What is it like to be a world-renowned cybercriminal and what motivates them? Today’s guest referred to as the original internet Godfather shares his experience running a cybercriminal empire, going on the run, and ultimately turning his life around.
Brett Johnson was responsible for refining modern financial cybercrime as we know it today. After being placed on the United States’ Most Wanted list, captured and convicted of 39 felonies, Brett promptly escaped prison. Captured again, Brett served his time, accepted responsibility, and found redemption through his loved ones and the help of the FBI.
Today he is considered a leading authority on internet crime, identity theft, and cybersecurity. Brett speaks and consults around the world to help protect people and organizations from the type of person he used to be.
- [1:11] – Brett starts telling his story by summing up why he got the title, “The Original Internet Godfather.” What really got him the title was him building the first organized cybercrime community called ShadowCrew.
- [2:24] – Brett ran both ShadowCrew and CounterfeitLibrary. The other primary cybercrime site that he did not run was CarderPlanet.
- [3:14] – ShadowCrew and CounterfeitLibrary were run like forums and marketplaces to connect and network with other criminals.
- [4:37] – Brett was arrested in 2005 and was offered a job to work with the Secret Service, but chose to continue pursuing criminal activity and eventually made his way onto the United States Most Wanted List.
- [5:40] – Secret Service used a Trigger Fish, now called a Stingray, which locates targeted cell phones in a specific area. This device was used to find Brett at Disney World and to arrest him.
- [7:37] – Brett shares the experience of his car and house being searched and how his choices got him caught.
- [9:54] – Brett’s tendency to break the law started when he was 10 years old and his mom was also a criminal. He shares a lot of his childhood background in shoplifting.
- [12:13] – Although he started shoplifting as a child, Brett says that as an adult, he made the choice to continue criminal activity.
- [13:32] – Brett’s first cybercrime was on eBay by posting a Beanie Baby for sale, requiring the buyer to send a money order that couldn’t be canceled, and sent her an item that did not match the post.
- [16:07] – Brett kept going and his eBay crimes led to pirated software, which led to modchips, which led to programming satellite DSS cards.
- [17:40] – After bringing in several thousand dollars per week under his real name, Brett got scared he would get caught, so he shares his story about getting a fake ID to open a bank account.
- [18:17] – Brett’s fear of being abandoned became a reality when his wife left him.
- [19:36] – Brett remarried a stripper who was an addict. Through all of his crimes, his second marriage caused his sister to disown him.
- [21:06] – It took several years of not speaking to his sister and justifying his actions for Brett to realize that he was in prison because he chose to break the law.
- [22:08] – For three after being released from prison on probation in 2011, he couldn’t get a job because he wasn’t allowed to use a computer.
- [23:13] – Brett met his current wife during this time and moved in with her. He was able to find a job doing yard work.
- [24:00] – Although he was doing better, during the winter months when there was no yard work to do, he got online to find stolen credit card information and started making orders. He went back to prison for 10 months.
- [25:24] – After his 10 months, he got married, and started to turn his life around. He contacted an FBI agent for job advice and now he feels he is living a blessed life.
- [26:40] – Now Brett does a lot of consulting and hosts a few podcasts. He also works with AARP and other types of organizations.
- [28:19] – A big misconception people have about cybercriminals is that they are very educated and can hack into anything. But 98% of cybercriminals out there are really good social engineers and know-how to manipulate someone using technology and psychology.
- [29:56] – The number 1 group for identity theft is children.
- [30:51] – Most people use the same password across multiple accounts. Brett says to always use a password manager.
- [32:38] – The reason a scam works is because the scammer and the victim are on opposite sides of the field. The scammer works to get the victim to his side by establishing trust through technology and social engineering.
- [34:36] – How good is the scammer at establishing trust with a victim using the technology they have?
- [37:09] – The scammer’s job is to make sure the victim is not thinking objectively.
- [37:50] – People like to trust. Generally, people like to see the best in people. Brett says to trust, but verify.
- [39:08] – In his experience as a consultant, Brett has found that most victims suspect something might be a scam but alienate themselves from telling anyone out of embarrassment as society tends to blame the victim.
- [42:16] – Chris asks Brett when a scammer stops caring about the victims and only cares about the money. Brett answers that it depends on whether or not the scammer is a sociopath. He says that most scammers are not and come to believe their own justifications.
- [44:18] – There’s no beneficial thing about being a criminal.
- [44:50] – Be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to security.
Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review.