Steve Rambam (@stevenrambam) is the founder and CEO of Pallorium, Inc., a licensed Investigative Agency with offices and affiliates worldwide. [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
What We Discuss with Steve Rambam:
- Prime bank guarantee fraud: what is it and how does it work?
- Why is the US a “Garden of Eden” for bad guys in general?
- How Steve’s TV show Nowhere to Hide came to be.
- Why Steve’s business doubled within two years following a bogus arrest.
- Are there scam lists, and are you on one?
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Have you ever wondered what the real life of a private investigator is like? Is it as exciting as it’s made out to be on TV shows, movies, and books, or do they just sit behind a desk pushing papers and pens around?
On this episode, we talk to real-life private investigator Steve Rambam. Steve has been a PI for nearly 30 years, is the head of Pallorium, an agency of licensed investigators, and has his own TV show called Nowhere to Hide. Listen, learn, and enjoy! [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
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Miss our interview with Freeway Rick Ross, the crack empire kingpin gone good? Catch up with episode 121: Freeway Rick Ross | Life in the Crack Lane here!
Thanks, Steve Rambam!
If you enjoyed this session with Steve Rambam, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Pallorium, Inc.
- Nowhere to Hide | Prime Video
- Steve Rambam | Website
- Steve Rambam | LinkedIn
- Steve Rambam | Twitter
- Steve Rambam | Facebook
- Steve Rambam: Privacy Is Dead | The Next Hope
- Prime Bank Guarantee Fraud | Action Fraud
- Private Eye Lands In Public Trouble | Times Union
- Spot the Scam Signs | Scamwatch
685: Steve Rambam | The Real Life of a Private Investigator
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to the new Starbucks Baya Energy drink for sponsoring the show. With caffeine naturally found in coffee fruit, it's energy that's good.
[00:00:07] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:10] Steve Rambam: The FBI had taken him under their wing, had gotten his criminal records submarined, then he had been arrested a bunch of times, had gotten him a new driver's license and passport and everything you could think of under the name of Franz Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen. And let him scam and lie and steal and enmeshed himself in the criminal underground, just so long as he would throw them a bone from time to time.
[00:00:39] 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. We have in-depth conversations with scientists, entrepreneurs, spies, and psychologists, even the occasional journalist-turned poker champion, Fortune 500 CEO, or organized crime figure. And each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:06] If you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about the show, we've got episode starter packs. The starter packs are collections of top episodes organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, China, North Korea, scams, crime, cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:30] Today, one from the vault. We're talking with Steven Rambam. This guy's a little, he's a little salty. It's like a gritty private eye, OG private eye. He's been a private investigator for nearly 40 years. He's a Nazi hunter. I'm not kidding. I mean, how cool is that, I suppose, right? He speaks at hacker conventions talking about privacy and anonymity. That's how I came across him in the first place among other topics. Whenever I call him, he's always working on something. I will say marginally insane.
[00:01:58] In this episode, we talk a little bit about fraud, but also we get into how fraudsters think, some of the advanced frauds in crimes, financial stuff, not like high-market, white-collar crime, but con men ripping off companies and the mindset behind fraudsters and their games, as well as how we can protect ourselves. Some of this stuff— yeah, yeah, I'm wondering how people fall for it. Other stuff, it's so complicated. I really can see how anybody — I mean, even companies that do their diligence, how they could fall for some of this. Of course, I'll do some wild tangents in this one as expected. So enjoy this episode from the vault with Steven Rambam.
[00:02:34] First of all, tell us a little bit about your background because you don't just go look on monster.com and go, "I think I'll be a private investigator." Is that what your job title would you consider it to be?
[00:02:44] Steve Rambam: I'm a director of an investigative agency, but yeah, so I spend quite a lot of time in the field and I am certainly before anything else, my day job is being a private investigator. And you're correct. You don't get an office with a pebble glass door and a leggy secretary, and puff you're a private investigator. It requires quite a lot of training, quite a lot of experience. In fact, to get licensed, you have to actually prove the experience to the various states that you want to be licensed in. It's rather difficult.
[00:03:17] In New York, for example, you have to have three years of experience above the rank of patrolman. You've got to have sworn character affidavits. You're fingerprinted, you're photographed. The state checks you out. The FBI runs your prints. And for every license that you want in every state, you have to go through this again. If you want to do protective work, for example, guarding your witnesses, that's a separate license. If you want to carry a firearm, that's a separate license. If you want to serve process, that's a separate license. And it is not for the faint of heart. You really have to wade through a bureaucratic swamp.
[00:03:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Yeah. And that's great because most people probably stink at this job. It's probably a tough job to be good at.
[00:04:02] Steve Rambam: Not most people, not most people, dishonest people. If you are an ethical, private investigator, the first thing you do is you say to yourself and you say to others, "This is what I'm good at. This is not what I'm good at. Any private investigator that is the equivalent of a general practitioner who really claims that they can handle it all is a big fat liar. I mean, you have people who are good in homicide investigation that stink at missing persons. There are people who are great at accident reconstruction who wouldn't know how to debug a room if their life depended on it. You know, there are specialists and for very good reason.
[00:04:43] I specialize in very large part in missing persons and in international investigations. I can assure you that the average PI is smart enough to admit to himself that he shouldn't go to Wisconsin without a local contact, let alone in Gambia.
