Jordan shares the seedier side of his origin story — from hacking phones and buying pizza with fake credit card numbers to catching online predators and understanding the fundamentals of social engineering — with Jack Rhysider (@JackRhysider) of Darknet Diaries.
[Featured art by habblesthecat]
What Jack and Jordan Discuss:
- What Jordan learned about the mysterious workings of the adult mind when he hacked into telephone calls as a youngster.
- How the allure of easy fraud through technology put Jordan on the FBI’s radar — when he was still in middle school.
- How Jordan traded his ability to build a private security company’s website for hardcore martial arts training.
- What Jordan did to help the FBI catch pedophiles online at a time when cybercrime wasn’t yet taken seriously.
- The third-path advice from Jordan’s law firm mentor that changed the way he looked at work forever.
- And much more…
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Darknet Diaries is a podcast about hackers, breaches, shadow government activity, hacktivism, cybercrime, and all the things that dwell on the hidden parts of the network.
On this episode, Jordan shares his origin story with Darknet Diaries host Jack Rhysider. There’s phone hacking, credit card fraud, setting traps for pedophiles, social engineering, and even pizza! Listen, learn, and enjoy (and make sure to check out other episodes of Darknet Diaries here)!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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THANKS, JACK RHYSIDER!
If you enjoyed this session with Jack Rhysider of Darknet Diaries, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Darknet Diaries
- Jack Rhysider | Twitter
- habblesthecat (Artwork) | Instagram
- Detroit Red Wings
- Little Caesars
- Ice Cube | Twitter
- Diddy | Twitter
- To Catch a Predator | Wikipedia
353: Jordan Harbinger - A Darknet Diaries Origin Story
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. Today on the show, a bonus episode where I'm actually being interviewed about my origin story or part of it on the Darknet Diaries podcast. If this is your first episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show, you might want to try another episode and come back to this one later as this episode is significantly different than our usual episodes, which I actually host.
[00:00:28] Normally on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant people. And turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave. We want you to become a better thinker. And if you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, you'll be right at home here with us.
[00:01:01] The opportunity to be on Darknet Diaries was a result of my relationship with the host Jack. If you want to increase your surface area for luck and opportunities like this, and learn to create and maintain relationships using systems and tiny habits so it doesn't feel overwhelming or feel like a load of work, check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they actually subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:01:31] Now, here's me, Jordan Harbinger as a guest on the Darknet Diaries podcast. Enjoy.
Jack Rhysider: [00:01:39] Hey, it's Jack, host of the show. We're about to hear a story from a friend of mine, Jordan. Jordan is one of those guys that has a million stories. Like his life is just filled with crazy adventures. Like this one time he was traveling and got kidnapped, but then escaped. Then on another trip he was kidnapped again and escaped again. He's also been in North Korea I think a few times. But today, he's going to tell us the story about a time when he was a teenager and got a visit from the FBI.
[00:02:11] These are true stories from the dark side of the internet. I'm Jack Rhysider. This is Darknet Diaries.
[00:02:37] When Jordan was a kid, like many of us, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with himself. He was smart, energetic, clever, bored, and sometimes rascal. You mix all that up and you get a kid that constantly got in trouble and was into a lot of mischief. It seemed like he didn't know right from wrong. Sometimes it might just be a bad seed going down a bad path.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:00] There was a time when my mom was crying in the kitchen and it was one of the lowest points in my life. And she was crying in the kitchen because she thought that her son was going to screw his whole life up. And he had a lot of promise and she didn't understand why, and she thought maybe it was her fault and she had no idea. And there was a time when I thought I can't be an employee or I can't get this stuff straight, or maybe I am going to not be able to resist my own BS urges and end up doing something stupid and ended up in prison, committing fraud to buy something dumb that I didn't even need.
Jack Rhysider: [00:03:36] We've all made mistakes when we were young. Our brain is just not fully formed yet. When you look at a young kid doing bad things, is there a way to tell if they're really bad or deep down good? Curious kids get in trouble. Kids, who think the world is strange or inefficient, get in trouble. Telling the kids who know how to play by society's rules that do good as kids. But maybe some of us don't know how to play by the rules properly until we get in proper trouble. Or maybe it just takes the right person at the right time to make a serious impact on a young mind. Let's go back to the early '90s when Jordan was 12 or 13 when he got his first computer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:20] And of course, I got a modem and what I ended up doing was going on a lot of bulletin board systems, networking my way on there, literally and figuratively. I don't mean like networking in the computer sense. I mean, making friends with people online who lived in Detroit and talking about crazy, zany topics and having a lot of fun and chatting about adult things. At this point, I really get interested in making things that explode. Now you can't do that without getting your door kicked in by the FBI, but back then it was like, oh, Drano bombs, hilarious. Right? And, ah, this kind of like bottle rocket or model rocket that you've attached to the explosive payload too, so funny. You can make a big boom and the whole neighborhood freaks out and the windows rattle and everyone's like, "That kid." Nobody's like, "Al Qaeda." That's what they do now, right? They go, "Domestic terrorism!" Back then it was just, "You, redneck punk."
[00:05:15] So I start getting a reputation as the guy that has all of those recipes for everything. And I got every text file. They were .txt files of every kind of like device, box, explosive everything. And so what my move was is I would sign up to a new board and I would -- the sysop would have to approve you -- you sign up for the new board and bulletin board system. And then at some point I'd say, "Look, you should let me in. I have. 10,000 or a thousand or whatever it was, files about red boxes, blue boxes, explosives, all this stuff." And a lot of people had some of it, but not many people had like all of it that you could possibly find anywhere. I was an avid collector of this.
