Winston Sterzel (@serpentza) is a South African vlogger and video producer who lived in Shenzhen in the Guangdong province of China for 14 years. He hosts his own YouTube channel as SerpentZA and co-hosts vlog ADVChina with Laowhy86.
What We Discuss with Winston Sterzel:
- How does the pig-butchering scam work, and why is it called this?
- Who tends to be the most common target of the pig-butchering scam, and how has this changed since its inception?
- The psychological levers that get used to manipulate victims of the pig-butchering scam, and how they differ from more traditional scams.
- How much time and effort pig-butchering scammers will invest in fattening up their victims for the big kill (and how Winston has made a game of wasting their time and effort when he’s been their mark).
- Warnings from people who have fallen for the pig-butchering scam and how you can avoid being next.
- And much more…
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It’s a common adage that a fool and their money are soon parted. And while you’re no fool, there are scammers worldwide dreaming up newer and more sophisticated ways to part you with your cash since all of their clever schemes have failed to work thus far. And one of the newest schemes on the scene hailing from China is something charmingly known as the pig-butchering scam. “Ah!” you say with relief, “But I’m vegan!” Unfortunately, the pig being fattened up for butchering in this scenario is you.
On this episode, we’re joined by Winston Sterzel (aka SerpentZA), a Westerner who lived in China for 14 years and, with former guest Laowhy86, hosts a weekly show on YouTube that gives us a Western perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly that goes on there. Here, we’ll get into how the pig-butchering scam works, who it’s designed to ensnare, and how to get the upper hand on anyone trying to ensnare you with it. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
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Miss our two-parter with North Korean defector Charles Ryu? Catch up here starting with episode 84: Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist Part One!
Thanks, Winston Sterzel!
If you enjoyed this session with Winston Sterzel, 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:
- The script you can cut and paste when scammers initiate contact: 我是农业农村部的吴青海。 不要再给我发信息，否则你会后悔的。 立即删除我的号码。
- Adventure Talk Show on Two Wheels | ADVChina
- Winston Sterzel | YouTube
- Winston Sterzel | Twitter
- Winston Sterzel | Instagram
- Winston Sterzel | Facebook
- Laowhy86 | How the Chinese Social Credit Score System Works Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Laowhy86 | How the Chinese Social Credit Score System Works Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- New SCAM out of China: The Pig Butchering Scam! | SerpentZA
- 5 Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Pig Butchering Scams | Tripwire
- We Scam a Sexy Chinese Scammer | ADVChina
- A Scammer Named SALAD | SerpentZA
- I Fell for a Scam: Exposing the Online Dating Crypto Investment “Pig Butchering” Scheme | Inspiroue
- Pig-Butchering Scam Training Manuals | r/Scams
- How Humiliation Drove Modern Chinese History | The Atlantic
- Sexpionage: China’s Dirty Tactic of Honey Trapping Foreign Politicians, Influential People, and CCP Dissenters | TFIPOST
- Beware of the Tea House Scam in China! | Travels with Erica
- SCAMMED In Beijing On Purpose! | SerpentZA
- Sam Cooper | How the West Was Infiltrated by Its Enemies | Jordan Harbinger
737: Winston Sterzel | Don’t Lose Your Bacon in a Pig-Butchering Scam
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Winston Sterzel: I mean, this is also why you see, going back a little bit why sometimes they're very sloppy with their scamming, it's because they've got massive quotas to fill. So they'll just immediately start talking about crypto just to see if they can get them on the line or on the hook because it's getting harder and harder for them to pull the scam off as people become more and more aware of it. More and more people are realizing that these are actually very dangerous scams. It's not just some missed number and a pretty Asian girl who wants to get to know you and show you her breakfast or whatever. It's really quite a big thing that's happening.
[00:00:41] 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 and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional mafia enforcer, investigative journalist, drug trafficker, tech mogul, or cold case homicide investigator. Each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:08] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs as a place to begin. These are collections of some of our favorite episodes organized by topic that'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like China and North Korea, abnormal psychology, disinformation, cyber warfare, persuasion and influence, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:35] Today, on the show, my friend Winston Sterzel, aka SerpentZA on YouTube. He's a China watcher and was one of the first vloggers in China, living there for 14 years. So the guy's got a pretty damn good handle on China. I watch him and Laowhy86 do their weekly China podcast on YouTube. Laowhy86 was a guest on the show in the past as well. I watch them every week to get a feel for what's going on in and with China and all news and all things China. And recently, he did a video on something called the pig-butchering scam.
