Robert Kerbeck (@robertkerbeck) is the founder of the Malibu Writers Circle, and the author of the award-winning Malibu Burning: The Real Story Behind L.A.’s Most Devastating Wildfire. His latest book, Ruse: Lying the American Dream from Hollywood to Wall Street, is out now.
What We Discuss with Robert Kerbeck:
- Why actors are naturally adept at the social engineering skills required to be a successful corporate spy.
- What kinds of information do corporate spies try to finagle from their marks?
- The importance of research and blending at least a grain of truth into every lie if you’re trying to sell a story as a corporate spy.
- How do corporate spies find poachable talent that doesn’t want to be found — and determine they’re worth poaching?
- Do all corporations hire corporate spies (and would they admit to it)?
- And much more…
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Corporate espionage is big business. For many of us, the term may conjure visions of action heroes rappelling down skyscrapers to infiltrate a company’s vault for its top-secret product schematics contained within. But how closely does this impression match reality?
On this episode, we’re joined by former corporate spy Robert Kerbeck, author of Ruse: Lying the American Dream from Hollywood to Wall Street. Here, we discuss what made his “very particular set of skills” as a Hollywood actor transfer so well into the world of corporate espionage, the clever layers of social engineering he employed to get company lackeys to spill their most valuable secrets, who’s actually paying big bucks for this kind of information, what Robert learned during his immersion in this ethically grey world, and why he’s happy to remain retired from it. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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Miss the show we did with Frank Abagnale — the former con artist who was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can? Catch up here with episode 1: Frank Abagnale | Scam Me If You Can!
Thanks, Robert Kerbeck!
If you enjoyed this session with Robert Kerbeck, 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 email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Ruse: Lying the American Dream from Hollywood to Wall Street by Robert Kerbeck | Amazon
- Malibu Burning: The Real Story Behind L.A.’s Most Devastating Wildfire by Robert Kerbeck | Amazon
- Robert Kerbeck | Website
- Robert Kerbeck | Facebook
- Robert Kerbeck | Twitter
- Robert Kerbeck | Instagram
- Robert Kerbeck | IMDb
- Robert Kerbeck | LinkedIn
- Malibu Writers Circle | Facebook
- Corporate Espionage: Fact And Fiction | Investopedia
- Social Engineering: Types, Tactics, and FAQ | Investopedia
- Valerie Plame | Spies Lies and Nukes Conference
- Tom Brady | Instagram
- Joseph Goebbels On the “Big Lie” | Jewish Virtual Library
- Steve Jobs Was ‘Central Figure’ in Silicon Valley’s ‘No Poaching’ Case | CNN Money
- DEF CON 30 Hacking Conference
- The Benjamin Franklin Effect: How to Build Rapport by Asking for Favors | Effectiviology
- The Invention of Lying | Prime Video
- Ubs Completes Credit Suisse Takeover to Become Wealth Management Behemoth | Reuters
- O.J. Simpson | Wikipedia
845: Robert Kerbeck | From Struggling Actor to Corporate Spy
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to Collective for sponsoring this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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[00:00:22] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:25] Robert Kerbeck: Back in my day of spying, I personally presented my extracted data to two individuals that today are one step from being CEOs of two of the largest companies in the world. So the individuals in the C-Suites in America and globally are all too happy to take the data from corporate spots.
[00:00:51] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long-form conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes to authors, thinkers to performers, even the occasional former Jihadi, investigative journalist, or Emmy-nominated comedian.
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[00:02:00] Today on the show, Robert Kerbeck, really interesting guy. He started off as an actor. You know, actors usually get jobs, bartending, serving food somewhere, working a little bit on the side, personal trainer gig, maybe. Not Robert Kerbeck, he decides to become a corporate spy using his acting skills to essentially social engineer people on the phone to give him corporate information. Turned out to be an extremely lucrative recruiting gig. His stories are incredible, he's a great storyteller, lived a charmed life, hung out with the Yakuza, hang out with J. Lo. Had a little run-in with Kevin Spacey. I'll let him tell it here on the show. Really smart dude. I think we had a great conversation and I know you'll enjoy it. So here we go with Robert Kerbeck.
[00:02:45] You made a business out of corporate espionage, which I think most people have never heard of this, and if they have, they think you're like, I don't know, repelling down Mission Impossible style into a semiconductor factory and stealing the plans or doing some sort of IP theft like we see from nation states like China, for example. What were you actually doing?
[00:03:05] Robert Kerbeck: You know, when I was a young guy, I wanted to be an actor. I moved to New York, actors need survival jobs, who stumbles into a career as a corporate spy, but that's what happened to me. I went to work for this woman who had this small corporate espionage firm that specialized in Wall Street. And our job was to use the good old-fashioned telephone and social engineering, what I call rusing, to get people in corporations to tell us anything and everything that that firm's biggest rivals wanted to know.
[00:03:36] Jordan Harbinger: This is something we're going to unpack, but it is funny that you stumbled into a job as a corporate spot because I think most people end up working at Starbucks or a cafe or serving, waiting tables because of the audition schedule. And you can work at night or you know you're a bartender somewhere. You're like, nah, I'm going to call corporations. Social engineering is what you called it. We've talked about that a lot on the show, because I used to do something similar, not rusing, but with the social engineering. And I was co-hosting the social engineer podcast for a while. It's a funny industry to fall into because it actually matches your skills perfectly as an actor, I would imagine.
[00:04:11] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, well, the woman who had this secretive firm, she only hired actors because, you know, we were the only ones that could do this job because we would create voices, accents, personas, characters to, you know, basically trick people into telling us things they shouldn't tell us. And even more that she only hired actors in the beginning, she only hired women. She felt that only women could do this kind of spying. And I recently did an event with former CIAs by Valerie Plame, and I mentioned that, and Valerie said, "Well, of course, women are better spies," and we laughed about that. But then she explained why. And she was saying that women are able to reflect and deflect better than men. They don't get their backup, so to speak, in certain situations. So they could be more chameleon-like. And I think that was true.
[00:04:56] And in the beginning, the women were better spies. You know, my buddy got me the job. He was the first man this woman had ever hired. And then I was the second and last man she ever hired. Everyone after us, they were all women and we struggled. The women were better for a long time. And we had to learn what ploys play to our strengths as men versus the ploys that the women were using. And that was kind of one of the fascinating things, developing all these different ploys.
[00:05:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I want to break down some of these ploys. I have some notes on this, but I'm curious what the difference is between men and women. I mean, at first glance, it seems like guys are, I mean, we're pretty simple creatures in many ways. So if you're a woman, you can sort of hint that you want some kind of personal relationship maybe. Whereas with a guy and a woman, you have to probably what, be a little bit more emotionally comforting and not necessarily dangle the carrot that you're going to be a sidepiece.
[00:05:47] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. You know, one of the first days on the job, I think it was the first week, this woman who was training me is making one of these rusing phone calls, getting people in corporations to release private secret information they should never release. And she starts crying on the phone.
[00:06:02] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:06:02] Robert Kerbeck: And she's basically saying, "That my boss is going to fire me. I have screwed up. And I lost the list, or I lost this information. It had already been sent over to us. I need it again. Oh my God, I'm going to lose my job." And that, to my shock, the woman on the other end of the line said, "Oh, hey, relax. It's okay. My boss is a jerk too. Don't worry. I'm going to help you. What do you need?" And I couldn't believe it. I could not believe that crying on the phone, plain kind of put-upon assistant or put-upon receptionist to another, put-upon receptionist—
[00:06:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:36] Robert Kerbeck: —was so successful in getting information. But that was one of the ploys that the women used to great advantage.
[00:06:41] Jordan Harbinger: I would assume. You can't really do that, or at least if you do, you probably have to be, maybe lay it on a little bit less thick, right?
[00:06:49] Robert Kerbeck: We couldn't do that at all. And trust me, I tried. Now, I never broke down and cried on the phone—
[00:06:53] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to say.
[00:06:53] Robert Kerbeck: —at least not yet.
[00:06:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:56] Robert Kerbeck: I did try to play the put-upon, but you know, when I would call the gatekeepers, who back in the day were mainly women, that's changed a lot. The book kind of starts in around early '90s and—
[00:07:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:06] Robert Kerbeck: —goes into, you know, right around the crash of 2008. It's changed a lot since then. So, you know, the guys, my buddy and I, we had to figure out how are we going to get information because the ploys that the women were using and teaching us, we were completely unsuccessful using. And so we kind of put our heads together and started to go, well, how are we going to get this information? And what we began to learn, much to our shock again, was that we would go directly to the major executives and we would go, bro to bro, head to head. And we couldn't believe it, but we would pose as an executive in a different office, oftentimes using accents. "This is Gerhardt calling from the office in Frankfurt, Germany. We have the European Union regulators here, and we need some information from the states." "Hey, what's going on? How can I help you? What do you need, buddy?"
[00:07:55] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny. That's a damn good German accent. And I lived in Germany for a long time, and I don't even think I could do, I mean, that was really extremely convincing.
[00:08:04] Robert Kerbeck: Oh, thank you.
[00:08:04] Jordan Harbinger: Which is funny because a lot of Germans aren't going to be like, "I didn't hear any accent at all."
[00:08:08] Robert Kerbeck: Well, you know, it's funny, I've done some events with Germans in the audience, and when I've broken into that accent, I've seen them fall out of their chairs.
[00:08:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Like, that's not what we sound like, is it? Yeah, it is. Sure is, man. That's really funny. I want to back up a little bit. What kind of info were you looking for and why was it valuable? You know, you sort of mentioned the personnel stuff, but tell us why this is actually valuable.
[00:08:31] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, so when we started, of course, it was kind of pre-LinkedIn and so back pre-LinkedIn, and of course, this is why LinkedIn is a multi-billion dollar, hugely successful company. There was no way for people to know who worked at a firm.
[00:08:44] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:44] Robert Kerbeck: You know, what their titles were, what they did, and most importantly, who the rock stars were at firms, who the top producers were, who the top salespeople, the top traders, the top designers, the top developers, the top marketers, the top bankers. And what we learned is that we could learn, you know, basically obtain the information on the firm's internal rankings, metrics. So we could basically, again, using our spying techniques, we would find out the list of the top salespeople, the list of the top traders with their revenue, literally. You know, like, this guy did this much last year, this woman did that much last year. And so then we would sell that information to their rivals so that now they're able to poach those individuals.
[00:09:29] And you think about it, I always go back to football, you know, good old Tom Brady was with the New England Patriots, and when he left in free agency and went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, what happened? They won a Super Bowl. Same thing in corporate America. If you can poach the Tom Bradys or the people one notch below the Tom Bradys, it can make unbelievable difference to your firm's bottom-line revenues, stock price rankings in the industry. It's really a game-changer. And even today, as much information as there is on LinkedIn, LinkedIn still cannot tell you who the rock stars are and that's why corporate buying is, you know, alive and well today.