Jack Rhysider: [00:06:05] At 13, and he's already developing like an encyclopedic knowledge of explosives, stuff that he's probably shouldn't be getting into at that age. But people on these bulletin boards thought he was cool, so the admins would ask him to upload what he had, and he did.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:21] And these sysops have these great pirate boards or little hacker boards that were just kind of like small-time or medium-time, I guess you could say, they were stoked. Sometimes boards would go, "Hey man, you have so much of this. I need you to curate it. I'm going to make you an assistant sysadmin after a couple of months. Can you organize this and make it really cool? I want to make this kind of an HQ. Our board has the most of this stuff now, anywhere that I've ever seen." And these are boards that also had games and stuff like that. They were pretty elite for my area back in Detroit. And I remember they were always busy and they had multiple phone lines. I mean, these were freaking legit, man.
Jack Rhysider: [00:06:57] Jordan started meeting some of these people from online in real life, and he would get together and meet with them in Detroit. But these guys were into something that Jordan hadn't seen before. They liked jumping into trash cans and looking for stuff, dumpster diving. They were looking for something particular. No, they weren't trying to find free pizzas or day-old bread. They were looking for something a little more interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:24] The guys were like, "Hey, you know what we're dumpster diving for? These electronic serial numbers. You want to see what we do with them?" And I was like, "Sure." So I started learning how to program cell phones. And that was the beginning of the journey.
Jack Rhysider: [00:07:36] Jordan was up for this kind of stuff. Heck, yeah! As a teenager hanging out in the town with the older kids who knew how to hack cell phones, who also accepted Jordan, Jordan was in with the cool kids and things were getting exciting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:50] Other things I started learning how to do wear diagram and learn a lot about phone systems. We called it phreaking back then. Of course, you spelled it with a PH because you were very cool and elite. What I started to realize was cloning cell phones was really fun, and listening to cell phone conversations was really easy. I think I had like an NEC P301 or an NEC P300 or both. Somehow, you could get that to scan cell phone channels and you could listen to one side of the conversation. I think it was just one side. You could scan for channels because everything's analog. Nothing's encrypted, nothing's really secure. And I thought that was fascinating, but you would lose them as they went out of reception. And I think I really do remember you were only getting one side of the conversation.
Jack Rhysider: [00:08:35] Jordan continued to play around with the phones trying to hack payphones and cell phones and landlines, everything. One day, he saw a telephone repair truck parked. Of course, this caught his attention. Jordan was super into phone hacking at this point and would have loved to get his hands on some of the pro tools that a lineman would have. So Jordan watched the lineman go off to lunch and he snuck over to the truck. He saw an Ameritech handset, the ones linemen used to test telephone boxes with. He grabbed it and ran.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:12] And it has alligator clips, the orange handset, right? It has alligator clips on the end. So I went in and then I made a hex wrench or whatever kind of wrench it was to open those green boxes on the side of the road. There was one that had bushes near it and they hadn't trimmed the bushes in a while. They were supposed to do that, but they didn't. So I could dump my bike and sit in or near the bushes and not be spotted from the road, open up the green box, plug the alligator clips onto whatever line pair I wanted, and I can listen to conversations all day in my neighborhood. I would spend like four and six hours listening to conversations in my neighborhood.
[00:09:46] Geez, spending that many hours listening to people's conversations, weird. A lot of conversations were boring calls. Someone calling their spouse, "What's for dinner, honey? Or "Do you need anything from the store?" That kind of stuff. But as Jordan hung out listening to these calls, he started to get hooked on one guy in particular. This guy who made a lot of calls in his neighborhood was going through a divorce and living with his mom.
Jack Rhysider: [00:10:13] He would whine to his mom or his aunt, I guess all the time on the phone. He would whine to his sister on the phone. He would act really tough with his friends on the phone. And when he was talking to his soon-to-be ex-wife, he was just outright hostile. And I remember thinking, even at age 13 age 14, if he just talked to as soon-to-be ex-wife the same way he talks to his sister or his mom, he wouldn't be in this situation, which is kind of a funny insight for an adolescent tween to have. And so I listened to every bit of this guy's phone calls that I possibly could. I remember my butt was just hurting. I would go out, even if it was raining.
[00:10:56] This sneaky peek into the personal lives of adults change Jordan a little. It was enlightening and educational to hear real conversations like this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:06] But what was interesting about it for me as a kid was when you're a kid, you don't get to participate in adult conversations and if stuff's getting heavy, you're not around. They wait for you to leave or they tell you to leave. So this was the first conversation or set of conversations where I was actually hearing what adults were really like. And I remember in my young brain, adults in this guy especially transformed from this sort of two-dimensional caricature to a real person with feelings and situations and problems and concerns and ideas just like me.
[00:11:38] And coming from the position of a self-centered kid that was a novel revelation. It made no sense to me at first and then it slowly opened me up. It allowed me to look at people in a completely different light and have more empathy. And I remember taking these skills with me to school and talking with more adults and them saying like, "Oh, you're so ahead of your time." I was learning so much from all of these phone conversations and that's what really got me interested in people. Once you get interested in people, but you're at the age where mischief is really taking root, the next logical step is social engineering.