[00:02:03] And I realized when I saw it that this is actually a scam that's targeting millions of people in the United States and abroad. And it has happened to me before. I get targeted by this all the time. I wasn't sure exactly what it was because I ignore a lot of this stuff. But in fact, you have also possibly been targeted if you've received a mysterious text from somebody that was supposedly a wrong number. And if you reply, it turns out to be some overly friendly and sort of attractive Chinese girl et cetera, et cetera. You probably know what I'm talking about. I wanted to expose the scam. I wanted to show you how it works. I wanted to give you strategies on how to defend yourself, and also I wanted to unpack some of the psychology of this scam as well, just because I think that stuff is always interesting.
[00:02:41] So this episode is part PSA and part expose on this particular scam, and I think you're going to find it a worthy listen. So here we go with Winston Sterzel.
[00:02:55] Winston, thanks for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.
[00:02:58] Winston Sterzel: Absolute pleasure.
[00:02:59] Jordan Harbinger: So we've all been getting these, well, an absolute ton actually, of these wrong number scam texts, and at first I was confused, you know, I just thought it, well, obviously the first time I thought it was an actual wrong number, but after the third in a given week, after getting these once every six months, maybe before that, I'm like, "Okay, something is going on here." And they say something like, "Hi Cheryl, can you take my dog to the vet on Tuesday?" or, "hey Mike, good to meet you last week. Let's get together again soon. Are you coming to my party on Friday?" And then it just became too obvious that something was going on here. And I wanted to do kind of a PSA episode to keep people safe from this scam. And maybe give people something to listen to if they're being targeted by these folks. Give people something to use as ammo if one of their friends and family is getting wrapped up in this scam, which is called the pig-butchering scam or the sha zhu pan.
[00:03:50] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:03:50] Jordan Harbinger: You rode one of these out for a while. You know, I did it in preparation for the interview, but I know you've done this a few times. Tell us a little bit about how these work.
[00:03:58] Winston Sterzel: Okay. Well, I mean, maybe we should talk about why we're seeing such an uptick in these scams targeting foreigners first. Well, primarily the victims of the sha zhu pan scam are Chinese people themselves. Okay. And it's been a very successful scam in China. They've made billions of dollars out of the scam, scamming people. And it really comes from this whole idea of slaughtering the pig. So you raise a pig from a young piglet all the way up until it gets to a big fat slaughtering age, and then you slaughter it. And that's where the scam name comes from, because this kind of scam, it's kind of a long game.
[00:04:35] They start out small, make friends raise you, so to speak, by constantly involving themselves in your life, getting you to trust them, and then they start to interest you in investing in cryptocurrency, mostly it's cryptocurrency that they do, but there are other ways that they do it too. And get you to a point where you're so happy and so trusting that you're willing to drop a lot of money on this scam. And once they've received that huge amount of money from you, they then, you know, slaughter you, so to speak, and take all your money and run. Now, this was so successful in China that the authorities actually started to crack down on it in a big way. Not only did the authorities start to crack down on it, but it became very common knowledge to the point where people just weren't falling for this scam anymore because they'd heard about it. So then they started to target, the Chinese diaspora abroad.
[00:05:26] And China has this very interesting kind of situation when it comes to scammers. I guess we can really trace this back to the whole century of humiliation that China constantly goes on about suffering at the hands of foreign powers like the British and the opium wars and so on and so forth. It's almost accepted within China. In fact, it is accepted to scam and take advantage of foreigners. But if you really scam local Chinese people, that's when you get into trouble. But if you scam foreigners, you don't get into trouble.
[00:05:57] Now, this is relevant because they set up these scam call centers in Cambodia and Laos, and neighboring countries. And the reason they do this is because the Internet is not blocked in those countries and it's much easier for them to then go and scam people on board using, you know, WhatsApp and Line and all these other programs, not just WeChat. And of course, it's harder for them to get caught by the Chinese authorities. But there were scamming the local people in China so much that the authorities started to crack down and actually send task forces over to capture the people in these different countries. Or they would threaten their families locally and tell them, "If you don't stop scamming and if you don't come back to get arrested, then you know your families are going to go to jail and so on and so forth."