[00:10:07] Jordan Harbinger: I want to go back to social engineering because you're using social engineering and skills to get info on companies. And the book starts with this example of this woman, Zoe, who seems very sweet. I think a lot of people have the idea that you're just sort of Slick Rick. You call the company, you find the right person and they're bored and they divulge all this information and you never talk to them again. It says a lot about your skill in this area, that you have these relationships for years, years, and years. And I would imagine that that's actually quite efficient, right? Because you have to build the relationship potentially really slowly, why burn that person right away and then have to start over when you call back?
[00:10:45] Robert Kerbeck: No doubt. I mean, we called them having a mole and of course, these were moles that did not know they were moles.
[00:10:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:51] Robert Kerbeck: They were giving us information because they believed we were an executive in a different office. And what was insane to us is that oftentimes, once someone believed that you were who you said you were that first time, now they believe it. So every time you call, they think it's you again. And you're offsite in a different office, you're traveling, you're meeting with US regulators, you're in Europe, you're in China, you're developing new business, you know, all of these ruses we would be telling and using, and they're just giving you information every single time. So you're not starting over every time you call a firm because calling a firm, you know, this job was hard. A lot of people wanted to do this job, a lot of actors and musicians, because it was flexible. You could work from home. And this is back in the day when nobody could work from home, obviously.
[00:11:37] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:11:38] Robert Kerbeck: That's changed a lot since COVID. And at first, we were making eight dollars an hour. By the end of it, I was making two million dollars a year, basically working for the largest companies in the world.
[00:11:49] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So no longer eight dollars an hour, because there's not enough hours in a year to make two million if you're still making eight bucks an hour. Yeah, I suppose the billing went up just a little bit.
[00:11:57] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:11:57] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned in the book that you always want to throw in truth to any lie, and that seems really common whether we're talking about interrogation or, or any other kind of ruse. Why is that? Is that because it's easier to remember if most of it is truth or at least, it has a kernel of truth, what's going on there?
[00:12:15] Robert Kerbeck: You know, a lot of times people would think like the, I love that thing that you just said, Slick Rick. You know that you're just picking up the phone and randomly dialing numbers and trying to get people to give you information. No, never ever did we do that. We spent a lot of time doing research on the company before we would even dare to pick up a phone. We would research their stock price that day. We would read the press releases, we would read the annual report. We would do a Google search for news. We would know if the team in their city won the day before, you know, if they lost the day before, if the coach was fired, you know, if there'd been a tragedy in the team, whatever. We knew everything that was going on with that firm and where that firm was based, or where the individual we were going to call, where they were based. And so all of that information enabled us to create scenarios that I like to say that my lies sounded better than the truth.
[00:13:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:05] Robert Kerbeck: Right. In a weird sort of way, my lies were more believable than what was true. And sometimes, and this is counterintuitive, the more outlandish a ruse was, the more outlandish the story or the ploy was, in a strange way, the more believable it became. You know how many times people said nine to Gerhardt and wouldn't give Gerhardt information? Never. Because what are the odds that somebody's calling you and putting on a German accent, right? Nobody's thinking that, right?
[00:13:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:13:33] Robert Kerbeck: So that's an example of that outlandishness ending up sounding more believable.
[00:13:38] Jordan Harbinger: There's a quote from somebody and it's probably like related to the Nazis or something, but it's like a lie so big that people start to believe it. And this is obviously not, we're not talking about life and death here, but you're right. It's very hard to imagine that somebody is calling from a number, pretending to be a German guy asking for random information. It's like, it just seems too ridiculous to be fake. And like there must be an easier way to do this than have some guy call me and pretend to be Gerhardt so-and-so and get the name, and having done all this research and he's asking me for what seems like kind of harmless information. I'm not giving him engine plans. I'm not giving him semiconductor designs. He's asking for personnel stuff. I mean, this has to be real. It's too boring. The information is too boring.
[00:14:24] Robert Kerbeck: Sort of, yes. Sort of, no. But again, going back to corporations, your firm is number seven in an industry. But now you get the playbook on firm number one, firm number two.
[00:14:34] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:34] Robert Kerbeck: Firm number three. You see their staff, you see what they pay their people, the rankings of their people. It just gives you so much power over. Now, you can steal people, poach people, and of course, when people leave a firm, what do they bring with them, they bring with them all of the information on how their rivals work, their organizational structures, their operational systems, you know, everything that they do that has made them successful. And of course, most importantly, they bring their client list. They know what the client contracts were, how much they were charging these clients. It really is a game changer when you can poach number two person, number three person, and ideally number one person from a rival firm.
[00:15:16] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense. So not only are you spying to get the information about who to poach, when those people come in, they are effectively unofficial in a way, sort of spies, even though they're no longer in the other company, they just bring over so much intelligence. It's like a defection.
[00:15:31] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, exactly.
[00:15:32] Jordan Harbinger: Right. To use spy terminology, they come over and tell everybody about the Soviet spy machine when they join Uber.
[00:15:37] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. And that's why legendary Apple, CEO, Steve Jobs, he would not let the Apple designers be listed in the Apple corporate directory because he knew how incredibly valuable those people were. And that if somebody Google whomever, you know, imagine if you were able to poach the iPad designer in the early days of the development of the iPad.
[00:15:59] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:59] Robert Kerbeck: Forget about that worth being billions of dollars. It's just an insane amount of money. And of course, Apple was one of the greatest firms in terms of secrecy and still, Apple is, I would always say the number one firm best at protecting their corporate secrets.
[00:16:16] Jordan Harbinger: They're really good at that. I live right near their campus. And you can't visit people there unless you have a business meeting. You're not allowed on certain floors. They have to meet you in certain public areas. You can't go to the office areas, you can't walk through the office area, forget the research places. And there's no drones. And I think they have drone jamming or blocking stuff. They have windows that you can't see through with cameras, but that you can see out of. They have stuff apparently underground, although that's not something anybody would ever sort of confirm. And they have a lot of security people, not just physical security who keeps you out, but also they've got a lot of system security. So I know nothing's hack-proof, but it would be very tough to sort of, you're not going to go in there and be like, "I'm just changing some electrical sockets in the research area." Like, that is not going to fly at all. You have an escort, you know, it's just no way.
[00:17:07] Robert Kerbeck: And also what Steve Jobs did is he took it one more level. What he would tell his employees is, "You know, if you talk about what goes on here or you tell your wife or your friend, whatever, forget about getting fired, of course, you're going to get fired. But we're going to sue you. We're going to prosecute you too."
[00:17:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:23] Robert Kerbeck: So you think about that in terms of your employees, he really put the fear of God into them. And so people at Apple know that, that you cannot talk about what you do, you cannot tell anyone. And again, one of the very rare firms that has trained their employees, and that's something I talk about a lot when I'm on podcasts, when I speak at conferences, you know, look, so much money is being spent and understandably and rightly so on cybersecurity, ransomware is a huge issue, and it's just getting larger exponentially every day. And yet a fraction of the amount of money that is spent on the technical side of cybersecurity is spent on the human side.
[00:18:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:01] Robert Kerbeck: Training people, educating people, and at the end of the day, the weakest link in cybersecurity is always going to be the human being. If I can call your firm and get somebody on the inside to tell me anything, I want to know just over the phone. I mean, you have no chance to stop me with the technical.
[00:18:16] Jordan Harbinger: That was the basis of a talk I gave at something called DEFCON, which is a computer security—
[00:18:21] Robert Kerbeck: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:21] Jordan Harbinger: —hacker conference, years and years ago. And I basically used LinkedIn because it existed, to get a bunch of military officers, congresspeople, other powerful people to tell me things they weren't supposed to tell me because they were trying to help what they thought was a student who was actually just photos of my assistant and me on my phone, and it was a ruse. I didn't use the information, I just used it to give a talk. I didn't divulge any of the information. The only place that even saw any of it was the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, the EFF, because I needed legal cover and then NPR because the journalist wanted to make sure that I was not just making it up. That was on the social engineer podcast and then the talk at DEFCON. And one of the things that we always say or always said, because I'm no longer in that industry, really in social engineering, is the human element is always the weakest, right? And there's other ways to say that are not as nice, like you can't patch stupid is one of them, that hackers always like to use. And it's true because you can have two-factor authentication. You can have a key fob on your keys. You can have it so that they can't even log in from home or they have to use a VPN, and there's facial recognition and blah, blah, blah. But if you know how to get the person to work around those security measures to give you what you want, it doesn't matter. None of it matters, right? I mean, they can be in a clean room with an escort right there, and if you push the right buttons, they're going to sneak that information out for you because it's important, or they love you or whatever it is.
[00:19:49] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. No, it's incredible. I mean, I always say I don't need to have really very good hacking skills because I can hack people.
[00:19:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. The technical element is always kind of, well, people who are really smart are always working on it. You can have cryptographic blockchain, uncrackable security where a supercomputer needs to get to it, but if you can find the guy who's going to just unplug the thing, there you go.
[00:20:10] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. And what's really sad and scary is that it can be a junior person mm-hmm. In a far-flung office. And by the way, that's who we were looking for.
[00:20:18] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:20:18] Robert Kerbeck: We were looking for the junior person in the far-flung office because they're not being supervised. They're been with the firm for two months, six months, whatever. And so they're not understanding the value of what we're looking for, what we're asking them to do. And of course, they're also trained, you know, the one thing people generally are trained to do is be a good teammate, right? Be a good corporate teammate, right? And so they're willing to help you and give you all this information, and they're basically defeating everything that everybody else on the technical side has set up.
[00:20:50] Jordan Harbinger: It reminds me of some of these World War II spy stories where it's like they didn't turn the Japanese ambassador, they got in with the guy's secretary.
[00:21:01] Robert Kerbeck: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:02] Jordan Harbinger: And that was it. And that's all they needed. They didn't need to turn the high-ranking head of intelligence. They figured out how to get the secretary's letters because she threw 'em all in the same place and was too lazy to burn them or whatever it was. I can't remember now, but it's always something like that and it's like, ah, this person didn't follow protocol. Well, the guy who had all the information was meticulous, but the secretary who also had all the information, didn't give a crap and always left early for lunch, whatever it was.
[00:21:25] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:21:26] Jordan Harbinger: Are you careful not to leave electronic trails and things like that when you do this? I would imagine that's, you have to be careful not to get caught as well.
[00:21:33] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, there were a number of close calls. You know, at a couple of points, I was being hunted, my buddy Pax and I. He's the guy that got me the job and we were kind of teamed up and really worked together and shared clients for a while. And at one point, the authorities were after us because they stumbled onto our trail. And obviously, that was frightening because here we were actors. And certainly, in the beginning, it was just a survival job. I was a working actor. You know, I was doing major TV shows and doing off-Broadway plays with James Gandolfini and a lot of other cool stuff. When we were being hunted, it definitely put the fear of God into us, and we became much more careful about our electronic trail.