Jack Rhysider: [00:12:15] Jordan continued to listen to phone calls for a while and was still actively uploading text files to BBSs, full of bomb-making recipes. And he thought, maybe this isn't a good idea. Maybe the cops are watching me upload this stuff. Maybe it's not so cool to put all this explosive information on the BBSs but the cops didn't contact Jordan. They just left him alone.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:37] But I have no doubt that they were following my connections and my people online. And I remember being on the phone, chatting voice, as we used to say, with some of the people who are operating other boards, and they would be like, "Wait, there's somebody at the door." And I remember them being like, "Hang up the phone." Then I wouldn't hear from them for like weeks. And I'd be like, "What happened?" They'd be like, "Dude, the FBI came." I can't talk to anyone. I'm not doing anything. The board would go down, all that stuff. These guys would get so scared. It was fun for me in an exciting way because that was just on the outside of this.
Jack Rhysider: [00:13:11] As the forums, he would frequent would go down, he started checking out some other websites and forums that he knew about. And when Jordan started learning about something, he has a tendency to dive deep into it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:23] I also, of course, was looking at the way that credit card systems work and payment systems work. I had this little racket going where I could order books using a money order. I could wait for them to get the money order and wait for them to go and take care of the money order and deposit it or so they thought, and send out the stuff. There was this little lag between then and I would call to get confirmation. Most people don't do that. They just wait for things to be shipped to them. I would call, find out they received the money order, immediately bike over to the drug store and cancel the money order and get my cash back.
[00:14:01] There was just enough of a lag. It was probably just a couple of days where they would send out the stuff, but I would still have my money. They would not know that it had been canceled, but you could cancel it right away. Turn in that little stub and it would be done. You'd get your cash right then. It was this easy glitch in the system that was so obvious to me as a kid, and I would get a ton of free stuff, usually books. I remember I ordered some more expensive stuff, but the problem is you have to have the money first to get a money order. So I was pretty limited in what I was able to do.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:14:38] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:42] This episode is sponsored in part by HostGator. Your dream is an idea until you take action on it and the best action you can take for you or your business is to start a website, and I recommend HostGator. HostGator makes starting a website simple and affordable. A website legitimizes you to your customers and, well, to yourself, depending on who you are. A business without a website is like having a single lemonade stand on the side of the road. But a business with a website is like having a lemonade stand inside every single person's pocket. Who's going to sell more lemonade? A website also offers longevity. Social media apps come and go and they're in walled gardens, but your website will always remain as the backbone of your business. There was a thing a few years ago where all these people had built-up Facebook pages and they'd paid to acquire the likes and they got all these likes, and now you have to pay to access that audience. That kind of sucks. Same thing with social media pages or sites or accounts of any kind of. Websites are obviously yours. You own them. You can redo them any way you want. It's important to get your website up as soon as possible. Reserve that domain, get your brand out there. It motivates you to take the next step towards your dream. It can lead to opportunities while you sleep. Your domain isn't going to sit around and neither should you act now. Build your website. It's easy, affordable, and secure. HostGator hosts over two million domains. They've got tech support 24/7, 365. And they've got one-click WordPress and 45-day money-back guarantee. Jason.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:26] Go to fool.com/jordan. That's F-O-O-L.com/jordan and try it out for just $99. That's just $1.90 a week, $99 for one year of unlimited access. If you're not satisfied, just cancel within 30 days. That's fool.com/jordan.
[00:17:43] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. And to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don't miss a single thing. And now back to the show.
Jack Rhysider: [00:18:17] Quick side story, when I was 13, I was mad at my mom about something. She gave me an old checkbook and a pair of scissors and told me to cut up the checks since we weren't going to use those checks anymore. She didn't want thieves stealing the checks. Well, me being mad at her and a little mischief-maker myself, I didn't quite understand this and I got into my head that somehow the checks were money. Money is confusing as a kid. It's not clear if the check itself is money, or credit card is money, or just cash is money, or where the money is and how it moves around and how is it tied to one thing or another. What the heck is money? I was 13 and didn't know. I took these checks and didn't rip them up.
[00:19:00] And after school one day, I went to an ice cream shop and asked, "Do you accept checks?" The clerk said, "Uh, yeah." So I did my best to try to write a check out. Didn't do it very well at all. I'm sure I gave it to them. My hand was probably shaking. I had no idea if what I was doing would get me in trouble with this or what, but I just did it. I knew I was breaking some kind of rule just for a sweet lick of some ice cream. The manager came out and looked at the check and told me, "Where's your mom?" I grabbed the check and ran out of there, ripped up the checks, and never tried this again. But what if this did work and a small win got me a lick of ice cream with a stolen check? I probably would have done it again, and who knows where I would have ended up.
[00:19:52] So I can absolutely see Jordan here having great success with the money orders and to just go ahead. Take it further, look for what's next, what's bigger. And that's when he got curious about credit cards. Being on these dark and seedy forums, he came across full credit card numbers and credit card generators that would just make up fake credit card numbers. He found a credit card number online. It didn't have an expiration date or, so he just made it up. He tried to order something small over the phone, paying with credit card, and it worked. He got the item shipped to his house with a stolen credit card. Amazing. Jordan was onto something new here.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:33] One time, I decided to go big and I called from a payphone and used a credit card and I ordered pizza for the next day for my entire middle school. I gave the guy instructions. I thought about this ahead of time. I said, "You know what you need to do? Come in, start putting pizza down. Don't go to the office, just come straight into the lunchroom, start putting a pizza down on every table. And eventually one of the women is going to come up to you and say, 'Excuse me, what are you doing?' Or something like that. And that's when you say, "Happy birthday, Mrs. Jacobson.'" Because she was the assistant principal who was also our lunch monitor and I knew that she would be the one to go up and say, "Excuse me, what are you doing?"