[00:06:40] So they changed their tactics to no longer target local Chinese people as much and start to target people abroad. Now, in the beginning, they would target the Chinese diaspora because it's Chinese speaking. And the majority of the scammers were Chinese speaking. And you may have received voice messages or phone calls where you hear a recorded voice in Chinese.
[00:07:02] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:07:03] Winston Sterzel: This was this scam kind of evolving to target the Chinese diaspora. My wife actually, you know, Chinese living here in the States with me, she got targeted by one of these guys as well. And there's another very interesting twist to all of this. I'm getting ahead of myself here, but we are quite used to being targeted by female, good-looking Asian women.
[00:07:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:23] Winston Sterzel: Usually, they target men abroad, but in China, it's actually the opposite. It's usually handsome men targeting women.
[00:07:31] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:07:31] Winston Sterzel: It's different. So anyway, sorry. They started to target the diaspora abroad but then, of course, they targeted the diaspora a little bit too much. People got, you know, in the nose so it wasn't working as well. And of course, they can get into trouble if they're targeting Chinese citizens. So they started to move on to foreigners because if they scam foreigners, they're completely safe. There will be no repercussions at all from the Chinese government if they target foreign nationals. Because the Chinese government, in fact, in a way, encourages this behavior because of the rhetoric, the constant nationalist—
[00:08:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:08:04] Winston Sterzel: —xenophobic rhetoric that's going on right now in China. And I've experienced it first hand in China through various scams and being able to speak Chinese, I would be there trying to buy something in a shop, in a market, and they try to overcharge like really overcharge me. And I remember right in the beginning when I was in China, I was trying to buy just a hat from a vendor and the guy tried to charge me 10 times the price of what it normally is. And I heard another Chinese person come into the shop and he offered the price of 10 times less because I could understand Chinese at that point, enough to understand. So my girlfriend came in and I told her to ask the guy, why is he trying to charge me so much. So she started to argue on my behalf and he said to her, and this is kind of important, he said to her, "Why are you helping this foreigner? We Chinese need to help each other and stick together." This is a mentality and—
[00:08:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:08:59] Winston Sterzel: —I'm explaining this because it's important. There are no repercussions when you scam foreigners. So that's why it's safe for these scammers to scam foreigners. And that's why they've gone to these great lengths of getting people who can speak English, hiring people and real people. It's not just some guy sitting there on a keyboard. They'll get young, pretty girls and they'll get, you know, women and normal people that can speak English to actually start these scams. And they pay them, of course. They're like paid actors working for the scammers. So that's why you're starting to see an uptick in this.
[00:09:31] Jordan Harbinger: That makes sense. Yeah, for me, it's always been an Asian woman, not always Chinese in the photos, but definitely Chinese. And I know you mentioned this in your video as well, so they'll inevitably send photos. Usually, well, always actually, without me even asking, because I don't care. I'm not trying to get a photo of you holding your dog. You know, I'll say good luck finding the dog. But before I knew it was an obvious scam, I'd say something like, "Hey, wrong number, but good luck finding your dog." And then minutes later or an hour later, I get a photo of some cute Korean girl or maybe Chinese using a gazillion Instagram app filters—
[00:10:07] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:07] Jordan Harbinger: —holding a dog or they're like, "Just going to work out. Hope your day's going well." And I'm like, "Why would you text someone else that just already told you this is the wrong number?"
[00:10:16] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:10:16] Jordan Harbinger: And I think they all think we're into fitness or it's maybe an easy way to show off their body because it's like midriff tank top, you know, tights, whatever. They're trying to get the guys hooked and then they'll be like, "I live in New York, you should come to one of my dinner parties." And I'm like, "Oh cool. I don't live in New York," but whatever information you obviously have in front of you says that I do because I used to. So I'm like, "Ah, now I know who leaked my number—
[00:10:39] Winston Sterzel: Yep.
[00:10:39] Jordan Harbinger: —or whatever. And at first, I thought this was Chinese Communist Party intelligence officers trying to honeytrap me because that has happened before. I don't know. Is that something that you're comfortable discussing or able to discuss—
[00:10:51] Winston Sterzel: Sure.
[00:10:51] Jordan Harbinger: —on this, the honey trap? because I know that maybe this is something you have experience with.