[00:05:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:02] Steve Rambam: There are people who today claim that they can do anything including international investigations and the truth is they really can't.
[00:05:11] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So what do you specialize in then in that case?
[00:05:15] Steve Rambam: International investigations and missing persons and by missing persons, I mean, all types of missing persons from the traditional missing kid to fugitive retrieval, you know colloquially known as bounty hunting, to fraudulent death claims overseas, where somebody will go overseas. The person will disappear, supposedly fall into a river or a volcano or off a ship or something like that. And the family will say, "Oh my gosh, Uncle Harry is dead, give us his half a million dollars." I've done some real hardcore missing person's stuff. Nazi war crimes investigation, where I had to actually find the Nazis before I tricked them into talking to me.
[00:05:58] Jordan Harbinger: And before they died because they're all old as hell.
[00:06:02] Steve Rambam: Well, it's twenty-five years ago and they were not alive. They were quite proud of having been mass murderers. You know, that was quite an adventure.
[00:06:13] Jordan Harbinger: Who contracted that type of thing is that like Simon Wiesenthal Center type stuff?
[00:06:18] Steve Rambam: Any of the Simon Wiesenthal Center does not actually hunt Nazis.
[00:06:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[00:06:22] Steve Rambam: Despite what the people who've given them half a billion dollars believe.
[00:06:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:06:26] Steve Rambam: Second of all, that's pretty much rule number one of PI work, you don't reveal your client.
[00:06:32] Jordan Harbinger: I figured as much, but hey, you know, I'm going to talk shows. I got to ask questions regardless of whether or not they're supposed to be answered or not.
[00:06:38] Steve Rambam: Right.
[00:06:38] Jordan Harbinger: Sometimes a non-answer is more interesting than the answer.
[00:06:42] Steve Rambam: For PIs too.
[00:06:43] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, that's a good point.
[00:06:45] Steve Rambam: It's just for talk show hosts. But the other thing that I specialize in is what's called sophisticated financial fraud. And frauds of all kinds, which I have to tell you for the past 20 years has been quite a growth industry. No PI that does fraud investigation will ever go hungry.
[00:07:03] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:07:04] Steve Rambam: Yup. Yup.
[00:07:05] Jordan Harbinger: It's just one of those things that it's easier now to trick people out of their money than to actually make money for yourself.
[00:07:11] Steve Rambam: Well, for some people, it is.
[00:07:12] Jordan Harbinger: For some people, of course. Yeah.
[00:07:14] Steve Rambam: I've caught some remarkable fraudsters. I mean, people who are smart and capable and organized. And it really occurred to me that these were people who were doing it because that's what their particular character was. They couldn't sit in an office, they couldn't do anything else. They had to do this because these are people that frankly could have excelled at anything. These are guys that if they put in 30 years into some legit career. The way they did into becoming the best fraudster on the planet, they would have been a Fortune 500 CEO. No question about it.
[00:07:51] Jordan Harbinger: Huh? Interesting. What's the most complicated or what are some of the most complicated frauds that you've seen? Like what are some of the more involved things that would qualify somebody to be an awesome businessman if they weren't so black hat?
[00:08:02] Steve Rambam: Oh my gosh. Selling frauds to large businesses, being so good that you can survive some level of due diligence and sucker a hungry, careful experience business into giving you a brokerage fee of half a million dollars, and then afterwards getting away with it. Not leaving away for this company to pursue you.
[00:08:30] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. And just making it look like something fell through that was beyond your control and still entitles you.
[00:08:35] Steve Rambam: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. "It wasn't my fault. I gave you this standby letter of credit. I gave you the contact to buy the discounted debentures, a funding confirmation to fund the new factory that you want to build in Abawanga, whatever. And you just didn't properly take advantage of it or you didn't generate the other stuff that's needed for this deal to go through. So, sorry, you know, best of luck to you." And sometimes these guys are so good that they actually managed to take the guy for a second go-round.
[00:09:16] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. That's incredible. But I can see where it would be easy enough to get fooled twice, especially if it's like, "Wow, this poor guy went through all this trouble. Well, at least he got his fee. Meanwhile, this guy is in cahoots with the whole fake organization."
[00:09:30] Steve Rambam: Right. And let me tell you a lot of it is if you've ever seen the movie, The Sting, a lot of it really is like that. There's this high-level international, I'll call it a consortium of fraudsters where you have all over the world. You have really good scam artists that are in a loose association with each other.
[00:09:51] So for example, if you do what used to be called a prime bank guarantee fraud, now it's called a funding scam where the roper, the guy who contacts the sucker is in your hometown. Let's say you're in San Francisco, right? So you are a guy who needs a funding source, or you're a guy who's looking for an investment and. You bumped into a guy in a bar or a club or somewhere in San Francisco. And you start just out of the blue talking to him. He says, "This is amazing. This is what I do. Look, I will hook you up with a broker in Chicago who can take care of this for you." So he passes you onto a guy in Chicago and the guy in Chicago says, "Okay, well, I represent so-and-so in London, who's associated with one of the top prime banks in London." They pass you on to this guy in London, indirectly who has contacts with London's top prime banks. Anytime you hear the word prime bank run like mad in the other direction because it's a fraudster term. There's no such thing. And in fact, these scams are known in the law enforcement community as prime bank scams.