[00:21:09] So what happened, of course, was I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I told one friend who was a freaking idiot, still is an idiot actually, and he told everybody. Everybody knew and when that pizza van showed up, that guy got mobbed and kids started housing that pizza. And of course, when the principal came up, the assistant principal came up and said, "What are you doing?" He said, "Happy birthday, Mrs. Jacobson." And the whole school started laughing and she was pissed. She took them to the office and the police came. They were unhappy. They called me into the office multiple times. They blamed everyone but me, and eventually they had nothing on me other than rumor. They were going to take one of my other friends who didn't do anything. He had nothing to do with it. They were going to take him down. They said, "We're going to expel you."
Jack Rhysider: [00:22:00] Seeing someone else getting in trouble for his crime, he had to come clean.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:05] The cop said, "Well, all right, I want to find out. How did you do this?" I explained everything and they said, "Man, we got to tell the FBI because you used a card that belonged to somebody else. We can't reach the person who owns the card." I kept saying, "Look, I made the card number up." "You're using a name. Of course, you found somebody with that name in Florida." "It's a coincidence. I used a fake name. What are you talking about?" And they just could not wrap their minds around this. So the FBI agent came, and I'm sure he was pissed because he had to drive up from the office in Detroit to interview a 14-year-old kid. After I explained everything, he said, "Look, you're seemingly pretty intelligent. Why did you do this?" And I said, "I wanted to pull a fun prank." And he goes, "This is going to get you in deep trouble." And he said, "But you should focus your energy on something else. I'm not going to do anything with this. You got to figure out how to pay back the damages for the pizza. You've got to call the pizza place. You've got to deal with this. I'll deal with the credit card company. They might want to do something with this, but I doubt it. It's petty. But keep your nose clean, man. You probably have a bright future ahead of you if you stopped pulling this crap." And it made sense to me.
[00:23:15] It made sense to me. Every other adult was just pissed. They were embarrassed. Their ego was damaged. This was the only guy who was like, "Huh, this is not the dumbest thing I've ever had to investigate." Right? And that to me, gave me a little boost of confidence not to keep doing bad stuff, but to maybe focus on something healthier instead. The assistant principal wanted to throw the book at me. The cops didn't really seem to want to do that, and the FBI definitely didn't want to, and I'm thankful for that. As much as we in this community might make fun of or ribbed Feds, these are not bad guys. They were much more interested in trying to keep me on the straight and narrow and utilize my knowledge than they were in trying to get me into some kind of trouble. And I'm extremely thankful for that because it would have been easier or just as easy for them to just book me for some sort of dumb crime and ruin my chances of getting into college. Instead, I ended up with a letter of recommendation from one of them. I mean, what are the odds of that?
Jack Rhysider: [00:24:22] Jordan had a bit of a habit. He really did enjoy going to these shady forums where he saw batches of credit cards with holograms being bought and sold. He watched out of curiosity, but stopped short of participating in criminal activity. His brush with the police and FBI had convinced him not to make fake credit cards. He took a job at the local movie theater and designed websites on the side.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:45] One of the movie theaters that I worked at was owned by the owner of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. And that guy was one of the wealthiest men in the world, actually at the time, certainly one of the wealthiest guys in the United States because he owned the Red Wings, but he also owned a Little Caesars Pizza and the whole chain. His daughter owned this theater. They had some theft or some issue at the theater and so they had security come around and when they couldn't find a regular security guy, Mike Ilitch -- the owner, the daughter's father, the owner that Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza -- he would send his sort of in-house private investigator.
Jack Rhysider: [00:25:24] A private investigator investigating a theft at the theater Jordan worked at. That is interesting, right? Jordan was curious to know more about what a private investigator does, so he starts chatting with him. They got to talking about all kinds of stuff, martial arts, websites, crime. One day, Jordan mentioned to him that he knows how to build websites. That was sort of a rare skill back then. The PI gave Jordan a chance to build a website for his friend's security company.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:52] They were kind of doing, on the one hand, security for the neighborhood, the apartment buildings, and different commercial buildings. But on the other hand, they were legit vigilante in Detroit, tackle drug dealers, tie them up and take them to the police station and collect a bounty or just arrest dangerous people in the neighborhood. That's what these guys were doing back then. And I wanted in, man. That was exciting. I had a car at this point. In exchange for designing a website for the security company. They were training me in martial arts, which were like real martial arts, not like do-a-kata karate, break a piece of wood. They were showing me stuff nobody was talking about that they had learned in the Israeli military. I met some hard dudes back then. They were usually ex-military and they were in executive protection. We would end up, and by we, I mean, I would either drive or be like completely back in the office's logistics, but we would have like Ice Cube, Puff Daddy come in for a concert and they would protect him. And I handled like our phone systems, our computer stuff. I did a lot of the driving.