[00:10:55] Winston Sterzel: Oh yeah. No, that's actually happened to me in the past. I have a video about being honey trapped and how they attempted to honeytrap me by wanting to interview me, "Come to this hotel, here's my hotel room. We'll have an interview in my hotel room," and then sending pictures, you know, of a very scantily clad, attractive woman showing her bra and so on and be like, "Come, let's have an interview," type thing. Obviously, a setup in order to try and do something to me, either blackmail me or try to beat me up or kidnap me. Or who knows what they're trying to do?
[00:11:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:11:27] Winston Sterzel: But it was definitely a honey trap thing. That's happened a lot. But you know, when it comes to these scams, they do use pretty women, the pictures are pretty women, of course, just to thirst trap men. That's the whole point of this thing. It's kind of easy. You know, men tend to switch off a lot of the defense mechanisms when there's a pretty girl around. You tend to start to kind of relax, I don't know, just relax and maybe you become a lot more gullible, so speak.
[00:11:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, it turns off critical thinking because you might actually, you have a one percent chance that this is real. So you're like, "Ah, I'm going to—"
[00:11:58] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:11:59] Jordan Harbinger: "—lean into this one," because guys are, we think with our, you know what, sometimes.
[00:12:03] Winston Sterzel: Men are stupid when it comes to women. That's just the way it is.
[00:12:06] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:06] Winston Sterzel: But it's interesting how that, it switched around. Like I said, it's usually men that target Chinese women and they build up a big, long relationship. And like I said, the one with my wife, I actually encouraged her to lead the guy on a little bit. He used to send her long voice messages because it wasn't just text. You know, in the beginning here, targeting foreigners, it's usually just text because they can't speak English, so they use translation software—
[00:12:30] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:12:31] Winston Sterzel: —or whatever the case, but they've gotten to a point now where they're hiring people that can speak English. But anyway, with the Chinese side of things, they'll get this guy to talk and say how much he feels like she's so kind and such a nice person. And you know, like they really could be friends and all this kind of stuff, long, long.
[00:12:48] You could see where it was going. So we played this thing along for quite a while and I'd listen to the messages as well. And the tricky tactics that they use, they're very good at being able to take advantage of, say, a lonely woman, you know, with all these, sending them like all these complimentary messages. It even gets to a point where they might send little gifts and things like that. If they're in China, you see them either buying something and send it through and do this kind of thing. And it builds up and it builds up to the point where they get them to invest a huge amount of money and then they take it, of course, and leave it.
[00:13:19] But yes, when they moved into the Western sphere, they realized that the tactic that works the best is to just steal photos, usually from WeChat groups because people are getting wiser and wiser. If they see a photo and they're a little bit suspicious, they might do a reverse image search on Google to try and see if that photo is like a stock photo or a model's photo or something, right?
[00:13:39] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:13:40] Winston Sterzel: So in order to avoid that, they go to their WeChat friends groups. Because, you know, on WeChat it's kind of like Twitter or Facebook together and you have a Moments section where people post their everyday life. So, "Oh, here I'm eating my—"
[00:13:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, this is a Chinese app that's like Facebook plus Twitter plus PayPal, plus TikTok, probably all in one. I don't know.
[00:14:01] Winston Sterzel: It's everything. You pay your gas bill through that app, you buy tickets. You do everything. It's like a banking app too. It's everything all in one.
[00:14:09] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:10] Winston Sterzel: But it's got the section of it called Moments. And if you scroll through your Moments posts, if you've added somebody as a friend somewhere down the line, you'll see everything they posted. And of course, in today's sort of narcissistic social media type setup, you will see everything. People posting their breakfast and their lunch, "Oh, I went to the gym," or whatever. So you get all these pictures. So they grab them off of there because you can't find those on a reverse image search because it's a closed system. The Chinese WeChat and the intranet is kind of closed off. Those photos don't go anywhere else. So they'll steal from somebody. Or in my case, I did that thing, I scammed the scammer, so to speak. The scammer is named Salad. That's what she called herself which is kind of ridiculous. But anyway, I found out that the pictures they were using were actually from an Instagram model. Okay.
[00:14:59] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[00:15:00] Winston Sterzel: In fact, I got contacted by a lawyer asking me to please, "Take down the pictures because the Instagram model life was being affected by my video." So of course, I did. I didn't realize that it was a real Instagram model.