[00:22:16] Jordan Harbinger: I know you started in the '80s before Internet, before a lot of tech, and you mentioned the best people are not on LinkedIn, even now they fly low under the radar. Wait, is that still true? It probably is, right?
[00:22:28] Robert Kerbeck: Absolutely.
[00:22:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:28] Robert Kerbeck: Absolutely. Yeah. Look, you know, if you're a rockstar, if you're a superstar at your firm, why do you want to be on LinkedIn? You're just going to get inundated with requests from executive recruiters, aka headhunters or people wanting to market you something or sell you something, or recommend you, whatever. I mean, you know, you're getting those messages all the time.
[00:22:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:48] Robert Kerbeck: It's kind of nonstop, right? And very rarely do any of them really apply, at least the ones that come through me.
[00:22:54] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:22:54] Robert Kerbeck: And so, you know, people that are super successful at a firm, they're either not on LinkedIn or their profile's not up to date. It's listing them at an old job or in an old position. And so those are the people that, the top corporations, that's who they're interested in. They call them passive candidates. That's who corporations want to take because they only want the best. Again, going back to the football analogy, you know, corporate America is as cutthroat as cutthroat can be, just like the NFL, just like the NBA, right? They want to win the championship. And so how do you win a championship? You get the best talent. And so that's what they're looking for. They want to uncover, you know, when I would research a firm, and the first thing you would do is you'd build the organizational chart of that firm, and you'd identify everybody in the firm. That's not 70 percent of the people that might be on LinkedIn. It's not 80 percent, it's not 90 percent, it's 99.99999 percent of the people in the exact role at that moment with their salary, with the revenue they're producing with the firm, with an indication. You know, we would kind of indicate who we thought was most poachable and which individuals would bring the most strategic bang to the buck, then our clients would use that information to do exactly that.
[00:24:06] Jordan Harbinger: How do you know who's poachable in an organization? What are you looking for?
[00:24:10] Robert Kerbeck: Well, we're looking for, remember, we're finding out what they're getting paid, right? So again, non-public information. We're finding out what they're producing for the firm. Again, non-public information and those two numbers, a lot of times you can go, "Wow, look at this. We got a 26-year-old guy, man, or a woman, they're not getting paid a lot, but they're number three on in their group and their sales team, on their trading team, in terms of banking. And all of a sudden you see, it's basically a young person who's killing it. There's an ideal person because their salary hasn't caught up yet with their production. And so that is an ideal person for arrival to swoop in. Because how would you know that this person's a rockstar? How would you know that they're killing it? How would you know that they're still underpaid, right? Because you hired a spy to find that information.
[00:24:56] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So then you call them and you go, "Look, I know you're probably really happy at your job, but we're really looking for people in your position and our starting salary, you didn't hear this from me, is at $35,000 higher than what you're making now or 20 percent higher than what you're making now. And you should negotiate that too. Just word to the wise. And the kid goes, "Huh, I do like it here. I dare get hired by my friend, but 20 percent plus I should negotiate it. I mean, I can like get 25 percent more money, 35 percent more money, maybe I should at least take the meeting. It's probably over from there, unless they're already rich for some reason."
[00:25:28] Robert Kerbeck: Guaranteed. And by the way, it's probably more than a 20 percent bump or even a 30 percent bump.
[00:25:33] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:25:33] Robert Kerbeck: In some cases, it's a 50 percent bump.
[00:25:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You can't say no to that when you're that age.
[00:25:38] Robert Kerbeck: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And then that person's gone. And again, it's so damaging because now this firm has lost their up-and-coming superstar.
[00:25:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:25:47] Robert Kerbeck: And that superstar's gone to their biggest rival.
[00:25:49] Jordan Harbinger: What they're probably not going to do is go to HR and go, "Hey listen, so I got contacted by this headhunter and they're offering me way more money. Can you match this?" I mean, that would be kind of smart, but it would also look pretty bad if they've been hired for a year or two to do that. And they might not want to risk it. They might just take the other job and leave in order to avoid having that awkward conversation.
[00:26:06] Robert Kerbeck: Well, now even if you know this young person in this scenario who did this, the firm has got to make a decision like, "Well, is this really true? This seems like an insane amount of money that this kid is being offered. And yeah, they're doing a great job, but they're only, they've only been with this for a year and a half. Are we really going to pay this kid who's been with this for a year?" You know what I mean? All of these things kind of come into play.
[00:26:29] Jordan Harbinger: Right. That's true.
[00:26:29] Robert Kerbeck: We see it in sports all the time. You know, we're just gone through NFL Free Agency. We see some players seem to get way more than anybody thought. Other players seem to get way less than anybody thought, right? And it's the same thing in corporate America. Sometimes a firm, because they're in a position of desperation, you know, they had a bad year, they had a bad quarter, their stock price isn't doing well. The CEO thinks they're about to lose their job. So they need to make a splash. So they need to grab somebody and they're going to hire us by, and they're going to like, we need to get some young people in here that are killing it. I don't care what we pay them. That happens a lot.
[00:27:02] Jordan Harbinger: I suppose once you get the kid's name, unless his performance takes a major dip or he dies or something like that, you can just call him next year. You can get this kid at any time from that company, right? You can probably pursue those relationships over and over and over again. Man, this is kind of an interesting niche and it makes me wonder about all those phone calls I got when I was a lawyer on Wall Street doing financial stuff.
[00:27:26] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:27:26] Jordan Harbinger: Because we got those calls. I mean, I was there for like a week and a half and I started getting headhunter calls and I was like, how do they even know I work here?
[00:27:32] Robert Kerbeck: And there's even dirtier side to it, right? So another big thing that firms are looking to do is they're looking to hire people to get them out of legal trouble. So, for example, let's say you're a Wall Street firm and let's say you need somebody to come work for you in your compliance department. Well, you're going to try to hire somebody from one of the very same regulatory agencies that might be coming after you. Think about that.
[00:27:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:27:59] Robert Kerbeck: And by the way, that happens all the time, even though people aren't supposed to. It happens all the time. You know XYZ Bank or XYZ major corporation, publicly traded company is like, look, we've got this issue with this product. We've got this issue with this situation. How can we mitigate this? You know, what if we'd hired somebody from the very same firm that might prosecute us or fine us? That's probably going to help us. And it happens all the time.
[00:28:25] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Yeah. Like, "Hey, what if we can convince the person who's adjacent to this investigation that they should come and consult for us, and then call all of their old colleagues and be like, here's what we're doing to mitigate the problem. You don't need to take us to court. We'll negotiate with you directly.
[00:28:38] Robert Kerbeck: Absolutely.
[00:28:39] Jordan Harbinger: That's kind of scary because you hope there are limits to that, but then also you're like, well, there probably aren't that many limits to that.
[00:28:46] Robert Kerbeck: No, there are no limits to that.
[00:28:47] Jordan Harbinger: Scary. Yeah.
[00:28:48] Robert Kerbeck: I mean, you know, somebody somewhere will tell us that there are limits to that, but in terms of real-world applications, no limits.
[00:28:55] Jordan Harbinger: You started as an actor, you started as a car salesman. How did those skills overlap? The acting thing is kind of self-explanatory. What about the car salesman stuff? I mean, is it just simply sales skills coming into play on the phone?
[00:29:05] Robert Kerbeck: Look, I come from a family, my great-grandfather sold horse carriages before automobiles were invented.
[00:29:11] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:29:11] Robert Kerbeck: He became one of the first automobile dealers in Philadelphia. My grandfather took over that dealership. My father took over that dealership, and I was supposed to take over that dealership. And I fell in love with acting in college, wanted to move to New York to be an actor, but when I graduated, I just seemed insane to me. I didn't know anybody that had been an artist. So I went to work for my dad.
[00:29:29] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:29:30] Robert Kerbeck: And one of the things my father taught me was, the biggest thing with selling anyone anything is you have to find out what their objection is. And you have to satisfy that objection. So is the objection the price? Is the objection the color? What is the objection and you have to do your best to satisfy that. Well, it was the same thing with these rusing phone calls. You know, you had to go, what is the objection? Why is somebody not willing to give me this information? What are they pushing back on? And that's something that I would take into these ruse phone calls to use to get people to release information, is I would always be focusing on satisfying the objection. And what was crazy is we got so good at it, I could hear the objection in the tone of their voice before they even said what the objection was out loud. And so that I could actually satisfy the objection before they voiced it. Because I could hear it, even in the silence on the line.
[00:30:28] Jordan Harbinger: When I did sales, I know what you mean and I'm trying to figure out how to explain this particular phenomenon. Some of it is everybody has, there's a certain set of objections that everyone has and you can sort of preempt those, but you can almost tell where it's going to come up in the timing of the conversation, and then you simply say something that will get them to maybe relax that objection. I'm trying to think of a good example. Do you happen to have one on the top of your head?
[00:30:50] Robert Kerbeck: Time. Time is a great one, right? With us, it was always an emergency. There was a crisis, there was a financial crisis, there was a regulatory crisis, there was a compliance crisis, there was a legal crisis, there was a crisis. And even now, when all of us are getting these phishing emails, phishing texts, phishing phone calls, and they also are using time, right? You've been hacked. This is a big problem. You need to do this right now. You need to click on this link right now. And so it's the same thing, people are using time to get you to forget about your objections because you feel like, "Oh my God, I don't have time to object because this is such a crisis."
[00:31:31] Jordan Harbinger: You are listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Robert Kerbeck. We'll be right back.
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[00:33:14] This episode is also sponsored by a ZipRecruiter. Here's a surprising fact. The average time to hire for an open position is a staggering 11 weeks. That's nearly two and a half months of precious time. So if you're growing a business bursting with opportunities, can you really afford to sit around and wait for months to find the right talent? When a position remains unfilled for an extended period, it's not just a matter of a vacant desk. It's progress stalling, opportunities slipping away, competitors gaining ground. Well, if you're listening today, I've got some advice for you. Stop waiting and start using ZipRecruiter. ZipRecruiter can help you find qualified candidates for all your roles fast. And right now you can try it for free at ziprecruiter.com/jordan. ZipRecruiter's cutting-edge matching technology will scour its vast talent pool to pinpoint the most qualified individuals for your job openings. Gone are the days of sifting through piles of irrelevant resumes. ZipRecruiter does the heavy lifting for you, ensuring that only the cream of the croplands in your inbox. But that is not all. Once you receive a curated selection of potential candidates for the ones that truly captivate your attention, a single click is all it takes to extend a personal invitation for them to apply. Imagine the thrill of watching talented applicants respond eagerly to your invitation. Stepping into the recruitment race at an accelerated pace. A whopping four out of five employers who post their job listings on ZipRecruiter find a quality candidate within the very first day. You heard that right. Within a mere 24 hours, you could be shaking hands with a potential superstar who perfectly matches your requirements. So speed up your hiring process with ZipRecruiter.