[00:27:00] I was actually the only white guy for a long time in the office and I'd gotten straight A's. So my dad, who worked for Ford was like, "Well, if you get straight A's all three years until your junior year, until your senior year, I'll rent you an SUV or a car that you want." I chose an SUV. It wasn't that fancy, but you know, he's an employee at Ford. He got a great deal on it. I was really thankful for that. This was a bad ass car.
[00:27:23] So I drove around and I drove our agents around in this. It was easy because a lot of them were busy doing client work, things like that. And I was able to drive my car and transport agents around. Some of them, honestly, 20/20 hindsight, probably we're not supposed to be driving, probably had either felonies or had lost their license or just didn't have a car. There were some shady people in this executive protection company and I was pretty clean. I'd get pulled over at night and the cost would be like, "All right, have a good day." I mean, this is '90s Detroit, man. If I'm driving around in a nice area in an SUV, I'm just another white kid in an SUV. If they're driving around at night in SUV, all black leather gear, tactical stuff, it's not going to look good.
Jack Rhysider: [00:28:05] So now, Jordan is running with a whole new group of guys -- security guards, martial artists, vigilantes, big buff dudes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:12] And they used to rib me about, "Hey, are you meeting any girls? You meet any girls?" And I was embarrassed because I wasn't really. I met girls at the movie theater where I worked and that was kind of it.
Jack Rhysider: [00:28:25] He tried to meet girls, but he just wasn't having any luck, so he decided to try and meet them in a different way. Jordan was online a lot and thought, "Hey, if I'm online, there's probably girls online too." So we started looking around for them. See, this is decades before Tinder, and at that time it was extremely weird to sort of make new friends online and try to find a girlfriend, but he popped on AOL to try his luck anyway. He liked AOL since it had a ton of chat rooms, and you could privately message people too. He found his way into a Detroit chat room, or a teenager chat room, and tried to find girls in there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:01] AOL turned out to be a gold mine because a lot of girls my age had it and I could use instant messenger. I told the guys what I was doing, that I was meeting girls on AOL Instant Messenger. They were really enthralled because they were like, "Wait a minute, there's a way to meet girls on using the modem? I don't understand. How do I do this?" So I was showing them this and one of the guys goes, "You know what? If you want to stand out from other guys doing this, what you should do is create an account that sounds like a girl and see what the guys say to you." And I thought, that's pretty genius. Social engineering for the win, right? Probably one of the very first times I ever even thought about doing anything like that. I made a screen name on AOL that sounded really girly.
[00:29:42] I made these basic profiles. I would go in the chat rooms immediately. Guys would start hitting on me immediately. A lot of it was really pathetic. Some of it was really clever. I started taking notes and learning, but then some of it was kind of funny. I would print out the chat transcripts of these guys hitting on this girl -- or me who they thought was a girl. The guys at work would have a laugh about it just every single time I went to work.
Jack Rhysider: [00:30:11] But then his boss stops him one day and says, "Wait a minute. This guy says he's a professional photographer. He thinks you're a 15-year-old girl and he's a 39-year-old man." Suddenly, Jordan realized this dark side. This was not just some lonely guy. He was being hit on by child predators.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:34] This is a criminal. This is a guy who victimizes young girls. I didn't think about that being, I think, 15 or 16 at the time. I didn't think about the fact that this was a criminal. I was just thinking he was pathetic.
Jack Rhysider: [00:30:50] It quickly turned from a good lazy laugh to, holy crap, this is really bad. Some of these guys who were hitting on this fake girl are monsters. Suddenly, the conversation took on a different meaning.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:04] This is not even like me being flirty or anything. This is just me being like, "Yeah, I'm 15 and I live with my parents and I like going to the beach." And then they'd be like, "Hey, I'm a photographer. Do you want to become a model? Hey, you should come see me. Where do you live? What's your address? When are your parents' home? We don't want your parents to be home. Hey, can I take you out on a date?" Like really weird stuff. And these guys were unrelenting. I didn't even have to really feed that much into the chat. It was extra creepy. So these guys said, "Wait a minute, we got to figure this out. This is not good." And a couple of the guys, of course, had connections to the local FBI office.
Jack Rhysider: [00:31:39] Yeah, even though those security guys were your typical tough guy, they had to deal with the FBI before. So they gave Jordan a fax number to an FBI agent, but the FBI agent wasn't used to dealing with cybercrime because I don't think many agents were at the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:53] Think about this, since it was computer crime, the Detroit office was like, "We're not really sure what to do with this now." I mean, what crime does the FBI handle that's not done with a computer, right? But back then this was like a bank fraud unit type of crime. They had to figure out who was dealing with stuff, because remember AOL's servers are in Virginia or whatever. I'm in Michigan and the other guy's in like Ohio. So what local PD has jurisdiction? Nobody had a clue. So we're faxing these transcripts back and forth and he would send it to DC and then like a week or so later, they'd come back with, "Hey, we need more information on these people. Hey, are you still talking to these people?" And I had their screen names so I could easily go and get them and bait them into a chat. And I started working at that time via Agent Forester and some of the other agents with people in DC. To hand off my chats to them, and so that they could continue them.
[00:32:55] So after I kept sending them a bunch of chat transcripts, whoever it was up in the powers that be in Washington DC, they decided to get interested. Because I think at that time, they thought, "Eh, so some kid finds a pedophile on AOL. Who cares? No harm, no foul." But then when it was like 10 a week and it was me barely doing anything, but showing up in a chat room with a name that kind of looks like it could belong to a girl, that became very, very problematic. Right? That became very problematic. It became hard for them to ignore. I think at some point they figured this is no longer something that we can just sort of sit there and ignore all the time, or in good conscience, not deal with. I started to send them more and more transcripts and they would call me, ironically on a clone cell phone, some of the time, they would call me.
