Nathan Ford, an ex-insurance investigator, sits alone at an airport bar awaiting his flight. Another man, who we later learn is Victor Dubenich of Bering Aerospace, walks in, with a request. After gratuitously listing off some of Ford's biggest saves while he was with his former employers (and alluding to how wrong they were for destroying his family), Dubenich asks if he will steal back airplane designs that had been stolen from Bering by its main rival - Pierson Avionics.
As Dubenich explains his predicament-he will lose major money, perhaps his job, if these plans are still gone when the shareholders' meeting goes on at the end of the month-he reveals that he's already hired three thieves for the job. Ford's responsibility, as the sole "good guy" of the group, will be to make sure they stay honest as they work together to lift the designs from Pierson. As it turns out, Ford is familiar with all three because he's chased them in his former life at one time or another, so he knows the catch-they don't play well with others. At all. Dubenich senses his hesitance, but hits one out of the park when he mentions Pierson is insured by IYS, Ford's old employer-the old employer who allowed his son to die. If Ford takes the job and succeeds, they will lose millions on the hefty Pierson account. Game on.
As Ford leads the group from a secure location across the street from Pierson headquarters, we meet the crew. Alex Hardison is the internet and computer fraud specialist, aka the techno geek, who's been hacking everything from credit card accounts to computer mainframes since high school. Eliot Spencer is the retrieval specialist, meaning if someone (or thirteen someones) stand in the way of the prize, he'll remove them from the situation without breaking a sweat or being polite. Parker is the somewhat insane, completely dedicated infiltration specialist who hasn't ever found anything she can't steal or place she can't break in to.
As the team works towards getting the designs, each person each shows off his or her individual talents and abilities. However, Hardison, Spencer, and Parker learn a valuable lesson in thievery along the way-nothing ever goes according to plan. Leaving the building isn't going to be as easy as they had originally thought after building security senses a problem, but, luckily, Ford's prepared with a backup plan or two. Thanks to him being prepared, everybody makes it out-together.
After the heist, Hardison sends the designs to Bering and the group happily parts ways for what they thing will be the last time...
...until Ford gets a frantic call from Dubenich first thing in the morning saying that the plan was never delivered. Dubenich tells him to meet him at an old warehouse outside of the city where they will discuss the situation. When Ford arrives, he finds Hardison, Spencer, and Parker arguing over the fact that none of them got paid. After a moment, they all realize why they were told to meet at the factory...and escape seconds before it explodes into a ball of flames!
The crew wakes up in the hospital in police custody and handcuffed to their beds. After an ingenious escape where they all once again show how well their individual skills mesh, they head to Ford's apartment to figure out what the hell is going on. Thanks to Hardison's internet research, they realize that Dubenich played them-they weren't actually stealing airplane designs back for Bering, but just plain stealing them from Pierson. Ford convinces the other three that payback, not dropping off of the map, is the way to go. Before they can do that, though, they need to recruit one more team member because Dubenich knows their faces. Perhaps the worst actress in the history of theater, Sophie Devereaux's real stage is the world-a world where she can con anybody into doing anything. Ford spent some time chasing her in his past life and, intrigued by her old nemesis playing on her side, it doesn't take much to convince her to join up.
This is where the Nigerians come into play. With Ford running the operation and Hardison manning the computer at the apartment, Sophie meets Dubenich as Anna Gonstadt, a representative from a private business consortium in Africa, interested in infrastructure development and economic renewal. While he initially shows major skepticism, she manages to get him out of his office to explain that the Nigerian government is interested in using Bering to revitalize their airline industry and use the company as a means to manufacture new airplanes in their country. When Dubenich declines, Sophie/Anna plays her biggest card-she promises to take her offer to Pierson. Dubenich takes the bait and agrees to meet with the Nigerians.
Later that night while relaxing before their big day, Ford reveals to Spencer that his son died because his insurance company-the company he worked for-wouldn't pay for his medical treatment. They deemed it "experimental." Sophie also shows that their might be a little bit more professional excitement brewing between her and Ford...
After averting a major snafu when Dubenich shows up early to the office building where Sophie/Anna told him the African Commercial Transport and Trade Initiative office is located, even though no such office exists, the Nigerian officials and Dubenich meet. They come to agreeable terms to do business together and, after Sophie/Anna mentions the "other matter," a Nigerian official hands her an envelope, to which she then hands to Dubenich. It is a note stating what the Nigerians' would like Bering to pay as a "finder's fee"-a monetary guarantee that the company will work solely with them. Dubenich agrees to pay the $1 million stated in the message, but not without being aware that someone is trying to scam him into doing something illegal. He makes a phone call to the FBI after getting back to his office to let them know that men posing as Nigerian government officials are trying to bribe him.
The Bering shareholders' meeting takes place the following day and, to Dubenich's delight, Sophie/Anna and the Nigerians are there. He offers to seal the deal right there and then, and brings them into a conference room where he promptly calls in the FBI to make the arrest...except they move in to take him into custody for soliciting a bribe from Nigerian government officials. Dubenich, shocked, discovers that, yes, the men actually are Nigerian officials-but he's even more shocked that Sophie/Anna (who has disappeared from the scene) contacted them as his assistant, not the other way around as she presented it to him. Thanks to Ford's team, the officials thought they were meeting at Bering's other office while Dubenich thought he was meeting at the African Commercial Transport and Trade Initiative office.
From here, the shareholders' meeting falls apart. In front of all of them, it is announced that Dubenich deposited a $200,000 check that he was "handed" in his meeting with the officials. Of course, Dubenich never actually received the check-Sophie/Anna switched it with the message that said "1,000,000," which was the amount he thought he was being asked to pay. So, he was allegedly taking money from a foreign government which, for a company that has US government defense contracts, is a major no-no. This is why he will be spending some time in prison and why everybody in the offices of Bering frantically shred thousands of pages of business transactions.
Ford then meets with the head of Pierson Avionics to return the airplane designs the crew stole and receives a promise-that Pierson will drop the investigation into who took them. When asked why he doesn't want money, Ford say, "This project has a different revenue stream." This is when he places a call to Dubenich to let him know that, as Bering's stock plummets very publicly right in front of him, he has his team are making a lot of money. Staggering amounts, actually. Through somewhat of a small threat, Ford makes Dubenich realize that trying to mess with them from here on out will lead to much worse things.
After the crew sees how much money they've received because of this job-"retirement money"-they part ways...but not for long. One by one, Hardison, Parker, Spencer, and Sophie make it quite clear that they don't want this to be the end. They had too much fun and made too much money to walk away now. If Ford can find powerless individuals who have been wronged by the powerfully corrupt, they will all-as one-provide leverage.