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[00:34:58] Jordan Harbinger: If you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors, thinkers, and creators every single week, it is because of my network and I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. This course is all about improving your relationship-building skills, creating a great environment for other people to develop a relationship with you. And it's not cringey, it's not awkward, it's very down to earth. Not a lot of cheesy stuff going on, I promise. Just practical exercises that are going to make you a better connector, a better colleague, a better friend, a better peer. This has helped my career tremendously, and I know it'll do the same for you for personal or business reasons. And by the way, many of the guests on our show subscribe and contribute to the course. So, hey, come join us, you'll be in smart company. You can find the course at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[00:35:43] Now back to Robert Kerbeck.
[00:35:47] My wife's cousin was getting scammed. The police detective called her to about some urgent situation. I can't remember all the details. "You need to go right now and you need to do all these different things and drive to," I don't know what it was. I don't think it was as dumb as going to Target and buying Amazon gift cards or whatever the scammers like to do, but it was something adjacent to that. And she gets in the elevator and she's on the phone and they're keeping her on the phone. And then the supervisor comes on the phone and the call drops because she goes into her underground parking structure in San Francisco. And when the call drops, she goes, "Wait a second. This is starting to — wait a minute now that I'm thinking about this. This is not making any sense." And then, they called her back and she was already suspicious. And what she was telling us was, "If the call hadn't dropped, if I'd stayed on the phone, I would definitely have fallen for the scam," because they were not letting her off the phone. They don't want you to get off the phone.
[00:36:34] Robert Kerbeck: Right.
[00:36:34] Jordan Harbinger: And think, wait, hang on. So when you build urgency like that, that doesn't give them time to go, "I have lunch right now and I've got a meeting after that. Let me call you back at 3:00 p.m. and give you the information you want." It's, "Oh, I better order delivery because this is happening right now on German time and it's 7:00 p.m. there. I got to get Gerhardt the information that he needs or the whole company is in trouble. So I'm just going to call the Chinese restaurant and have them deliver to the doorman and have them bring it up." And that's a kind of urgency that gets people to, puts your critical thinking in a box neatly tucked away and complying with you.
[00:37:09] Robert Kerbeck: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, we would almost never get the information coming back for it later, almost never. The percentage would be ridiculous. Like, you know, one out of a hundred, two out of a hundred, in other words.
[00:37:19] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:37:19] Robert Kerbeck: We had to get the information right then and there. You know, people would have all of these objections about giving it to you right then and there. And that would be our job is to go, "Look, we have to have this now. This is an emergency." And you know, obviously, we were very successful at doing that.
[00:37:35] Jordan Harbinger: The acting skills seem like they're probably key. Do you think that the lack of ability to really play the part is a problem when people get into this industry? You mentioned that your first boss only hired actors. Is that in part because I mean, yes, they'll take a flexible job, but if you can't play the part well, if you're corny, it's just not going to happen?
[00:37:56] Robert Kerbeck: I don't know anybody that was successful at being a corporate spy that didn't come out of an acting background. I'm sure there's one somewhere, but all the ones that I know of that I either worked with or I trained personally, they all came from an acting background and had strong improvisational skills. Everybody had a facility with a certain accent. You know, like I have other accents, I do, but the German was my go-to. And then the woman who trained me, hers was Irish, my buddy Pax, he would go British. You know, we all had our like, go-to character. And again, you know, I think that that's something that only actors have, right? Now, of course, we're living in a strange world now where we've got this artificial intelligence software—
[00:38:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:36] Robert Kerbeck: —which can now imitate people's voices. So no longer do you have to go to Juilliard Drama School to be able to pretend to be the CEO of XYZ company. That is already a frightening new frontier for social engineering, where now artificial intelligence can actually simulate your boss's voice.
[00:38:57] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:38:57] Robert Kerbeck: So now, if you get a phone call, and it sounds like your boss, and they're using call spoofing to make the number appear as if it's your boss, why the heck are you not going to tell that individual anything and everything that they ask you for?
[00:39:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Now with the deepfake stuff, I mean, for sensitive information, it's going to be like you have to go into a room with the person to have the conversation, which is so, I guess counter to everything we're used to now and sort of very anti-tech. It's not like you can just jump on Zoom. What if that's also fake in five years?
[00:39:31] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:39:32] Jordan Harbinger: "What? Like I didn't have a conversation with you. I was on vacation in Bermuda. What are you talking about?" "We talked about the semiconductor design for an hour and a half yesterday." "No, that wasn't me." "I wondered why they wanted to do the call at four o'clock in the morning. I wonder why the cadence of their voice was slightly off."
[00:39:46] Robert Kerbeck: It is. It's really intense. I was joking the other day. I did a little recording again on a show and I was saying, we're all going to need code names, you know?
[00:39:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:54] Robert Kerbeck: We've all wanted to say we were Maverick, but now we're going to have our code name like I'm Maverick, and you're going to have your code name. And so when you call me, I'm going to say, "Hey, what's the code name?" And you're going to go, "Condor," and I'm going to go, "Maverick." And we're going to go, okay, good. This is good. We know we're real.
[00:40:08] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[00:40:09] Robert Kerbeck: Isn't that amazing? that you're going to have a code name with your wife, code name with your boss, so that when these deepfakes come, they're not going to know what the code name is. We hope.
[00:40:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:40:18] Robert Kerbeck: But again, as a corporate spy, If code names became a big thing, I'd be coming in and going, Hey, I need the list of the code names for all the executives. Hmm. And then I would get that list of the code names, and then I would funnel that to the hackers that were doing the deep fakes. And now we would know what the code names are, right?
[00:40:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You know, there's going to have to be sort of encrypted authentication where in order to see if you're talking with that person, they're going to have to authenticate on their device with their fingerprint. And then the app, which is going to be ideally a trusted, encrypted, third-party kind of thing, is going to say, "Jennifer has authenticated using her fingerprint and facial recognition." So you're actually talking to that person, not an AI version of that person. I mean, that probably already exists. Why don't firms do this themselves? You know, why are you working for a third-party corporate spy organization? Why isn't your office underneath Jamie Dimon over at Chase, for example?
[00:41:14] Robert Kerbeck: That's funny. It's funny you mentioned JP Morgan.
[00:41:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:16] Robert Kerbeck: Corporations cannot directly hire spies. They need to have plausible deniability for obvious reasons. And I'm here to tell you, you know, people say, "Well, do all corporations hire spies?" Yes, all corporations hire spies. But they do it through a consulting firm, or they do it through an executive recruiting firm because they need to have some distance that if Robert gets taken down by the NYPD or the—
[00:41:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I was going to say the FBI.
[00:41:47] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, the FBI or the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the US Marshals, or the Secret Service, or all of them at the same time, they need to go, wow. Jamie Dimon needs to be able to say, "I had no idea. Oh my gosh, this is terrible. This is horrible." But I'm here to tell you that, you know, back in my day of spying, and obviously, I'm out of that industry, which is why I can write a book about it, but back in my day of spying, I personally presented my extracted data to two individuals that today are one step from being CEOs of two of the largest companies in the world. So the individuals in the C-Suites in America and globally are all too happy to take the data from corporate spies.
[00:42:28] Jordan Harbinger: That makes total sense, right? So they might hire, Apple, for example, hires, I don't know, KPMG who retains such and such, and then that other firm retains you and supposedly nobody knows, but at the end of the day, occasionally, at least on those two occasions you went in and they knew and that was the end of that. And they probably went, "Hmm, maybe we shouldn't have this guy coming into our building up to the 18th floor next time," but what's done is done. I would imagine they thought about that at some point.
[00:42:56] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. You know, I got to be honest with, they didn't care. As a matter of fact, they were so happy to get that information.
[00:43:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:43:00] Robert Kerbeck: The one in particular, and I detailed it in the book, I mean the guy was practically jumping up and down at the data. He was just over the moon at how, the word he used was, "How actionable it was," which basically means they can make money off of it. And that's at the end of the day, if they're going to pay a spy and they were paying me obviously great money, they're paying me great money because they can make exponentially more off of that intelligence.
[00:43:25] Jordan Harbinger: You talk about the Ben Franklin effect, I've mentioned that on this show before. Tell us what that is and how you use it. Because I think it's not just for dubious ethical levels of persuasion. I mean, it's something you can use in your everyday life that is actually quite useful.
[00:43:39] Robert Kerbeck: Meaning the idea that it's sort of counterintuitive that when somebody does something for you, right, like somebody does a favor for you—
[00:43:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:43:47] Robert Kerbeck: —I used to think that, okay, I do a favor for me, so now, we'll reverse it, you know? So, you know, you do one for me, I do one for you.
[00:43:53] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Quid pro quo.
[00:43:54] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, exactly. But the Ben Franklin effect is the opposite of that, which is, is that if I get you to do a favor for me, you now become much more likely to do another favor for me.
[00:44:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:05] Robert Kerbeck: And another favor for me, and another favor for me, because somehow we've created this thing where by me asking you, I'm sort of flattering you. That you are very valuable to me, that you're very important to me, and that you're doing something that is very positive and good—
[00:44:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:21] Robert Kerbeck: —and helpful in this scenario for this corporation that theoretically we both work for. And of course, one of the things, again, that we would use and ploy is we would always, I would always call in as someone higher than you in the organization.
[00:44:36] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:44:36] Robert Kerbeck: So if you're a vice president, I'm a senior vice president. If you're a senior vice president, I'm an executive vice president, right? I'm always going to be above you so that you are thinking, "Wow, I've got this big shot on the phone, big deal on the phone. I need to tread carefully. I need to win this guy over. Boy, I've heard great things about this guy. I never spoke to him before. Oh, maybe I was on one conference call." And so that's the thing about the Benjamin of Franklin effect, that it's very, very strange how you can actually keep going back to the same person over and over and over for information and they're happy to hear from you. They're happy to give you that information. It's very strange.
[00:45:13] Jordan Harbinger: It makes sense though, right? You've one, you've got the specter of authority that always helps. So there's not only sort of a halo effect, I guess you could say. Like, wow, this person's the chief of compliance, even though they're in another country, they way outside your department. That's kind of a big deal. But there's also the spector, or at least the shadow of potential consequences, like, okay, he's not in my department. He's not even in my region, but his colleagues are interfacing with my boss's boss. And there's just, there's a real-life scenario where if I don't play ball here, that gets over to my boss's boss, which trickles down to my boss, and then I'm suddenly in trouble for not actually doing this.
[00:45:50] Robert Kerbeck: Correct.