[00:15:11] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:12] Winston Sterzel: I blurt her out. But the fact of the matter is they go and they find these photos and they'll start to try and entice you with little bits here and there in order to try and build a bond. But the interesting thing, like I said, is that they're starting to use people that can speak English. So they sometimes send voice messages as well, which really just ups the game, so to speak, because you can use translation software all you want. But when you start to speak to someone and when you start to send little video clips and things like that, it really makes it more believable.
[00:15:37] Jordan Harbinger: I agree. There's a lot of psychology involved here. And you're right. Women make up two-thirds of the victims, which surprised me. I did not see that coming. I really thought, okay, it's always women chatting me. They must know my number is owned by a male or they're guessing, but probably they know that it's a guy somehow. They don't know my name or anything, so I don't know who or how my number got leaked or if they're just dialing and they assume that I will eventually spill the beans that I'm a guy and then they switch genders based on that. I really don't know cause I haven't taken it that far. But yeah, it's a bit of a twist on a romance scam.
[00:16:12] Usually, with the romance scam though, you're talking with somebody and then you're in some pseudo-online relationship with them and then they want to come visit you and then it's an emergency and their grandma needs a surgery.
[00:16:25] Winston Sterzel: Yep.
[00:16:25] Jordan Harbinger: Or they need a medical thing for their tooth and then they want to come and visit you, but they get robbed on the way to the airport. I know this because a friend of mine, her uncle — I came back from Ukraine. This is like 20 years ago. I came back from Ukraine and there's a guy standing there with a sign that says like, "Natalia, welcome to America." And I'm like, "Hey Jessica, what are you doing here?" And she's like, "My uncle's girlfriend is coming to visit America." And I was like, "Ah, I'm like the last guy off the plane because I had a problem. There's no one else behind me." And she's like, "Uh-oh."
[00:16:53] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:16:53] Jordan Harbinger: And it turned out it was a romance scam. He had been sending her money, she got robbed on the way to the airport. He sent her more money for another ticket. And then eventually he was like, "This sounds like BS." And she was just like, "Cool, I'm out. I'm not going to block you and never talk to you again." And he was crushed, right?
[00:17:06] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:17:07] Jordan Harbinger: But this is similar, but it's a little different because the victim is actually, well, thinks they're investing for themselves. You're not sending the scammer money. They're teaching you how to invest in cryptocurrency to make money like they do because they're dropping all these hints like, "Oh, I'm just driving in my new car."
[00:17:22] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:23] Jordan Harbinger: "I'm going on this fancy vacation. I'm eating a nice meal. Oh, I'm buying some wine for my wine collection." They want you to go, "How are you doing? So well, what do you do for work?"
[00:17:31] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:32] Jordan Harbinger: "Oh, I invest in cryptocurrency." Or they'll say, "What are your hobbies?" And I'll say, "Basic bitch sh*t like travel and reading and being outside." And they're like, "I like cryptocurrency investing." And I'm like, okay. So they're looking for wealthier, more professional victims from the look of it, instead of like single desperate people who are just sitting in front of their computer trying to find their soulmates, so to speak.
[00:17:53] Winston Sterzel: In a way, I mean, it is kind of opposite. As you said, a romance scam is all about like, "Oh no, I need money. Please send me money."
[00:18:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:18:00] Winston Sterzel: The difference is there's this psychology that goes on, especially with Americans and people from the developed world when they're talking to like an Asian woman from, if it's Thailand or whatever, they have this savior complex where it's like, oh, they're from a poor nation. And you know, like I can swoop in and give them money and help them out, but this scam turns it on that whole idea and that whole psychology on its head. Because what'll happen is they'll start, like you say, dropping hints that they're incredibly wealthy. So they don't come at you like, "Oh look, I'm a poor woman in Thailand or China and I need some money and I want you to help me come to America," or something like that. It's the opposite. They're like, "I'm really rich. I'm jet-setting around. I'm the one here who can really come down and sweep down and take you out of your situation. I know you know—"
[00:18:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:18:50] Winston Sterzel: "—everybody has troubles in life, but I've figured this out. I like, I go on a yacht or I have a yacht and I have Porsches," and what have you.
[00:18:57] And so people are intrigued. They're like, "Oh wow, I wonder how this happened. I wonder if I can get a piece of that." And so it plays into greed rather than lust. It's more of a greed thing. And so what happens is they start to give you advice and be like, "Oh, now we're becoming friends. Maybe I can teach you how to make some money because it's really easy."