[00:11:02] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:11:02] Steve Rambam: So then that person — you've now gone through from San Francisco to Chicago, to London. The guy in London generates a bank document for you from Bank Negara, which is a real bank, by the way.
[00:11:16] Jordan Harbinger: I thought you were just really creative with here.
[00:11:18] Steve Rambam: It's like a joke. Yes, I know. I figured I better tell you that — in Indonesia. So you are going to take this bank guarantee, which is essentially a standby letter of credit and you are going to use it to buy bonds, but the bond dealer never shows up because he's part of the scam. They give them a piece of the action to just disappear. And then finally it comes back to you one day before the deadline for the letter of credit to expire. And he says, "I can't get this for two more weeks, but in two weeks I can have it. I'm not going to take your money. I've refunded your money." So then the original scammer comes back to you and he says, "Well, I'm sorry. You only paid for an LC, a letter of credit. That's good for 40 weeks. There's two things you can do. We can do either, let this ride for one more day and I'm sorry, you've lost your money. Or we can renew it for another 40 weeks for 50 percent more."
[00:12:17] So if you're a big enough sucker, you'd give them another $200,000 to $500,000 more depending on what you originally paid. And I can assure you, the bond guy never shows up, or if you realize you've been snookered, what do you do now? You go to the guy in San Francisco. You didn't give him any money. The money went to the guy in Chicago. The guy in Chicago says, "I didn't deliver you a document. I passed you on to a guy in London, England."
[00:12:45] Jordan Harbinger: Right. I just referred you. Yeah.
[00:12:47] Steve Rambam: The guy in London, England says, "If you're saying this document isn't legit. I'll certainly check it. Or if you're saying there's been a problem, I'll certainly check it. But it sounds like you didn't perform your end of it." So then you'd go to the cops. What cops do you go to? You go to San Francisco Police Department? No detective in the San Francisco Police Department is going to want this case. Too complicated, too confusing — sounds like you need to find a civil remedy.
[00:13:15] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:16] Steve Rambam: This is a business dispute, not a crime, but let's say magically, you find the one cop in 10 million local cops that will take this case. Or let's say you go to the FBI and they don't ignore you like they ignore everyone who's not a congressman.
[00:13:33] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:34] Steve Rambam: Where did the crime occur? Did it occur in San Francisco? Did it occur in Chicago? Did it occur in London? Did it occur — was it a fraudulent bank document in Indonesia? I mean, are all of these other people suckers also, and there's some big master criminal issuing fake bank documents in Indonesia? It is a nightmare to investigate. It's a nightmare to get courtroom-quality introducible evidence, and it's a bigger nightmare to actually put your hands on somebody to prosecute.
[00:14:08] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Steven Rambam. We'll be right back.
[00:14:13] This episode is sponsored in part by Stitch Fix. I haven't shopped for my own clothes in a while because it is just not my forte. I'd rather have a professional help me look good. If you're not into endless browsing or you just don't have time to shop, Stitch Fix has you covered with fresh picks, curated for your taste and size. They'll fit what suits your body. For me, something roughly potato shaped. And on occasion, when you want to look refined for work or you're looking for casual basics, Stitch Fix can help you elevate your look. Just schedule a fixed and a style expert will send you five pieces that fit your size, style, and price range. Keep what you like, return the rest for free, or if you like to shop, but you don't want to endlessly browse, try Stitch Fix freestyle where you can pick pieces that match your vibe and your lifestyle. To get started, take a style quiz, so Stitch Fix can learn your preferences.
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[00:16:49] Now back to Steve Rambam.
[00:16:52] And of course, at the end of the day, even if you did get all that stuff in order somehow, nobody really has an interest in helping you, unless you're going to pay probably more than you lost because the victim of this crime is some rich investor guys so that there's no public or anything.
[00:17:07] Steve Rambam: Well, fortunately, that's not true. This type of scam can usually be cleaned up for about 30 grand.
[00:17:12] Jordan Harbinger: Oh really?
[00:17:13] Steve Rambam: Yeah. The question is getting your money back. That's the issue.
[00:17:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, sure. You can hire a lawyer for 30 grand and then you come back and you say, "See, I won. I'm morally right." And they go, "Great. Well, we're not giving you your money. It's an Indonesia, maybe."
[00:17:26] Steve Rambam: That frankly is worthy of a whole nother show that you should do.
[00:17:30] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:17:31] Steve Rambam: About actually collecting debts. It makes me nuts when I watched these legal shows on TV. And you see at the end of the trial, the poor widows and orphans have gotten a five-million-dollar judgment against the big mean scrooge of a defrauder. And the woman jumps up crying, hugs her lawyer or lawyers, big beaming smile. They never show what happens next. Now, you've got to find the fraudster. Now, you got to find the fraudster's assets. Now, you got to seize the fraudster's assets. If the fraudster is in a state like Texas, you can't take his house, you can't take his car, his truck, you can't take 30,000 from his bank account. I mean, there's so many things that you can't do. The truth is, you know, a judgment is very often not even worth the paper it's written on.
[00:18:21] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting. Yeah. I can see that.
[00:18:24] Steve Rambam: This is a country that is the Garden of Eden for bad guys, for financial fraudsters. I mean, for bad guys in general, and I have to tell you as a private investigator, it's not that I'm pumping up the PI profession, but the fact of the matter is that PIs fulfill a critical role in the justice community.