[00:45:50] Jordan Harbinger: And it's unspoken, right?
[00:45:52] Robert Kerbeck: Yep. It's all unspoken. You're using the cudgel of the corporate hierarchy to get people to release information. They should not release.
[00:46:00] Jordan Harbinger: I would imagine at some point people get wind of you doing this and the original strategies stop working, right? Because at first when you're doing this in almost nobody else's, no one's expecting it. They haven't been trained on it. It's like that movie, The Invention of Lying, which I know I've mentioned on the show before. Have you seen this movie, The Invention of Lying?
[00:46:16] Robert Kerbeck: No.
[00:46:17] Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh, Ricky Gervais and he goes, I can't remember how he gets there and I should really look this up because I retell this anecdote and I never know the plot, but he somehow ends up in a universe where nobody lies. It just hasn't happened before. Everyone just says the true thing. And so he starts lying and people are like, "Wow, you know what happens after you die? You've got to tell everyone," and he's doing national talk show tours and he is like, "Yeah, I know what happens when you die." And people are like, mind blown that this guy, he's the only person in the world that knows and they don't expect it, right? So when you're doing this and nobody is calling to try to get this secret information out of other people, they're complying. But after a while, after I would imagine a couple of years, it's like, "Okay. They told us in a meeting a few months ago that there might be calls like this and some are fake. This guy seems legit, but I don't know. They gave an example and this guy's using that exact example. Maybe I should just like call someone and ask." You know, that you probably had to change your tactics at some point.
[00:47:11] Robert Kerbeck: Well, of course, we did, but again, I think your audience will be surprised how little emphasis corporations put on training their employees and educating their employees and telling their employees about this kind of thing. Yet, they're spending millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions to protect the systems, the firewall, the network, the encryption, the server, and yet they're not telling people, "Hey, there's this good old-fashioned social engineering via the telephone where people are getting all of this valuable information. We got to cut it out. We're going to have a giant Zoom meeting for the whole firm and we're going to have somebody come in and show examples, or we're going to have a conference with the heads of all these departments and we're going to say, 'Look, this is how it goes.' We're going to have Robert bring somebody up on stage and role play one of these scam fishing calls looks like." Right?
[00:48:02] No, they do not do that. They do not do that. They wait until, and let's say for example, I call a firm, and let's say for example, the first person I call is very savvy and realizes that there's something, you know, amiss and maybe that person then sounds the alarm bells throughout the corporation. All of a sudden emails get fired out. That's basically how it happens. Like, oh my God, last second. There's no advanced planning. Now I'm here to tell you that when I make that phone call and I find a savvy person, because remember I can hear in the tone of their voice, I can hear in the silence on the line what kind of shot I have at getting this information. I can hear it.
[00:48:41] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:48:42] Robert Kerbeck: And so when I hear somebody who is being truculent and I can just hear that, they're not going to give me, the term we used is we put them to sleep. And the way we put them to sleep is, because look, I know I'm not going to get the information out of them. I can already tell before they've even said no. But what I don't want them to do is I don't want them to send the alarm bells.
[00:49:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:49:00] Robert Kerbeck: And so what I say to them is, I said, "Hey, you know what, would it be easier for you if I sent you an email where you saw this request?" "Gosh, yes. Yes. That's what I need." "Okay, look, I'm going to send you an email. It'll have everything in it. It'll show you why this is so important, what I'm talking about. I'm going to shoot it over to you. I'll have it to you within the hour I'll have it." "Okay, great. Okay. Look, I'm sorry I was doubting you. I don't mean to be suspicious, but I need to verify." "No, no, no. You did the right thing. You did the right thing. I'll have it to you within an hour. Worst-case scenario, by the end of the day, I'll have it to you by the end of the day. And if I get jammed up, because I got some other fires here. First thing in the morning, when you get in, it'll be on your desk."
[00:49:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:49:38] Robert Kerbeck: "First thing in the morning will be on your desk." "Okay, great. Thanks." Well, what have I done? I've gotten this person now. They're expecting this email that's going to explain everything I've said so that it was completely legitimate, important for the corporation. But now I've bought myself time.
[00:49:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:49:54] Robert Kerbeck: That now she or he has not told anybody else. They're not sending off an email to compliance or legal or whatever. Like we've got a problem. Somebody's coming in after information. So I bought myself time now that I can continue doing what I'm doing and I'm going to find somebody else that is not as savvy and they're going to gimme the information.
[00:50:13] Jordan Harbinger: What's especially brilliant about this is first you bought yourself an hour, then you bought yourself for the rest of the day. Then you bought yourself probably a full 24 hours or whatever. And in the meantime, what that person is not going to do is go, "You know, I should report this to security right away, because they're going to go, gosh. But then if I get this email in an hour or later today or tomorrow, I'm going to look like an idiot. If I blew all these whistles and then I get this legitimate request, oh, you know, I'll just wait. I'll just wait until it comes in. And then, well, if it doesn't come in, then I'll do something." And then it doesn't come in and they're like, "Well, let me just give them a few more hours," or maybe they already forgot, right? Because they don't want to look like a dumb ass.
[00:50:51] Robert Kerbeck: Right.
[00:50:52] Jordan Harbinger: So you've bought yourself enough time to maybe go and get what you want from someplace else already and be long gone by then.
[00:50:58] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, exactly. And look, probably a good percentage of times the person forgets about the email.
[00:51:05] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:51:05] Robert Kerbeck: Right. Because they're busy, they're, they've moved on to another thing. They don't know now that I've gone to their colleague two sections over, you know, two floors down and just gotten all the information that I needed.
[00:51:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. And I guess if they don't get it, they might go, "Well, I should have said something, but God, what was his name again? And when did he call me? Oh, well whatever. He didn't get any information from me. I'm fine. That's his problem," right? Not having any idea that your job is done.
[00:51:28] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. Yeah. And even if they find out later, they get the email. By the way, our corporation was breached yesterday. There was all this information that was obtained." They were, you know, then is that person going to say anything?
[00:51:39] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. I had 24 hours advanced notice, but I didn't say anything because the guy said he was going to send me an email like I am not signing up for that chopping block. No way. I know you worked in the defense industry as well as finance. That sounds more dangerous in that, eh, if I get some financial superstar people, the companies are pissed off maybe there's a threat of litigation, but I don't know if I get defense industry people. Now, you're messing with the government, the FBI, the district attorney, like that seems a little scarier.
[00:52:06] Robert Kerbeck: What's so funny about that is that was one of the first big projects that Pax and I did when we got this job, right, was to go into the largest American defense contractors and find out about the top secret products, plans back in the day. You know, the avionics, the Radar, AWACS, JSTARS, Joint STARS.
[00:52:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:52:27] Robert Kerbeck: You know, all of these weapons programs. And we would find out who the designers were and who the project, you know, this was all top secret information. Now, of course, that information we were getting wasn't being sold, thank God to the Chinese.
[00:52:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:41] Robert Kerbeck: Because that would be treason, it was just being sold to Lockheed's competitor or Martin Marietta's competitor or Boeing's competitor, right? But still, I was shocked. I was shocked that these people who are trained, now, these people are trained.
[00:52:58] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:52:58] Robert Kerbeck: You know, they've got to get security clearance to work in these groups. They are trained not to give this information out. And yet we were able to, through basic social engineering, again, what I call rusing, able to find out anything we wanted to know about top secret, you know, military projects.
[00:53:15] Jordan Harbinger: That should terrify everybody basically.
[00:53:18] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:53:18] Jordan Harbinger: Everybody should be kind of worried about that. Especially because I know folks are going, "Yeah, but they have better training now or we have better systems now." You know, one of the ruse you mentioned in the book was you leveraged the Y2K bug to get info. And a lot of people who might even be too young to know what that is, which makes me feel really old. But basically, the idea is, "All the computer systems are going to crash and if I don't get this information to recode this thing, we're in crazy amounts of trouble." And if you're a defense contractor, like you certainly don't want the missile program to not work because of the Y2K bug. But there's always some sort of Y2K-ish thing, maybe getting slightly less press, but there's always some consequences that are going to happen that you can lean on. I would imagine. Do you think about things in the news and go, "Oh, if I were still in the game, I would totally use this to get info?"
[00:54:04] Robert Kerbeck: All the time. All the time. I mean, look, ransomware attacks—
[00:54:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:54:08] Robert Kerbeck: —you know, that is money in the bank for a corporate spy. Basically every call, you know, and again, obviously I wouldn't be a very good spy if I wrote a book outing myself as a spy, and I went back to spying.
[00:54:18] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:54:18] Robert Kerbeck: But I will tell you one of the funniest things about the book is that when the book was released, I cannot tell you how many corporations reached out to hire me to spy for them.
[00:54:25] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:54:27] Robert Kerbeck: I know. And I said, "You do know that I've outed myself as a spy." "We don't care. We don't care." that was really quite shocking to me.
[00:54:34] Jordan Harbinger: Just use the German accent. Nobody will know, man. Yeah.
[00:54:36] Robert Kerbeck: Nobody will know.
[00:54:37] Jordan Harbinger: You can get referral fees from referring your friends who are still in the game—
[00:54:40] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:54:40] Jordan Harbinger: —if you want. The ransomware is a great sort of topical thing, right? Ransomware or like, I can imagine a call where you go, "Hey look, you don't know this. Nobody does. But we have been hit by a massive ransomware attack and first of all, not only is no one going to going to get paid next Friday if we don't straighten this out, but certain projects that are key to the company are going to fail because all the data has been encrypted. I really need to know the following three or five things like right now. We're all going to be here for the next three days high on caffeine, trying to fix this."
[00:55:10] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:55:11] Jordan Harbinger: And of course, someone's going to be like, "Oh my God, I've heard about ransomware. I watched CNN yesterday and they talked about this," right? So you're just, you riding the wave of their pre-programmed fears of something that's in the zeitgeist. Crazy.
[00:55:23] Robert Kerbeck: Jordan, you clearly would've been a fantastic corporate spy.
[00:55:28] Jordan Harbinger: Ransom was a good AI. We just talked about this. Hey, we got to talk about AI. I'm sure that's a thing too. Thank you for that. It's a compliment.
[00:55:34] Robert Kerbeck: You just created the whole ruse right there, right on the spot.
[00:55:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:55:37] Robert Kerbeck: Like that was genius. That was genius. As a matter of fact, I'm going back into the business now. I'm going back.
[00:55:41] Jordan Harbinger: Going back into the business. Let's partner up, man. Some of the stuff that you wrote about was quite interesting just from a recruiting standpoint as well, which of course, you ended up going into recruiting, and I imagine a lot of the skills transferred over. But finding out what time executives answered their own phones, namely after the secretaries went home. I wonder if work from home has changed this at all. It seems like now executives probably answer their own phones all the time.