[00:19:15] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:19:15] Winston Sterzel: And if you're far along enough in this thing where you've kind of gotten involved and uh, you've been hooked and you interested in the person because they've been talking to you for say, a week or a month, and they're quite clever if they do it right, they're very clever. They do it very slowly and they will contact you every day.
[00:19:33] A guy was talking to my wife would send her a message every morning, "Oh, good morning. I wonder how are you doing. Did you sleep well?" That kind of crap, and they do that as well if they're doing it properly to Western people. So they'll really involve themselves in your life. They'll ask you how your day is. They'll speak to you about your troubles. They'll really build a bond and a friendship. And then as things get more personal and more seemingly personal where you're starting to talk more about your life, they're talking more about their life. That's when they start to drop all these hints about like, "Oh, I just flew to wherever the Cannes to see the film festival," or, "I just flew here to Barcelona," or, "I just went to—" you know, they make it sound like they're a jet setter. They've got a lot of money. And so it starts to get into that conversation about like, you know, how they earned their money. And that's when you get to the crypto scam side of things.
[00:20:20] And it's interesting because the last one that I played along with and tried my best to just piss them off, really, I kept telling them that I'm a hedge fund manager and I've got investments and I know what I'm doing and I don't trust crypto. That was my whole thing. I said, "I don't trust crypto." And they were like, "Yeah. Well, you know, I don't trust crypto either, but my uncle has this method with these short-term crypto investments that actually works very well and takes advantage of the bearish market that we're seeing right now." You know, they're getting very complicated. And even though I tried my best to tell them that crypto's nonsense, I'm not interested in crypto, they still tried their absolute best to use some jargon and some other nonsense to get me interested in investing in crypto.
[00:21:02] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:21:03] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, and the way they pull it off is even more interesting. And like I said, I played along all the way to the point where, obviously, I didn't do it, but I was right at the point where I was going to send the money, so I figured out how it all works.
[00:21:17] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Winston Sterzel. We'll be right back.
[00:21:21] This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help. A lot of people think, "I don't need a therapist. I got friends I can talk to." Well, not for long. If you're venting about all your problems. It's the job of a therapist to focus on and care for their clients. They got to keep good boundaries. They got to help clients reach their goals. Friends are supportive. They'll listen, they'll encourage you, but they're also going to tell you what you want to hear to keep you happy and avoid conflict and maybe not say too much. Friends, also give advice based on their own experiences. I mean, hell, that's what I do on Feedback Friday, and that's all we can do a lot of the time. Therapists are actually trained not to do that. Friends can make us feel worse, even with the best of intentions. If you find yourself venting to your friends repeatedly, really consider it taking action to change that situation by seeking a professional. Better Help is really convenient. Phone, video sessions, chat sessions, text therapists at any time, no additional charge. Switch therapists any time if they're not a fit. Stop bugging your poor friends and maybe, you know, keep them around for a while.
[00:22:15] Jen Harbinger: And when you want to be a better problem solver, therapy can get you there. Visit betterhelp.com/jordan today to get 10 percent off your first month. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:22:27] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is sponsored in part by Athletic Greens. Athletic Greens is a product that Jen and I take every day. We just mix a scoop of Athletic Greens with a cup of water in a bottle. Drink it up in the morning. Each scoop has seven — I don't know why it takes Jen like three hours to drink hers. I slam mine. Each scoop has 75 vitamins, minerals, whole-food sourced, superfoods, probiotics, and adaptogens that are high quality. Your body will actually absorb a lot of it. No need for a million different pills and supplements to look out for your health. No need to choke all that down. Athletic Greens is like all-in-one nutritional insurance. It's cheaper and easier than getting all the different supplements yourself. My friend, Tim Ferriss told me about this stuff years ago. I've been using it ever since. No GMOs, no nasty chemicals, no artificial stuff in there. I've tried a few different green powder supplements over the years and usually, I got to like plug my nose and put it in a smoothie to get rid of the flavor. With Athletic Greens, the flavor is surprisingly good. Yeah, it's got that slight green flavor. It's not bitter. It's not overpowering. I just put a scoop in with water. No big deal. It's time to reclaim your health and arm your immune system with convenient daily nutrition, especially heading into the flu and cold season, which is now all-year-long courtesy of two kids.
[00:23:31] Jen Harbinger: To make it easy, Athletic Greens is going to give you a free one-year supply of immune-supporting vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase. All you have to do is visit athleticgreens.com/jordan. Again, that's athleticgreens.com/jordan to take ownership over your health and pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance.