[00:18:47] There are a million instances, probably literally a million, instances every year where people fall between the cracks and issues and incidents fall between the cracks and law enforcement can't pursue them or just won't pursue them because they have to do law enforcement triage. They're not going to go pursue a guy in a non-violent crime where some big company's been hurt when they've got four murders, a rape, and a bank robbery sitting on their desk that they're still working on.
[00:19:17] So it really is, you know, cop triage. I mean, private investigators grab these guys, bring them to justice, recover the money. Private investigators find missing kids, you know, put bad guys in jail, get innocent people out of jail. There are countless things that are not done or can't be done by law enforcement that PIs step in on. And this is one of the biggies, going after fraudsters is one of the biggies.
[00:19:45] Jordan Harbinger: Excellent.
[00:19:46] Steve Rambam: The fraudster has nothing to sell except for one thing himself, his charm, he is selling himself. There is no real product. That's going to be handed to you by the fraudster. What he's selling is his ability to bamboozle you.
[00:20:05] Now, a lot of this is psychological judo. The sucker out there is somebody who is predisposed to looking for something for nothing, or really wants to believe that they're in on some secret obscure banking program, run by the Illuminati or something. I mean just some ridiculous obscure program that nobody knows about, but because they've lived the good life, somehow they've tripped over this. Rex Stout, the guy who wrote all the new Neuro Wolfe books had a great line. He says, "You can't take somebody for a ride unless they've already got a ticket in their pocket, or at least they've been checking timetables," and it's really true. These people that get suckered more often than not, they've got a little bit of the hustler in them too.
[00:20:58] Now, I'm not going to tell you that the completely innocent completely decent people don't get hustled. They do, but those are typically what's called affinity frauds. They got screwed by a member of their own family. Or I'm doing a case right now where there's an Orthodox Jewish guy who has taken about a hundred Orthodox Jewish families. He's a member of this tightly knit community and they believe him. "This guy wouldn't screw us. We can trust him." So they gave him money. You see a lot of church affinity frauds, including where the pastor of the church is the bad guy. Give 10,000 or 15,000 to the building fund. And the building fund turns out to be for his house in Aruba. There's a famous case from about a year ago where a blind person took a bunch of blind people.
[00:21:49] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. That's depressing.
[00:21:50] Steve Rambam: Well, it kinda is, I guess. Or you got to figure, hey, this blind guy really reentered society, didn't he?
[00:21:58] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:21:59] Steve Rambam: But affinity frauds, where there's already some connection between the bad guy and the victims. That's very, very common. And that's where you see the people who are really decent people getting screwed. Yellow Kid Weil, Joseph Weil, during the '20s and '30s, he was the guy that the movie, The Sting, was based on. And everybody he hustled and everybody he took was already halfway towards joining in on that scam. You know, people who are trying to cheat on their taxes. People who believed that they were getting a tip on a racehorse. He took eight million dollars doing that back in the day when people lived on less than a thousand dollars a year.
[00:22:44] Jordan Harbinger: So you investigate this stuff. How did you get into this in the first place? I mean, it kind of goes in line with what you were saying, you got to have a little bit of the hustle in you. You just decided to help people instead of screwing them out of the money.
[00:22:56] Steve Rambam: Oh, I would make an excellent fraudster. I would cut out a lot of the middlemen. I would already have three or four identities of my own. And I would say, "Let me call Bob," and I would be Bob. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately for me, I don't know, but fortunately for everyone, probably me included, I'm not predisposed in that direction. I had a job overseas. I was rather good at it and came back to the US. Started doing mostly missing persons and witness location and fugitive location. That was something that I was already experienced at that point. And then I learned about all of these various frauds and got extremely interested in, went out, got a business degree, took the training to become a certified fraud examiner, which is a very, very important credential, and dipped my toe in the water. And now it's a big part of what I do. It's probably a third of what I do.
[00:23:54] You want to talk about fraudsters? This is a great story.
[00:23:57] Jordan Harbinger: All right.
[00:23:58] Steve Rambam: There was a guy by the name of Josef Meyer. Josef Meyer was a mental patient in Detroit, Michigan. Josef Meyer got out of the mental institution, didn't really have much he could do for gainful employment. So he decided to be a criminal. When he got arrested for a big, big charge, he was smart enough, just smart enough to say, "Maybe I shouldn't just be a criminal. Maybe I should be an informant." So the FBI lives and dies on a few things and it's not good police work. They live and die on the fact that they have an unlimited amount of money so they can pay for anything. They live and die on forensic stuff. They really do have a very fine lab and tech guys, but especially they live and die on informants. They have thousands and tens of thousands of informants and their top informants, the guys that they keep going back to time and time again, and who bring them new cases all the time are called top echelon informants.
[00:25:04] An attorney, a former prosecutor, came to a client of mine because he had been arrested and he has no idea why. He was arrested for money laundering and a guy by the name of Franz Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen.
[00:25:20] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:25:21] Steve Rambam: The Duke of Austria had introduced him to a guy who turned out to be an FBI agent, by the way, got them in all kinds of bogus trouble and then disappeared. My client, the law firm representing this former prosecutor, now defendant himself, said to me, "The key to this is finding out who the heck is this Habsburg prince. Find him and question him and see what the hell the deal is and background is." It was a tough case.