[00:56:05] Robert Kerbeck: Yes. One of the funny things about technology is as a spy, some technology would be invented, right? And we'd go, "Oh my God, our career is over."
[00:56:14] Jordan Harbinger: We're doomed.
[00:56:15] Robert Kerbeck: We're doomed. It's going to get so much harder. And then all of a sudden you go, "Wait a second, this is going to make it easier." And it happened again, and again and again. Whatever corporate invention was developed to prevent us from doing something, whatever the technology was, we ended up using it to our advantage, right? For example, cell phones. It has made it so much easier to get to people. And you know, with call spoofing and a couple of other little tricks that I have, I can get anybody to pick up the phone. I can get anybody to pick up the phone. And so once I get you to pick up the phone, now I've got a shot. And even better if you're watching your kid's baseball game or you're on the Peloton in your house.
[00:56:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:56:54] Robert Kerbeck: Even better, even better, because now I've got you sort of a little unaware is not really in corporate head mode at home, at the ballgame, whatever.
[00:57:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:57:03] Robert Kerbeck: And now all of a sudden I can play the, "Look, I'm working my ass off. You might be on your Peloton, you might be at your kid's game, but I'm working my ass off here because we got a problem. And I need your help."
[00:57:13] Jordan Harbinger: I love this. It's so funny to, you're just all these little subtle triggers, right? Like, you're playing the sympathy card. Like, here I am at a ballgame. I want to get off the phone cause I'm at a ballgame. But also this poor guy's stuck in the office. I can't really hear the background noise because I'm again at a ballgame. So I don't notice that you're not in the place that you say that you are. I'm not going to go and google the number and make sure that it's legit. But the call spoofing is interesting for people who don't know. People think, caller ID just tells you the number someone's calling from. No, it tells you what the phone that's calling you says their number is which is actually quite helpful in some ways because what if you're calling from a switchboard? You don't want it to be that you want it to be your direct line or not your direct line. But now you can spoof that and you can say, I'm calling from your mom's phone, the White House, corporate headquarters, corporate headquarters in another region. You can just tell caller ID what your number is. And if you know the number that they would be afraid to get a call from and not answer, now they're going to pick up the phone no matter what. They're going to trip over the cord to get that phone call.
[00:58:14] Robert Kerbeck: That's funny. You use the mom one because when my book was about to be released, I started getting messages from a former corporate spy that I had trained who was still in the business. And he was panicking, panicking, panicking. And I just didn't want to deal with him. And so I didn't respond to his phone calls or his texts. And finally, one day, I got a call from my mom and I answered it. And it was him. It was him.
[00:58:32] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny.
[00:58:33] Robert Kerbeck: He had spoofed me, which is great, you know, spy versus spy and—
[00:58:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:58:37] Robert Kerbeck: —he was panicked. And this is the funny thing, he was panicked that my book was going to end his career is corporate spy because my book was going to end corporate spying that corporations were going to go, oh—
[00:58:48] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:58:49] Robert Kerbeck: Which I was like, "Dude, you're going to be okay. Corporate spying is going to go on forever. It's not stopping anytime soon.
[00:58:56] Jordan Harbinger: Also, you're welcome for writing an advertisement for our industry so that everybody who didn't even know it existed is now going, "Wait a second, I can hire these guys to get this information. That never occurred to me," right?
[00:59:07] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[00:59:07] Jordan Harbinger: You might have to redo a couple of tactics. And that's it, man.
[00:59:10] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. The people that were asleep at the wheel, corporate executives, are like, "Wait a second, we're the only ones in America that haven't hired a spy."
[00:59:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Some of the tactics are just never not going to work. Like tell me about the free ticket scam. This will never not work until there are no live events ever again.
[00:59:25] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. So, you know, again, we found back in the day that we did much better going bro to bro, executive to executive, right?
[00:59:33] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:59:34] Robert Kerbeck: And of course, remember I'm calling guys, back in the early days, we started Wall Street, right? So I'm calling Wall Street honchos, Wall Street big shots, think of giant cigars and custom suits. And so I realized, I had to play to their ego because they had big egos and they were getting big bonus checks. And so, one of the ploys I came up with is we'd call them and go, "Look, you've been killing it. Your team is killing it. The firm loves you and we got these box seats for the Knicks, blah, blah, blah on Tuesday night. And we want to give them to you and your team. And all I need is, I just need the list of the guys to put on the thing because I got to fill the seats. So I need the names." And so the guy's like, "Well, yeah, sure." And he's going to give you the list of basically his trading team. Then, I'm going to go, "Oh, and hey, you know what? We got a little extra room here. What about the sales guys that work with you?" "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah," and all of a sudden you start getting all of this information. Now again, maybe some of your listeners will go, "Well, how valuable really is that information?"
[01:00:36] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:00:36] Robert Kerbeck: Well, I'm here to tell you that in 2006 there was a team at Morgan Stanley, eight-person team that did a trade that made Morgan Stanley one billion dollars.
[01:00:45] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[01:00:46] Robert Kerbeck: And I was hired to find out the names of the eight people on that team. Why? Because the person that hired me, the firm that hired me, wanted to steal one or two or three or four of those people because they wanted to replicate those trades and make one billion dollars. Audience might go, "Well, how hard could it be to find those eight people?" Well, I'm here to tell you — impossible. Going back to the Steve Jobs things, he wouldn't even list the developers in the system, so how are you going to find them, right? And so again, getting that information on who these traders are, what teams they're on, who they work with, incredibly valuable. And then of course, once I had the names in this scenario with the fake tickets, now I could call somebody else up because I had the list of the names and get the rankings. I go, "Hey look, I've got to list these guys on a document in order of production. Can you pull the production sheet?"
[01:01:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[01:01:38] Robert Kerbeck: "I'm not supposed to list the production." "Well, for the regulators, we're now required. Guess what? That's what they make us do." "Oh. Oh, we're required to do that now. Okay." And now you've got the names and you've got their production, so you know who the top people are. And again, that is really valuable private information.
[01:01:59] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Robert Kerbeck. We'll be right back.
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[01:06:36] Now for the rest of my conversation with Robert Kerbeck.
[01:06:41] Calling from the compliance department is genius in so many ways because one, not only is the specter of authority inside the company, but it's like, well, the regulators like the government, basically the police now need this information. So of course, there's even more authority there. It's above the person who's calling. So even to me, I can't even do anything about, I'm being pressed by the authorities and so now I'm in turn putting that pressure on you in a way where I'm shielding you from it, but I'm also not because you're building the vibe. We're in this together. This isn't coming from inside the company. This is the company defending itself against the regulators. So now, you've got this "we're all in this together" vibe. And on top of that, if they quote the rules and say, "I'm not supposed to do that," you can say, "Relax, I know you're not. I'm the one who wrote the rules that said you're not supposed to do that. And I'm telling you now that you are." "Oh, well, okay, in that case, I guess I have to," right? It's just like there's layers to this that are just really, really, you can tell that you created this based on a lot of experience. This is not something you thought up in the shower one day.
[01:07:44] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. Well, look, right now we have this amazing catastrophe with banks, right?
[01:07:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:07:49] Robert Kerbeck: And we've got all of these banks in Silicon Valley struggling and going under and being bailed out. Well, I mean, for me, again, we talked about how we would use current events, real-time events to create ploys that would get us to be able to learn whatever we wanted to know. I'm telling you right now, I could find out anything about any bank, anywhere in the country right now in 45 minutes or less, anything, and I would be using that ploy. I'd say, "Look, Credit Swiss just went under."
[01:08:19] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:08:20] Robert Kerbeck: "We got to be careful. We're not next. Regulators are so afraid because they feel like now they're getting criticized because they dropped the ball, and so now they're coming at us hard and they need this, they need that, and they want it right now. And if we don't get it right now, they're going to put us on the list for extra stress testing, or they're going to put us on the list that we're in trouble and our stock price is going to plummet. In 15 minutes, I need this information right now." Right?
[01:08:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:08:43] Robert Kerbeck: Now does that sound pretty legitimate? Yeah, that sounds pretty legitimate.
[01:08:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Like I'm nervous for that per that fake, imaginary person who now has to go and get all this information and give it to you because they really have to, they're skipping lunch. How did you pick industries to work in? I guess it was just based on who hired you, but did all industries come in or was it kind of like finance and then defense and it was everybody says, "Hey, look, we don't really do this."
[01:09:04] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. So, when I started, the woman whose firm, you know, the woman who hired me, she really specialized in Wall Street. And so that was kind of where I cut my teeth, but then obviously we had that big defense assignment. And then what started to happen, much to my surprise and shock, especially when I went out on my own, is that, firms would find out about me all through word of mouth, because obviously as a corporate spy, you weren't advertising. I didn't have a website. And corporations would find out about me and then they would be in different industries. And a lot of times it would be because the consulting firm that was acting as the intermediary, the consulting firm worked in multiple industries, or the executive recruiting firm worked in multiple industries. And so that they would go, "Wow, this guy killed it for our banking client. They loved this guy. I wonder how he would do with the pharmaceutical project, I wonder how he would do researching firms in Brazil. I wonder how he would do researching firms in China."
[01:10:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[01:10:01] Robert Kerbeck: "I wonder how he would do if he had to use different languages." And so all of a sudden I started getting all of these different projects all over the world in all different industries. I mean, there is probably no country that has any kind of corporate presence that I didn't call. You know, I mean, we call Latin America all the time. Obviously, we call Japan all the time, China all the time, India all the time, Russia, obviously, all the European countries. Corporate spying is a global industry.
[01:10:31] Jordan Harbinger: Did different industries require different tactics? You know, is defense different than finance or is it kind of like the same ploy, different coat of paint?
[01:10:39] Robert Kerbeck: That's a great question. Pretty similar.
[01:10:41] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:10:42] Robert Kerbeck: There's certain things that you would need to be aware of. So for example, if I was researching technology firms, obviously, Wall Street, there's a little bit more of a sales element to Wall Street. Technology, obviously, it's more technical and so you're going to be dealing with more technical people. So you had to make sure your technical reasons, logic was a little higher. Whereas maybe Wall Street, you'd be playing more emotion. Pharmaceutical companies are a little bit more stayed. So you would have to be a little bit more aware of, okay, this is an industry that's a little bit more, you know, buttoned up, so to speak.
[01:11:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:11:17] Robert Kerbeck: So I need to just be aware of that in terms of how I'm talking to people, but not as big a difference as you would think.