[00:33:48] They would ask me questions about where I'm meeting these people, how I'm engaging with them and things like that. And I don't know this as fact, but I think since they probably didn't have enough manpower to deal with this, they felt comfortable enough having me send them -- I guess you would call it the leads -- and progress, the conversations to the point where it was very clear, these were no longer innocent parties that were just kind of interested in flirting with someone online. It became really clear and really obvious very quickly that these guys were more than willing to cross state lines and meet with and engage with a minor. This is long before To Catch a Predator, now that I think about it, right? This is long before then, but it became really clear that me barely doing anything was good enough for this guy who lived in Ohio to come up and cross the state line into Michigan in order to engage in clearly inappropriate acts with a minor. And so that got them pretty interested. They started organizing with local PD and they started making arrests. I would hand off the chat, so I didn't get all the logistics work, that was kind of on them. They would do some confirmation of like, "So is this going to happen? Are these things going to happen?" And this guy, I mean, I saw the transcript, some of them, and they were pretty explicit after that.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:35:10] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:14] This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help. Let's be real for a sec. Life can be super hard. In fact, a lot of people are having a hard time right now and sometimes the last thing you want to do when you're feeling down is add the chore of finding a therapist. But fortunately, Better Help online counseling can make it easier for us. Better Help has a huge list of online licensed professionals who are trained to help with every type of issue -- depression, stress, anxiety, sleep disorder, relationships, self-esteem, grief, be cooped up in your house all day because the COVID-19. Literally, anything a person could ever worry about. Talk to your professional counselor in a safe, private, online environment. Just like therapy, everything's confidential, everything's on your own time at your own pace. Now, you can do it from your own bed, so there's that. Better Help will give you a therapist within 24 hours. You can chat online, text, call. You don't have to wait two weeks for an appointment. None of that garbage. And what I love is they're so accessible. They're available in all 50 states. Like I said, 24 hours, you don't get that elsewhere. 3000 therapists worldwide. They can handle anything you throw at them. So find the counselor you love and you know about me I don't like putting things off. Why not just tell yourself you're going to get some help today. Kickstart the journey to a better path. Better Help is so affordable. They even offer financial aid for those who qualify. Jason.
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Jack Rhysider: [00:39:12] What are your parents thinking of this? Because I mean, number one, you're talking to pedos online and number two, you're an informant for the FBI at 16 years old.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:21] They were just glad that I wasn't blowing anything up or doing any drugs. They were really glad about that, but they were not happy that I was talking to pedos online until they got a call from the FBI because originally, when they couldn't reach me on my cell phone or before I even got the cell phone, they were calling the house. Imagine the FBI calls your house. Your parents, first of all, have a miniature heart attack. And then the FBI agent says, "He's helping us catch people, bad people," or whatever they had to say on the phone. And then my mom goes, "Okay." And of course, they had to sign off on some of this. So it wasn't just like, "Hey, I'm talking to the FBI and nobody can know about it." It's like, no, your guardian has to say, "It's okay for my son to be working with you." They were 50 percent proud, 30 percent worried, 20 percent completely not sure about what the hell was actually really going on and kind of clueless and probably gladly so, because they were just like, "As long as our kid's not dead." Bear in mind, I'm still getting like straight A's in school. At this point, I've got a job. There's not a whole lot for them to complain about. I just also do this crazy FBI stuff on the side.
Jack Rhysider: [00:40:33] Jordan was still a teenager, but he stuck out of public school because he had a cell phone. No one really had cell phones in the '90s, much less teenagers. If you had one people thought you were like a drug dealer or secret agent or something. Jordan was a secret agent and had a cell phone. He even had kind of a get-out-of-jail-free card. He had a note signed by the superintendent of schools, the principal, and the FBI agent stating that he could carry a cell phone in school. How cool is that?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:03] And a librarian caught me in the hallway calling my mom on the cell phone and she just was clutching pearls and gasping, "Oh my God." And she ran back in the library and she called the assistant principal. This is a high school, not the one that I embarrassed over the pizza incident and Mr. Spitzke, bless him, comes out, hadn't seen the note. This is a pretty early day and me being able to carry the phone in school comes over and goes. "Harbinger, do you have a cellular telephone in your bag?" And he's not mad. He's more like incredulous, just like, who the hell has a cell phone? And this is one of my teachers, he teaches a unit on Vietnam. I'm very active in his class. He knows I'm not a drug dealer or an idiot. And the librarian comes out and she's got librarian swag. She can't wait to watch me get busted by the assistant principal, and she's got a smirk on her face that I'll never forget. And I said, "Yes, I do." And I also have a letter from the principal, the superintendent, and the FBI, and he goes, "Can I see it?" And I said, "Sure. The phone or the letter?" And he goes, "Oh, yeah, the phone and the letter." Because I think he just wanted to see the phone initially. So I hand him the phone, and he's just like in awe. He looks at the letter, he goes, "Well, all be, you sure, do. Well, good for you. Are you working with the FBI? What are you doing? This is really cool, man. Hey, can you come by after school? I want to hear all about this."