[00:25:49] After about four weeks of solid investigation, what did I find out? That Franz Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen was the aforementioned Josef Meyer mental patient. And the FBI had taken him under their wing, had gotten his criminal record submarined, then he had been arrested a bunch of times, had gotten him a new driver's license and passport and everything you could think of under the name of Franz Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen and let him scam and lie and steal and enmeshed himself in the criminal underground, just so long as he would throw them a bone from time to time.
[00:26:29] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:26:31] Steve Rambam: Not just wow, but what a damn disgrace for what is in theory, the nation's premier law enforcement agency to be involved in. And let me tell you, this is not so uncommon. Most of the people that get arrested as a result of these informants, most of them are genuinely innocent. Their only mistake was having shaken hands with one of these guys. That's basically the core of FBI informants. They go out and as soon as they touch you, you're dead.
[00:27:01] And it's a horrible thing for me to say as an investigator, I'm not anti-law enforcement. I mean, quite the opposite. These people are my colleagues and my comrades. You know, if a guy from the DEA or the CIA or the secret service or the IRS CID or the marshals or whatever, calls me up on the phone and says, "Do me a favor." I do it instantly, but the FBI are really a whole different ball of wax.
[00:27:27] After I found out all this information on the prince, as we call him, the FBI got really, really mad and they served me a subpoena for my file, which is absolutely illegal. You don't get the subpoena defense investigator. It's attorney work product. It's protected. The same way you don't subpoena the attorney's file. So a federal magistrate crushed their subpoena, literally, I think it took five minutes. So they got really, really mad. They waited until the trial judge went on a vacation and they busted into a conference, the HOPE conference in front of 2,500 people. They came in with a raid team. You know, the guys would the heavy weapons and the jackets that say FBI. And they hold me out of there in handcuffs.
[00:28:12] Jordan Harbinger: And everybody there was like, "Oh, thank god, it's not me.
[00:28:16] Steve Rambam: Probably a hundred people who were in the audience were cops and investigators who had come to hear me talk. So, believe me, there were more legal guns in there than the ones the FBI had many, many more times.
[00:28:29] My friend, Bob Kowalkowski was involved in the case with me. He's a retired cop out in Detroit. And I thought this was going to destroy me. I thought it was going to destroy my career. You know, there's a dirtbag that writes for The Washington Post by the name of Brian Krebs who wrote the whole story up and refuse to write that the charges were dropped because it wouldn't have read that interesting. And I thought that I was screwed. I mean, when The Washington Post says you're a criminal, well, I mean, they got Nixon, so you must be a criminal. Not only did it not ruin my business, but I probably had in the following year, 100 or 200 law firms calling me up and wanting to hire me saying, "Geez, we've never had a PI that would go to jail to keep the file secret." It's like, "Well, you know, let's not test this again, but yes." So I mean, my business two years later was double what it had been. And Bob says, "You know, if you could get arrested every five years, you'd be a billionaire."
[00:29:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, no kidding. That is amazing. You know, they thought it was going to ruin your career too, but the thing they didn't realize is the more persona non-grata you are according to any sort of official body, the more credit that gives you at any hacker conference.
[00:29:42] Steve Rambam: Well, look, hackers are my friends and we learn a lot from each other, but they are not my usual clients. My usual clients are other investigators or insurance carriers or for that matter, a law enforcement agency.
[00:29:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I don't mean that you'd get clients directly.
[00:30:01] Steve Rambam: I'm not looking for street credit at hacker conferences.
[00:30:05] Jordan Harbinger: No, but it gets your name out there all over the web as the guy is as legit.
[00:30:10] Steve Rambam: That's absolutely true.
[00:30:15] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Steven Rambam. We'll be right back.
[00:30:20] This episode is sponsored in part by Starbucks. The new Starbucks Baya Energy drink is crafted from caffeine naturally found in coffee fruit. It includes vitamin C, which is an antioxidant. So it's a great beverage to bring to a summer barbecue, a golf game, on the beach, even gardening in the backyard. Starbucks Baya Energy drink comes in three delicious fruity flavors, mango guava, raspberry lime, and a pineapple passion fruit, which I drank with a little umbrella and stick my pinkie out when I drink it. It's a perfect pick-me-up when you're out and about on a summer day, especially after a night with no sleep because of the kids. Pack a Starbucks Baya Energy drink when you take those kids to the park. And you might need to drink it, probably not the kids. They already have enough energy. Each 12-ounce 90-calorie can contains 160 milligrams of caffeine. It'll give you a refreshing fruit-flavored boost of feel-good energy in a way only Starbucks can deliver.
[00:31:05] Jen Harbinger: Starbucks Baya Energy drink is available online, at grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations nationwide.
[00:31:11] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Progressive insurance. Most of you listening right now are probably multitasking. Yep, you're all, you're listening to me talk. You're probably driving, cleaning, exercising, maybe even grocery shopping, but if you're not in a moving vehicle, there's something else you could be doing right now, getting an auto quote from Progressive insurance. It's easy and you could save money by doing it right from your phone. Drivers who saved by switching to Progressive save over $700 on average. And auto customers qualify for an average of seven discounts — discounts for having multiple vehicles on your policy, being a homeowner and more. So just like your favorite podcast, Progressive will be with you 24/7, 365 days a year. So you're protected no matter what. Multitask right now, quote your car insurance at progressive.com to join the over 27 million drivers who trust Progressive.