[01:11:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it seems like the same type of thing would work. The free ticket scam, for example. Some of those plays would work, but I get what you mean. You know, on Wall Street, I would think if you're calling an investment banker, you're making jokes about staying up too late and drinking too much or doing a little bit too much of something else the previous night. So you got a hangover. Whereas if you call a pharmaceutical company, you're probably/maybe not doing that exact kind of thing because then you don't want them to be like, "This dumb bro guy called me talking about how he's hungover and he's asking me for this information. What a moron." Whereas you called Deutsche Bank and you get some young analyst or whatever, you're like, "Man, sorry, my brain is just melted. We were up at 1Oak last night until like four o'clock in the morning. Anyway, here's what I need." And they're like, "Oh, yeah, me too. I don't like 1Oak though. I go to Marque now," right? So, it's just like, you can really sort of build a relationship based on that. But yeah, Pfizer might have a slightly different—
[01:12:16] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[01:12:17] Jordan Harbinger: —corporate culture that you want to match, especially if you're pretending to be inside the company. Did you ever get heat on you or any investigations? I know you mentioned before that your colleague Pax had panicked because he felt like somebody was watching him or something along those lines.
[01:12:30] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, so, you know, at one point there was this hacker. And now, we're back in the mid-'90s and there was this and this is the early days of the Internet was just becoming sort of commercially accessible. And there was this hacker who was, you know, running around doing things, breaking into, hacking into the major phone companies at the time, who, of course, the Internet was coming through the telephone lines back then, the authorities thought this individual was trying to shut down the Internet, right? And so they were going after this guy hard and in their investigation, trying to find this guy, they eventually did sort of locate him, and then he went on the lam, he was on the run, and literally on the run from the US Marshals, the Secret Service, the FBI.
[01:13:15] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:13:16] Robert Kerbeck: You know, everybody, a laundry list of agencies, so now this guy is on the run. They're looking for him and they're investigating, and sure enough, they stumble onto our trail. That was a pretty scary time because at that point we were still actors. I was doing Melrose Place and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
[01:13:34] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:13:34] Robert Kerbeck: And I had just done this exercise video dancing with OJ Simpson right before the infamous murders. And, all of a sudden I'm like, wow, the authorities are going to get quite a thrill out of like, busting the guy that just worked with OJ. You know, maybe they'll think I did the murders, you know?
[01:13:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh geez.
[01:13:50] Robert Kerbeck: And here we had thought this job was sort of in the gray area of legality. And when Pax first got contacted by the authorities who were hunting this hacker, It was a real kind of alarm bell that maybe what we were doing wasn't in the gray. Certainly, it was in the very dark gray and yeah, that was a really frightening time.
[01:14:10] Jordan Harbinger: You said you worked with OJ on that music video or like an exercise video? What was he like? Because you hear mixed accounts of the juice.
[01:14:18] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. So here I am, I have this survival job, and again, at that point in time, maybe I was making $12 an hour, I don't remember, but it was not the two million dollars that it eventually turned into. And so I needed acting jobs. My manager calls me up one day and he says, "Hey, look, I got a job on this exercise video. It's a couple of days' work, and pays pretty good. You get free sneakers." And at the time, my sneakers had holes in them, so it was a big deal. And I said, "Well, you know," my manager's name was Bobby, I said, Bobby, "I'm the worst dancer in the history of mankind. I cannot be doing any exercise dance video. And he said, "No, no, no, no, no. It's an exercise video for guys. It's with OJ Simpson." I said, "OJ Simpson?" He said, "Yeah, OJ Simpson, it's going to be pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups." And at the time, I was a young guy, I was in shape. So I said, "Oh my God, I love OJ Simpson. I'm in." So I show up on the set of the exercise video and it's at a studio with a dance floor. There's a choreographer. And right away the choreographer lines us up. There are two beautiful women, me, OJ, and a buddy of mine. The choreographer shows us this routine, which was like a dance routine.
[01:15:20] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:15:21] Robert Kerbeck: And everybody does the dance routine perfectly even OJ did it pretty well, except for me stumbling and bumbling and looking like a complete dufus. And the choreographer comes over to fire me. He's like, "How did you get this job"? Like, what the hell are you doing here? And OJ says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no, no. You can't get rid of Rob. Rob's dancing is so bad, it's making me look good. Rob stays."
[01:15:42] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:15:42] Robert Kerbeck: So basically, I learned this then, you know, number one rule in Hollywood is make the star look good.
[01:15:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:15:49] Robert Kerbeck: And OJ was nervous because you know, here he was doing these things and he didn't want to look like an idiot. And so there was somebody that was looking like an idiot for him.
[01:15:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:15:57] Robert Kerbeck: So somehow that bonded us. Somehow that created this thing where OJ was my best buddy at one point, he pulls me aside and he says, "Hey Rob, you want to see the new pilot I shot for NBC?" I said, "Yeah, sure." He says, "I play a knife expert."
[01:16:12] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh, okay.
[01:16:13] Robert Kerbeck: You cannot make this stuff up. This is all true. So he pops into video cassette and he shows me this episode of him as a Navy SEAL knife expert. And he's so excited about it because he shot the pilot. It's about to be a series. Obviously, that series never happened. But the thing that was most memorable about it was there was one of the two women was this beautiful blonde woman. Now, of course, at the time I did not know Nicole Brown Simpson. But of course, once Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered and her picture was on TV, it was shocking how much this blonde woman in the exercise video resembled Nicole Brown Simpson. It was really staggering.
[01:16:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:16:52] Robert Kerbeck: So we're on the set and he starts flirting with this woman in the exercise video, but not just flirting, basically sexually harassing her.
[01:16:59] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[01:16:59] Robert Kerbeck: And saying the most terrible things, the most horrible things. And so all of a sudden, here I am, OJ is like my pal, but now he's saying these terrible things to this woman, which unfortunately back in the day people put up with. But I pulled her aside and I said, "Hey look, are you okay? We can call the Screen Actors Guild and we can get a representative down here on set and he'll have to stop. But, you know, she didn't want to make waves because she was hoping maybe to get a job like I was in the Navy SEALs pilot.
[01:17:28] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:17:28] Robert Kerbeck: Of course, at the time, he didn't realize it to see this guy hitting on this woman in such an offensive, egregious manner with such an edge. And of course, now we know that that same edge, you know, he was on edge, right? Because obviously, his marriage had gone to hell. I guess his wife was cheating on him and his mind because he certainly was cheating on her. And obviously, I saw in that moment in time why those murders happened.
[01:17:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:17:57] Robert Kerbeck: I saw his personality, I saw his true personality.
[01:17:59] Jordan Harbinger: I would imagine once you found out what happened, you, did you think back like, "Oh, maybe I should have said something. Maybe we should have called Screen Actors Guild?" I mean, there's nothing you could have done really, but did you think, do you think about that? Like what you would've done differently maybe, if anything?
[01:18:10] Robert Kerbeck: Absolutely. Yeah. No, I think about that all the time. And of course, as soon as I found out about the murders, I called the district attorney. And no surprise there, nobody ever called me back.
[01:18:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:18:20] Robert Kerbeck: I was offered a lot of money to go on TV shows and tell stories, but I didn't want to make money off of a horrible crime, so I didn't do any of those things.
[01:18:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:18:30] Robert Kerbeck: But I did feel like the story that I had to tell had some value for the prosecution. I don't know that it would've been evidentiary, but I cannot believe to this day that nobody even called up to hear about that story.
[01:18:42] Jordan Harbinger: Maybe they didn't need it. Maybe they had a hundred more. I don't really know.
[01:18:45] Robert Kerbeck: Mm-hmm.
[01:18:45] Jordan Harbinger: I was too young. I didn't watch the trial. I wasn't really interested because I think I was like a young teenager, but maybe they had a hundred more, I don't know. You're right though. There is something there.
[01:18:54] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[01:18:54] Jordan Harbinger: Depending on the level of credibility and the memory and all that. But again, maybe they just had so much evidence. I mean, they had what they thought was a lot of really good evidence. That's for damn sure.
[01:19:05] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[01:19:05] Jordan Harbinger: Did you ever impersonate people when you were doing the rusing? Because it seems like that would be, I mean, you made Gerhardt or whatever, but was that a real person?
[01:19:15] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[01:19:15] Jordan Harbinger: Or was that just a cutout?
[01:19:17] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah, no, no, that was a real person.
[01:19:18] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[01:19:19] Robert Kerbeck: Because look, if you were impersonating someone that didn't exist, they could look you up on the corporate intranet.
[01:19:25] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:19:25] Robert Kerbeck: And they could go, "Well, there is no Gerhardt in the Frankfurt office." Whereas if they looked you up on the Internet and they see Gerhardt head of compliance, Gerhardt legal, Gerhardt, you know, whatever, then all of a sudden they go, "Oh, again, it's legitimate." And so what we would do is, again, being actors, is we would call up executives and we would hope to get their voicemail, and then we would listen to the voicemail. "Hey, yeah, this is Mark Kelly. I'm not here. Leave a message." Now I can go, "Hey, this is Mark Kelly," and I can now imitate his voice. I only needed to hear a sentence or two.
[01:19:57] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:19:58] Robert Kerbeck: That I could do a good enough job, right? And you know, it was amazing. Sometimes at one point I was imitating someone and the woman on the other end of the phone, she goes, "I just saw you on CNBC."
[01:20:10] Jordan Harbinger: Like so convincing, you sound just like the guy I watched on TV—
[01:20:13] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[01:20:13] Jordan Harbinger: —who was the real guy. Oh my gosh.
[01:20:14] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah.
[01:20:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'm actually calling from the car on the way back from studio. Okay. I have 10 minutes to get this done.
[01:20:20] Robert Kerbeck: And trust me, that's probably exactly what I said. I'm sure I said something like, "How did I do, how did I look?"
[01:20:25] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:20:26] Robert Kerbeck: And she, "Oh, you looked great. You sounded great." "Oh, thank you. That's so nice of you. Anyway, I'm jammed up. This is what I need."
[01:20:32] Jordan Harbinger: It's so funny. How has the Internet changed the game? It seems like, if anything, people probably expect it to be harder because all this different information is out there. But I think it's probably, if anything easier because a lot of information, now that you would need for background, you don't have to fish it out. It's on the Internet.
[01:20:46] Robert Kerbeck: It's easier. It's so much easier. Right, it's so much easier. You know, back in the day there were a couple of gatekeepers that would have information on the personnel. That would've information on salaries, that would've information on new products, new product pricing, client contracts. It would only be a few people that would know that in a firm. And they would be in one department. Well, now, that information is generally put into their intranet, right? So that you can find it out. Again, some far-flung junior analyst in some office in Kansas—
[01:21:17] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:21:18] Robert Kerbeck: —might have access to that information. And even if they don't have access to that information, a lot of times you can then say to them, so you get this junior person in Kansas who's willing to tell you anything and everything, but they only have access to a certain amount of stuff, you say, "Hey, you know what, can you do me a favor? Put me on hold and call over to this other office and ask them." Now, that person is going to call over, and they are an internal person. They're going to show up as an internal call. They don't have to do any call spoofing. And so a lot of times now you're making somebody within the firm turn into your own spy for you, right? Now, of course, they don't know that they're spying, but that was another technique that we would use because now the person that they're calling is going, "Well, wait, what do you need this for?" "Oh," and I would give them a reason. I would help them.