[00:42:25] Anyway, the librarian's face went from a smirk -- and I've never seen somebody melt into a puddle so quickly, and it's a vindication that is so rare as a teenage boy that I don't think I'll ever forget it even as a 40-year-old man who should be over this by now. I'm still not, because she just sort of slunk back into her library and was just like, "Weh, I can't believe it." And Mr. Spitzke, the assistant principal, was flabbergasted that one of his students was working with the FBI to catch pedos online. And when he heard the story, all the teachers heard the story in short order. And I remember when my phone would ring during class, even the hardest strictest teacher would just point to the door, and I would walk out and take the call. They weren't happy about the disturbance, but it was kind of like, "Well, the bat signal is flashing so Harbinger's got to leave the room now." It was awesome.
Jack Rhysider: [00:43:23] And after school, he would call the FBI agent and report what he saw and he would call and give reports frequently. And since this whole Internet thing was still new and the FBI agents didn't quite understand it all. Jordan just invited them to the house to take a look for themselves. So they came over, went into Jordan's bedroom, sat down, and watched as he dialed into AOL, connected to chat rooms, used a girly name he made up and made some kind of entrance into a chat room.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:50] They would see me log in and then they would see it be like bring-bring- bring. And I would go in the chat room, bring-bring-bring, private messages would start popping up all over 14 at a time. I've got my screen tiled with chats and nine out of 10 are pedos and the occasional kid who's like, "Hi, are you pretty?" But nine out of 10 are our pedos and this wasn't a weird chat room. This is like a standard generic AOL chat room.
Jack Rhysider: [00:44:17] He even told the FBI about the cell phone cloning that he was doing. They didn't exactly condone it, but they didn't seem to care, either. Maybe they didn't understand what the harm was at that point. It wouldn't be until years later that the FBI would see how cell phone cloning could cause real harm.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:35] But of course, the dark side of this was people were committing crimes using clone cell phones and then throwing them in the garbage. The guys I was learning and cloning with, some of them ran businesses where they would jack or buy phones, reprogram them with stolen ESNs, sell them to drug dealers and mafiosos who would use them for a week and then throw them in a dumpster or return them to my buddy who would reprogram them. There was a real dark side to that, but I wasn't messing with all that. I felt like a hero. I was catching pedos online and I didn't even have to go and tackle anyone. I wasn't tough. I was the least tough guy in the security company, but I still had mad respect from all those guys because I was like the local hacker. And I wasn't hacking squat. I wasn't doing anything really that complex. I was just sweet-talking knucklehead, pervy pedo predators into crossing state lines, and to getting arrested by the cops. I felt like I was doing the Lord's work, dude.
Jack Rhysider: [00:45:33] Time passed and Jordan grew up a little. He got through high school and decided to go to college to become a lawyer. FBI agents came to a school to give a talk about how to become an FBI agent and they recommended students become a lawyer or an accountant to do that. But as Jordan studied law, he thought becoming an FBI agent may not pay off a student debt very well, and the forensic work just didn't excite him. So after law school, Jordan moved to New York City. He passed the bar and got a job as a lawyer on Wall Street. It was 2007. The whole economy was about to implode. One of the higher-up partners of this company was Dave. Dave was assigned to be Jordan's mentor to teach him all about being a lawyer on wall street, but Dave was never in the office to mentor him. So one day, Jordan asked to meet up with Dave over some coffee and finally, he had a chance to ask him some of these questions that have been nagging him since day one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:26] And so he took me to coffee in the basement of the building at a Starbucks. And he said, "All right, ask me anything you want." He's banging away on his Blackberry. And I said, "How come you're a partner? You're one of the youngest partners, but you're never in the office." Thinking he was going to give me the magic cheat code to working from home. And instead, he said, "Well, I work from home sometimes. Yeah. But I mean, mostly I'm out generating business for the firm. And I thought, well, wait a minute, what does that even mean? So, of course, I had to know. And I said, "What do you mean you're generating business for the firm?" And he goes, "Yeah, you know, I bring in deals, I don't worry about my billable hours. I don't worry about getting a billable hourly bonus. Because if I get a bonus for bringing in like two or three deals a year, it eclipses any hourly bonus I would've gotten. So I focus on generating deals." And I said, "How come everybody doesn't do that?" And he goes, "Not everybody's good at that." And I said, "Well, how do I get good at that?" And he goes, "You know, you've got to go out there and meet people and work your connections and go to events. You know, I'm going to this charity event. I'm playing racquetball here, squash over there. I've run over here. I bike over there. I do jujitsu. You know, it's cool, man. I do a lot of different stuff. Whenever there's an investment banker, I make sure that one of our clients is -- I'm hanging out with them and then they throw us a deal. It's actually not that hard. I wish more people would do it, but maybe I'm glad more people don't." And he goes, "If you learn how to do that. You can write your own ticket. You'll make partner earlier." That changed the way that I look at work forever.
Jack Rhysider: [00:47:51] Once again, one person saying the right thing in the right time, enlightened Jordan. Instead of banging away at becoming a great lawyer, maybe he needs to change his focus a little. He thought about this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:02] Oh, there's this secret third path that nobody's even thinking about, which has to do with networking and relationship development. This is psychology-based. I can do this. These are people skills. This is like social engineering, but it's like sales. A lot of people look at social engineering and they go, "Yeah, it's kind of like sales only. It's a little dark side." I learned social engineering first and I went, oh, it's like sales. It's like social engineering, but it's a white hat. I didn't even think about that before. So then I dedicated myself whole-hog into body language, non-verbal communication, persuasion, influence, that kind of stuff was my bag. So I took every class I could find. I read every book that I could, and I started to apply this and I started trying to generate business for the firm. And of course, I was too young and too junior to be able to do this. And of course, you know, other lawyers, they didn't care to learn this. They didn't know what was important.