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[00:32:09] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you so much for supporting the show and, of course, for listening to the show. If you want to check out the sponsors, we put all the codes and the discounts and the URLs are all in one place, in one page, jordanharbinger.com/deals. That page is now searchable. You can also search for any sponsor using the search box on our website on any page as well. So please consider supporting those who support this show.
[00:32:30] Now for the rest of my conversation with Steve Rambam.
[00:32:34] Why do you speak at hacker conferences like 2600 and HOPE then?
[00:32:39] Steve Rambam: I speak on things of mutual interest, like keeping information open and privacy issues, certainly, IT security issues. And I mean, now that I'm doing the TV stuff, which—
[00:32:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, tell us about your show.
[00:32:53] Steve Rambam: Well, it almost didn't happen. I mean, I had to make a career decision. I'm still not a hundred percent sure I made the right decision, but you know, I'm working on it. You know, I did a ton of undercover stuff over the years. When you decide to do a TV show, obviously, unless you're a moron, you have to realize that you're not going to be doing much undercover in the future. So I made that decision that I was going to dump the undercover stuff, except for real, you know, short-term undercover pretext investigations, where you show up and you play your role and you get the information on the spot. You don't go back for a second bite of the apple.
[00:33:30] I agreed to take the show and Discovery ID said, "All right, we'll do a deal with you. The first season needs to be mostly reenactments. You get to do some real stuff, but a lot of the witness interviews and things like that, we're not going to put it on air." And I said, "That's great," because a lot of the people, you can't actually show their faces. So season one, and the is called Nowhere to Hide season one went really, really well. We were number one, four nights, and number two, two nights, which is okay because one of the nights we were only number two was Super Bowl. It doesn't disturb me that that drew off a lot of views.
[00:34:09] So now, we're filming season two and we're doing a lot of live stuff, a lot of live stuff. And I got to tell you, these are some of the craziest cases I've ever worked. There's a Rock and Roll Funkadelic guy, real famous guy from the '70s. If I told you his name, you wouldn't believe it. That we had to track him down and get his DNA to prove that his daughter was legally in American. She was about to get out of the US. She had lived here her whole life. She had four kids born in America, married to an American guy, social security number, paid taxes. Her kids are finally grown. She takes her first vacation with her husband, takes a cruise to Canada, comes back in and the immigration people say, "Where do you think you're going?" She says, "Well, home to North Carolina." "No, you're not, you're not an American." "What are you crazy?" And they say, "Well, you know, we see a Canadian, Canadian. If your dad was an American, we don't know who he is. You know, we will parole you to the US for 90 days. You can get your paperwork together. No big deal. This happens a lot." And by the way, this happens probably 10,000 times a year. People who've always thought they were Americans trying to come back into America and being told, "Get lost."
[00:35:24] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:35:25] Steve Rambam: Obviously a pretty horrible, horrifying thing for them. They interviewed her and they asked her a trick question. They say, "Have you ever voted?" She says, "Of course, I voted. I'm a proud American." They say, "Well, you committed a felony by voting. Now, you're not eligible to be a parole citizen."
[00:35:41] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:35:42] Steve Rambam: It wasn't nasty trick. So now the only thing that she could do was find her father, prove that her father was an American citizen, and then they would have to give her citizenship. And we have to find the father. So that's one great episode. Crazy case.
[00:35:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, man. I mean, I thought my audio problems were stressful.
[00:36:03] Steve Rambam: Let me tell you another one is a great fraud case. This poor woman she's on the Internet and she gets a popup on Facebook. "Hey, I've been looking at your profile. I mean, you look kinda cute," or whatever whole romance scam starts. She never meets the guy and on the phone and on the Internet, this guy romances her and proposes to her. And he's supposedly a guy in the army. He's in Afghanistan. He's getting ready to go home on leave. And bit by bit, he suckers her into sending more and more and more money. And this is just a nice woman who's looking for romance, looking for love, looking for a husband. She's 41 years old. She's got a little nervous about, you know if she's going to die alone. This guy scams her out of a ton of money. You know, "I need a phone sent to me. I need this. I need that. I have to pay $1,500 into the army for a past debt before they'll let me go on leave, send me money for a ticket." Finally, she was about to wire $2,300 to this guy and Western union stopped it. And they said, "We noticed a fraud pattern. We just want to counsel you." And normally, you know, it'd be like, "What the hell are you doing messing with my business?"
[00:37:25] Jordan Harbinger: That's cool. They did that.
[00:37:27] Steve Rambam: Well, it really, in this case, it is. It's kind of troubling that they watched the transactions. It's definitely a privacy issue, but in this case, it paid off because she said, you know, they told her this doesn't look right. We see this all the time. She called me out of the blue and she said, "Am I being suckered?" It took me less than two days to find out that this was a Nigerian scam. It's called a 419 scam. Well, this isn't technically a 419 scam, but it is a Nigerian scam, organized in Nigeria, that's where all the money was ending up. By looking at the fraudsters, I was able to see that they had hit more than 50 other women.
[00:38:07] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:38:08] Steve Rambam: Yeah, this is going to be a big case. This is about to be a big case. If it hadn't already been solved, I wouldn't be talking about it. FBI are not my favorite people, but they're the right guys for this. We're going to probably involve them. We're going to certainly involve, you know, the military police, their criminal investigative division, or whoever else is responsible. We're going to round up these guys.