[01:22:01] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:22:01] Robert Kerbeck: And they'd go, "Okay, well you are with the firm. You are with us. You are legitimate. It doesn't make sense, but okay." And now I've gotten a lot of really valuable information from some junior person in Kansas.
[01:22:15] Jordan Harbinger: Incredible. So, I know we're running out of time here. Where else have these skills come in handy outside of rusing? I guess, actually, how can people develop these skills without actually making ruse calls? And why should people do so? Maybe that's a better question.
[01:22:30] Robert Kerbeck: I don't know that they should. Obviously, you've read the book and I reckon a lot with the moral issues. I don't want your audience to come away with the thought that I'm proud of the career that I stumbled into.
[01:22:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:22:40] Robert Kerbeck: Though it is a crazy, fun story, I don't think that people should develop those skills. I really don't. You know, one of the things I really tried hard to do and I think I did pretty successfully, was to draw the line so that the ruse career was on the ruse phone calls, the ruse career was not going into my personal life because when we think about that, We don't want to be rusing our loved ones, our family, our neighbors. It's just, that's not the world we want to live in, right? We want to be legitimate standup people. Now, there are certain skills that can be valuable. We live in a world where it's difficult to get anybody on the phone.
[01:23:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:23:15] Robert Kerbeck: Like when we need help for customer service.
[01:23:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:23:18] Robert Kerbeck: When we need help for a product or when we've been screwed on some transaction. And in those cases, sometimes some of the rusing stuff can be helpful. There is a time and a place where a little, a little healthy exaggeration is okay, but rusing on a daily basis isn't something I would advise.
[01:23:37] Jordan Harbinger: Robert Kerbeck, thank you so much. Really interesting stuff. Interesting career. Are you just retired now? I assume retired from rusing, but are you retired entirely?
[01:23:45] Robert Kerbeck: Yeah. From the corporate spying, yeah. I mean, I've basically switched from offense to defense. So now, I advise corporations and speak at conferences about basically how not to fall victim to cybercrime, social engineering, rusing, ransomware attacks, all of that stuff. And then of course, you know, I'm writing books now.
[01:24:03] Jordan Harbinger: Great. Well, good. Looking forward to hearing more from you. Thank you very much. Really interesting stuff. I think the principles behind this are fascinating. I think building awareness of how this works. And that there are people doing it is actually quite beneficial. I mean, you say you speak and train people. I think you'd probably agree that half of the game is knowing that somebody might actually do this and roughly what that might look like is probably a large dose of the antidote.
[01:24:29] Robert Kerbeck: Huge. Huge. I mean, look, knowledge is power, right? As soon as people at a corporation know that somebody could call up, pretending to have an Irish accent, a German accent, whatever accent, all of a sudden now they're not going to fall for that ploy, right? So if I'm able to take you and your company through a series of ploys, compliance ploy, the accent ploy, the dropping the grapefruit ploy, whatever the ploy is, you know, your people now are going to be educated that they're not going to fall for that, right? So yeah, knowledge is power.
[01:24:55] Jordan Harbinger: Can we talk about dropping the grapefruit? What is that? That's just too weird sounding to let it go.
[01:25:00] Robert Kerbeck: Well, you know, the idea is, again, it's subterfuge, right? It's like if I drop a grapefruit, you know, it's like the a magician, right? It's the sleight of hands. So what I want to do in certain ploys is I'm going to do something that's going to throw you off, right? I'm going to do something that's going to throw you off so that all you're focused on is the grapefruit is now on the ground and the grapefruit is dirty and the grapefruit is ruined. That's all you're looking at. In this example, I'm picking your pocket while you're watching me drop the grapefruit. And the same thing we would utilize that in the social engineering all the time too, is we would have some little thing that would throw them off. Like I said, it might be as simple as talking about how many points LeBron James had the night before. Oh my God, Serena Williams, did you see? She won the, you know, whatever it is that it's throwing them off that they're now not aware of all the other stuff that you're going to be asking for.
[01:25:47] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, interesting. Misdirection, well, that's a whole separate topic. Again, thank you very much. Really, really interesting. I appreciate your time and definitely the book was a good read, and we'll link to that in the show notes as well.
[01:25:57] Robert Kerbeck: Oh, thanks for having me, Jordan.
[01:26:00] Jordan Harbinger: If you're looking for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to sink your teeth into, here's a trailer for another episode that I think you might enjoy.
[01:26:08] Frank Abagnale: When I put that pilot's uniform on, no one questioned that I looked too young to be a pilot. I did walk up to a TWA counter. I was in a uniform. I was getting ready to purchase a ticket, and she said to me, "Are you buying or riding?" I said, "I beg your pardon?" "Are you want to be in the jump seat?" I said, "The jump seat?" "Yeah, I'll give you a pass. Just go on the jump seat." Well, I learned everything as I went. I had no idea you could do this. So then I started riding around on planes in the jump seat.
[01:26:39] I walked in a bank in Chicago, so I went in the bank and I opened the account and I handed the girl a hundred dollars. And she said, "Well, here's some temporary checks. We'll be mailing you your printed checks." Now, because I was young and inquisitive, I just happened to say to her, "I noticed that I don't have any deposit slips." "Oh, no. If you need to make a deposit in the meantime, just go over there to that table in the lobby and help yourself to a blank deposit slip. Then, write your account number in, and then use these until you get your printed ones. Well, I wonder what would happen if I encoded my account number on the bottom of all these blanks, and then I went back to the bank, put them on the shelf. So that's exactly what I did, and everybody who came in put their money in my account.
[01:27:18] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow. Frank Abagnale could write a check on a piece of toilet paper drawn on the Confederate States Treasury, sign it, "U. R. Hooked," and cash it at any bank in town using a Hong Kong driver's license for identification.
[01:27:32] Frank Abagnale: I could, and I believed I could, and I probably would. They only saw that uniform it, they paid no attention to the check.
[01:27:40] Jordan Harbinger: If you want to hear more from the mind of one of the most successful imposters the world has ever known, check out episode one of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:27:50] So I really enjoyed this conversation in part because I spent a few years training companies how to defend against this exact type and many other types of social engineering. And by the way, it was nearly impossible, especially with new technology. He mentioned in the show that you would get transferred from one office to another, the phone call would, and it would come through as that office's phone number. I used to do that, or I'd simply spoof the caller ID when I was demonstrating how this was done or rusing for my own purposes. It's really hard to prevent this kind of thing, and that's if people are even looking at the caller ID in the first place.
[01:28:24] Another gambit I used to run, sometimes even in person, was to introduce the threat of consequences. You're not directly threatening somebody, but I might say something like, "Oh darn, if I don't get this, I guess I'll just let my boss's boss—" I would name drop a boss's boss and I'd say, "Oh, they're going to be so mad." And I would either use that as a sympathy play or I would say, "Hey, uh, what's your name?" "Uh, Mike." "Okay. Mike. I know you won't let me in here. That's fine. I kind of want to go home anyway. I'm exhausted from my flight. I took a red eye. Mike what?" "Mike Ehrmantraut." "Okay, cool. I'm just writing that down because if my boss is pissed off, I just, I need a name and say, 'look, Mike wouldn't let me in.' I'm sure they'll understand and he'll let so-and-so know." And I would try to drop the owner of whatever venue, if it's a nightclub or a restaurant or whatever it was, even in an arena, I would let the owner or the organization some sort of boss know. And I'm not saying, "I'm going to tell your boss on you," I'm just letting them know that their name is the one that's going to float to the top. And I had a very high success rate with this kind of thing. It was like, "I made arrangements to come here and they're not letting me in and that's not your fault. And we're all good. I just want to go to my hotel and go to bed, but I don't want to be the one who gets in trouble for it." And the gears turned in their head and they would let me in.
[01:29:37] And the first time that I did this in Los Angeles, because I used to do it in New York a lot. The first time I did this in LA, I went from standing in what looked to be a three-hour line to being on stage with the DJ sitting on a couch, and I mean on stage, on stage after drinking with the owner of the venue, and it took something like 45 to 50 minutes. And I had bracelets in that time. I had been walked onto the stage. I was hanging out after the show. I mean, it was really, some of this stuff works so well. You have to be careful, and I'm not suggesting that you go and do this because it could be illegal depending on what you are doing. But I'm telling you this to illustrate that social engineering is one of the most powerful skill sets that I've ever come across in my entire life. And if you master it and you use it for good, you can do quite well for yourself. I should probably do a whole different show about this with another social engineer. I think this stuff is probably of interest to you guys. If I had to guess, just given y'all's interest in behavioral economics and human behavior in general.
[01:30:35] Another concept that Robert talked about that I know all very well from personal use, know how corporate structures work. Use the corporate lingo and corporate structure to signal credibility. Back in the day when I was doing, we called it phone freaking or just freaking. We would use technical terms to get people to divulge information because who else put a lineman or other phone company tech employee would know things like that, which, like which version of the operating system and technology were in use in that area at that time. Really, really strong signals of credibility that every con artist also uses. So when you start to master this stuff, you start to smell and see scams coming a mile away, and you can dissect them in real-time, which by the way, fascinating. Obviously, you know, I'm into that stuff. I really love that sort of dark element of human behavior.
[01:31:19] Anyways, enough on that, social engineering deserves a show all its own. Something like that for sure will come down the pipe at some point. All things Robert Kerbeck will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com or just ask our AI chatbot. Transcripts in the show notes. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, all the ways to support the show, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Once again, please consider supporting those who support the show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and the best things that have happened to me in my life and business have come through my network. I know networking's a dirty word. I don't want to teach you the grow stuff. I want the stuff that is not schmoozy, that is very effective and that you can use and still sleep at night. The Six-Minute Networking course has all of that. It is free. It's on the Thinkific platform at jordanharbinger.com/course. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. I'm teaching it to you right now. Dig the well before you get thirsty. You'll be in smart company. Again, jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:32:15] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. And the greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. So if you know somebody who's into social engineering or recruiting or just loves the human behavior element and they would like this episode of the show, definitely go ahead and share it with them right now. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
[01:32:49] Want to tell y'all folks about another podcast? It's called The Closer, and it features the inside stories of deals that change the world told by people who know how it all went down. Landmark deals can alter the course of the economy and transform how we live. The Closer asks who made these deals and why. On the new season, which is out now, you'll hear about an epic fight for equal pay from soccer's biggest stars, how the toy store of your dreams was destroyed and how a deal that broke all the rules created an entertainment empire. These are stories about the way that business really works, the drama, the intrigue, high stakes, big personalities. Listen to The Closer anywhere you get your podcasts.
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