unethical lives people lead, how to protect against them, what you can do to identify that, and hopefully it will be popular as well. We’ll see.
Traci Brown: Oh yea. I think you’ve got a chance at it because I mean, there’s a need.
Brett Johnson: I hope.
Traci Brown: There is a need out there. People can find you on LinkedIn. You’re easy to find.