[00:38:30] And also there's a lot of people who are being suckered as money transmitters. Not only do they charm these women, but so you're a sucker where are you going to send your money to without the fraudster being identified?
[00:38:42] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:38:43] Steve Rambam: What they do is they find these small businesses. For example, we found one that they're using in Michigan and they say, "We want to go in partnership with you. We're looking for businesses that are there in the US that can handle our business. That will be responsible for shipping stuff that will receive money for us so that we know it's actually been received because a lot of people lie to us. They've sent international wires. If you will receive money for us, we will let you keep 15 percent of this money." Well, I'll tell you so many lawyers have been suckered with this, which kind of makes me laugh up my sleeve a little bit, guys, but it's not nice. A lot of them are decent, you know, sole practitioners who can afford either the monetary loss or the disgrace. But what happens is, you know, you've obviously never gotten enmeshed in one of these frauds.
[00:39:33] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:39:34] Steve Rambam: Thank God, but let me tell you, here's how it would work. They would tell you you're going to be getting $10,523 from Bob Jones after you get that deduct 15 percent send the rest to us. And there are people, private people, law firms, businesses, whatnot who do this, and after they've received, god knows how much, they send it on to this guy. And these poor guys are now responsible for every penny of these.
[00:40:03] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:40:04] Steve Rambam: Oh yeah. So there's two victims for the price of one.
[00:40:07] Jordan Harbinger: Because they basically wash the money by letting somebody else take the secondary risk on top of it.
[00:40:13] Steve Rambam: By the time they've sent this money to Croatia or Latvia, anyway, it's somebody overseas, they've got a way to receive the money. They received the money and then poof, they're gone.
[00:40:25] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:40:26] Steve Rambam: There is no fraud that can survive real due diligence, real investigation. Let's talk about Bernie Madoff. If I was investing in Bernie Madoff and I investigated him, I would have never given him a penny. Why? Two things. First of all, every year, the stock market went up, down, up, down, big wild swings, but every year, Bernie Madoff managed to report 8, 9, 10, 11 percent earnings. The stock market didn't affect him. He was literally bigger than the stock market. Not possible, not possible.
[00:41:05] I can tell you I was doing a fraud case where the guy from the SEC, because the SEC was involved because of issuing of unregistered securities, fake bonds. A guy came to me and this is way before Madoff was arrested. He says, "I know that you're involved in the Jewish committee. You ever hear of this guy, Bernie Madoff?" I said, "Yeah, I've heard the charities investors." And he drew on a piece of paper, he drew a line and then he says, "This is the stock market up, down, up, down, up, down." He says, "This is Bernie Madoff." And for the past 10 years, and he drew 10 lines at the same height. He says, "I don't know how this is possible." So that's your first clue.
[00:41:43] The second clue was Bernie Madoff was doing hundreds of billions of dollars of trade. But his auditor was a guy with a small two-room office in a mini-mall in upstate New York. That wasn't there three days a week.
[00:42:00] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:42:01] Steve Rambam: Oh yeah. I mean, if you look into the Bernie Madoff scenario, or if you look into how he was able to do this, you'll go, "WTF. How is this possible?" It's not every fraud can be busted by basic due diligence. I mean, I had a wonderful couple who called me from Montreal two weeks ago and they were being told to wire $15,000 to pay bank fees so that their friend could send them $13 million. I was unable to explain to them that there is no legitimate bank. This is Bank Agricole in Paris. There is no legitimate bank in the world that if there's $13 million sitting in the account, they're not going to just deduct the bank fees and send the rest.
[00:42:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right, yeah. No kidding.
[00:42:51] Steve Rambam: But these people didn't believe it. So they sent the 15,000 and then they called me and they said, "You know, we haven't received the money. We want you to go to Paris and collect it." And I said, "There's no money to collect. It was just people who were suckers." They were being told that somebody had left them a ton of money and that the money would only go to them after they paid the banking fees.
[00:43:11] Jordan Harbinger: Unbelievable.
[00:43:12] Steve Rambam: And they fell for it. And I've got to tell you, this is done all the time. People are desperate. Businesses are desperate. People need sources of funding. People need sources of funds. People need jobs. People need times are still tough. Fraudsters are able to use this desperation against the very people who can't afford to be taken. People want to believe, you know, what don't believe. Don't believe — if you don't know how to check something out yourself, hire a professional, hire a CPA, hire a forensic accountant, hire a forensic auditor, hire a private investigator, hire a certified fraud examiner, hire an attorney. I mean, if that person makes a mistake, at least you've got somebody right there with money that you can actually sue. And that really is a consideration. Try to get a couple of third parties that are vouching for it that you can go after if you decide to invest but mostly — you know, I'm not going to say if it seems too good to be true, it isn't because in the investigative community, we say, "If it seems too good to be true, the guy is an amateur."
[00:44:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, the guy is an amateur. I mean, I got to ask you that there's one last thing. You know, I get these emails, in my spam folder, I actually checked my spam folder. Everybody gets emails, but it's like, "Hi, I am Lieutenant Colonel Sanders from the USA army. And I found gold bullion of two million. If you send me transportation costs, I can send you X—" and I'm just like, "How freaking stupid do you have to be to not see just all of this?"