[00:48:58] What they did care was that I went from being a homebody nerd to going out all the time and meeting a ton of women, and people were like, "Well, wait, what happened to you?" And I said, 'Well, I'm learning all this sales stuff and networking stuff. And it just so happens that when you apply it to the opposite sex, it really works well." Then I had their attention, right? Then everybody was like, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Teach me what you're talking about here." And that was the genesis of me starting The Jordan Harbinger Show and the podcast and the things that I teach in consulting and things like that when I had chronically train law enforcement, military, and security companies.
Jack Rhysider: [00:49:40] Yeah. Jordan Harbinger is a podcaster. That's how I met him, one podcaster meeting another. But he's also no stranger to going to DEFCON, and it has a lot of friends in the social engineering village there. And he rounds up all this knowledge he has and experience, and he interviews a ton of interesting and successful people on his podcast, The Jordan Harbinger Show. And even though he used to dream about becoming someone in the intelligence community, now he trains those kinds of people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:04] Well, remarkably what intelligence officers do best is not follow people through dark alleys and go and chases -- and you know this, and everyone listening probably knows this too -- but one of the things intelligence officers tend to do a lot of is manage lots and lots of relationships sometimes with people who are not completely open. Sometimes the people who are maybe a little hostile and they have to generate trust. And that's exactly what I'm training them to do. I'm teaching people how to know, like, and trust you so that you can use influence and it's fairly straightforward, but it requires a lot of discipline, a lot of practice, and you really have to work on the skills. It becomes a way of being and a set of habits, not a set of hypnosis persuasion tactics that you can apply. You really do need to be socially fluent. I'm training them things that I've learned as a teenager, that I then turned into things I used in my 20s to date and meet people, that I then once again turned into social engineering and networking and sales. It's really come full circle.
Jack Rhysider: [00:51:06] Once a punk kid chose wisely through a series of remarkable events, he ended up teaching himself to be socially fluent and is now running his own business, making even more money than what he did as a lawyer on Wall Street, more money than what he could have probably been making if he was a criminal too. I don't know what the life lesson is here to take away from Jordan, maybe not to be afraid of pushing the boundaries and the rules because you might not realize how smart you are until you get caught. Or maybe it's that social skills are a ton more valuable than we think, and that social engineering can be applied for good and have great rewards. But of course, what's interesting to me is that Jordan is constantly trying to learn and grow every day. It doesn't matter how smart he is or feels like he is, he knows he needs to learn more, which is something I think that's important for us all. No matter how much knowledge we think we have.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:01] Thanks to Jack for the opportunity to be on Darknet Diaries. We'll link to that podcast in the show notes. Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you've learned today from, well, me and Jack. And we now have transcripts for each episode, including this one, and those can be found in the show notes as well.
[00:52:18] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Don't do it later, do it now. You got to dig the well before you get thirsty. You've got to build that network before you need it, even if it means starting from scratch. These drills take just a few minutes per day. I wish I knew at 20 years ago this has been crucial for my business and my personal life and I'm teaching you how to do it for free at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course in the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and follow me on social media. I'm at @Jordan harbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, and I love talking with you there.
[00:53:02] This episode has helped along by Jack Rhysider, of course, of Darkness Diaries, and a little bit of production from Jen Harbinger, Jason DeFillippo, engineering by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. And I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own, and I'm a lawyer, but not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. And if you thought my origin story was interesting or educational in some way, please do share the episode with someone. And if you know other listeners of The Jordan Harbinger Show and they haven't heard this yet, make sure they go ahead and have a listen. Hopefully, you find something interesting in every episode, so please do share the show with those you love. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:53:55] A lot of people are bringing their businesses online, selling digital products. I've got my friend Omar Zenhom here from WebinarNinja. This is an all-in-one webinar software that allows you to host live automated hybrid webinars. So it's got built-in tools from marketing, selling your digital products during, after the webinar.
[00:54:12] Omar, what makes this different? Aren't there like a billion different programs, pieces of software that do the exact same thing?
Omar Zenhom: [00:54:17] Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, a lot of our users come over to us because we're easy to use. It's super simple to use. A lot of people are looking for a solution, not another headache, and that's what we provide. They also love the fact that we're all-in-one, so they don't have to buy any other piece of software to make this happen. They can just go with us and everything is included under one roof, and our customer support is the best in the world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:39] But there's stuff that WebinarNinja has besides great support that is exclusive to you that no other webinar platform has, right?
Omar Zenhom: [00:54:45] Yeah. So with WebinarNinja, we include all the landing page software inside. We have the email marketing software built-in inside, auto replays. That way you don't have to find the video and then download it and paste it somewhere. It's all provided and sent to your registrant's right there. We basically make it so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you run a webinar.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:07] Check out a 14-day free trial at webinarninja.com and you really have built something amazing here. I've known you for years now, and I remember when this was like basically an idea. Now. It's this amazing piece of software, so that's kind of impressive.
Omar Zenhom: [00:55:19] Thanks, man. I really appreciate the support.