[00:44:53] Steve Rambam: Probably 10 people will send them the money. He'll send out five million emails and he'll pay somebody to send it out. And probably 10 people will send them the money which is more than the average guy in Nigeria who makes it a couple of years.
[00:45:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So it doesn't matter, right?
[00:45:08] Steve Rambam: And by the way, there are sucker lists, what used to be called trick books, sucker list, scam lists, where if you've been taken once, they go after you again and again, and then when you reach a certain scammer-determined threshold, then the second group of scammers comes in on you. "Have you been defrauded? We can help. We can collect your money." And it's a new group of fraudsters.
[00:45:35] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Because you're so angry, then you're not thinking clearly. And you're like, "You know what? I'll give you 10 grand just to screw these people over." Yeah.
[00:45:42] Steve Rambam: Right. And its other fraudsters, which by the way, it is very, very important that when you hire an investigator or a counselor or a lawyer or somebody, verify the license. There are guys out there pretending to be private investigators. It is a tough, rigorous thing to be a private investigator. And there are dozens of people arrested every year who are fake PIs. It's actually a criminal offense. I mean, in California where you are, I think they're raising it from the top-level misdemeanor to a felony. New York, it's being raised from, I think, a misdemeanor to an E felony. Thanks to a group called ALDONYS, the association in New York. Make sure that you're not being suckered for a second time.
[00:46:30] Jordan Harbinger: Excellent. Thank you so much, Steve. Much appreciate.
[00:46:34] Steve Rambam: Thank you.
[00:46:36] Jordan Harbinger: Now, I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before we get into that, here's what you should check out next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:46:43] Tell me about the neighborhood where you grew up.
[00:46:45] Freeway Rick Ross: South Central, Los Angeles.
[00:46:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:47] Freeway Rick Ross: Well, most people play the game, uh, Grand Theft Auto.
[00:46:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:50] Freeway Rick Ross: So I'm sitting on the porch and I don't know what I'm going to do and my partner calls me. And he's like, "Man, I got the new thing." It was cocaine. Cocaine was really, really expensive then.
[00:47:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:47:00] Freeway Rick Ross: You know, grandma cocaine back then was like $375.
[00:47:04] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So it was dozens of times more expensive back then than it is now.
[00:47:08] Freeway Rick Ross: Like 300 times.
[00:47:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. And it's also the most expensive thing that you could fit in your hand that cost that much money probably. Maybe a watch.
[00:47:14] Freeway Rick Ross: Yeah, absolutely. At that time they said cocaine was more expensive to go.
[00:47:18] Jordan Harbinger: How much money are we talking about here?
[00:47:20] Freeway Rick Ross: I probably was making about 55,000 off of a kilo.
[00:47:25] Jordan Harbinger: I think he made up around a billion dollars in the '80s in LA. That's what I heard on the documentary.
[00:47:30] Freeway Rick Ross: For two years, I made like $600 million, not profit for me, but money that went through my hands. Before I started making a million every day, I was making 500 every day. Before we make a 500, we made 400. Before we make a four, we made two. Before we make it two, we made a hundred.
[00:47:46] Jordan Harbinger: So you scaled up to a million dollars a day.
[00:47:48] Freeway Rick Ross: Yeah. Yeah. I had days that I went through three million dollars in one day.
[00:47:52] Jordan Harbinger: How are you even counting that much money?
[00:47:54] Freeway Rick Ross: Oh, you have money counters.
[00:47:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:47:55] Freeway Rick Ross: And you have a team of girls that sit down and they count money all day. You know, you have a house and this house would have like a slot in the door and people would just come in and drop duffel bags through the door. So I wanted to know what was the difference between real business and the cocaine business.
[00:48:12] Jordan Harbinger: And what did you find?
[00:48:13] Freeway Rick Ross: There's none.
[00:48:15] Jordan Harbinger: For more of Freeway Rick story, as one of the biggest drug dealers of all time, including his ties to the CIA, check out episode 121 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:48:26] Always fun to bring these episodes back from the vault. You know, I can imagine him sitting on his farm or whatever in Texas with like a shotgun and the sheriff showing up and going, "Yeah, I don't think so guys, get this New Yorker out of my jurisdiction." I just, I can see how the sheriff was like, "Listen, man, I can't let you sit here operating straight-up vigilante-style." Like I said, Steven's a salty, gritty guy, 10 out of 10 would not mess with Steve Rambam, but you know, just the fact that there are people like him out there where if you need something found or something done, there's just not a whole lot of people you can call that are going to be capable of doing that. When the cops aren't going to help you, you call a guy like Rambam and he's going to go out and work for you and find the people that took your money or get it back or, you know, get arrested doing it, maybe. It's like the A-Team without Mr. T. If you got a problem and no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire Steve Rambam.
[00:49:16] Links to all things Steve will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Please do use our website links if you buy anything from any sponsor or guest on the show, it does help support the show. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Again, please consider supporting those who support this show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or connect with me on LinkedIn.
[00:49:39] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships, using systems, software, and tiny habits. The same stuff I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course. And that course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig the well before you get thirsty. That's what I'm teaching you over there. Most of the guests on the show, they subscribe and contribute to that same course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[00:50:00] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. I'm not even sure who would like this episode. It's a little bit quirky, but share it with your quirky friends. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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