[00:23:50] Jordan Harbinger: Hey, if you're wondering how I managed to book all these folks for the show, it's because of my network. And I got to tell you, I've had just virtually unlimited opportunity come into my life just because of the people that I know and keep in touch with. You don't have to be some sort of hyper extrovert to create a network and maintain relationships. I use systems, I use software, I use tiny habits. I'm teaching you how to do all of that stuff for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is about improving your networking and connection skills and also inspiring others to develop a personal and professional relationship with you. It'll make you a better networker, a better connector, and perhaps most importantly, a better thinker. That's all at jordanharbinger.com/course, and many of the guests on this show subscribe and contribute to that course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:24:37] Now back to Winston Sterzel.
[00:24:41] The conversation always leads to cryptocurrency investing. Sometimes, it's fast the first day, if they're sloppy, sometimes slowly over weeks or even months. It seems like it depends on how much money they think you have. If they think you're just like an easy mark, they'll go for it right away. But if they think you're a whale, they're like, "Okay, maybe I take time, talk about vacations, get this guy." Because if you think about it, if they spend an extra month or two working on you and you invest $10,000 or $25,000 instead of $500—
[00:25:10] Winston Sterzel: Mmm.
[00:25:11] Jordan Harbinger: —that is well-compensated time for somebody who's living in Cambodia or Burma working for an organized crime syndicate. That's a job well done and that you're just one mark. They're probably working a hundred marks at the same time, or you know, 50 or something like that. If they think you're on the hook, I noticed they will either move you to another app or another number in the same app using some excuse like, "Oh, this is my private WhatsApp," or, "This is my Telegram. Let's move to Telegram." And what I thought was interesting about this Winston was that makes me think that they're using, they've got a sales organization where there's newbies who don't really know what they're doing, sending scripts out to 10,000 people a week or whatever.
[00:25:54] And then once you're kind of on the hook, they transfer you to somebody who's a little bit more slick. Their psychology skills are a little better, their English skills are a little better, their scripts are a little better, and they're the ones who actually execute the scam. The first guy is essentially a sales development rep. Like they're like the telemarketer that calls you and asks if you want to switch your long-distance plan, and then the person you get transferred to, even though they say it's the same person, that's the person who's like, "Oh, okay, you're going to buy this. All right. Here's a real sales guy who's sitting there standing by ready to tell you how to transfer the crypto." And to clarify, you strung Salad — yes, you heard that right — Salad along for what was like two-plus months or something like that.
[00:26:33] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
[00:26:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:26:35] Winston Sterzel: And it's exactly as you say, the person that I first started talking to who contacted me, called herself Sarah. So she sent me the gym pictures and she sent me the usual stuff and you know, all that nonsense to kind of get me on the hook. I wanted to play along. I rarely was trying to push this as far as I could, so I was acting very gullible. And so when she was talking about crypto investments and stuff, I said, "Wow, that's so interesting. And you know, like, I would really like to invest." And I used a picture of an old dude from the Internet to pretend like I was kind of a middle-aged old guy in his late 50s, early 60s, and an empty nester who had a lot of money to invest.
[00:27:10] And then she transferred me over to someone else. But she pretended like it was the same person, like you said. She was like, "Okay, you know, I'm going to transfer you to my private number so that we can talk more and be more private and intimate type thing. When she transferred me over to her private number, suddenly her name was Salad. It's like, "Hi, I'm Salad." I'm like, "Isn't your name Sarah?" She's like, "No, I've always been called Salad." So it was somebody else and they just got their wires crossed, obviously, with the name and things like that.
[00:27:37] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:38] Winston Sterzel: Because in the picture she sent me of the gym was of another person. So it wasn't even the same person, even though they pretended it was. So, you're absolutely right. And the thing is they're incredibly smart with the crypto scam because they steal your money without you knowing that it's stolen.
[00:27:53] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:27:53] Winston Sterzel: And they can string you along for the longest time. And what they do is they get you to set up a legitimate account on Coinbase, which I think everybody knows, if you're into crypto Coinbase, it's just one of those portals where you can buy money, you can use your credit card, or you can use actual money to buy cryptocurrency. And from there you can either keep it in Coinbase or you can transfer it to a crypto wallet and that sort of thing.
[00:28:16] Jordan Harbinger: It's like opening an account at Chase Bank here in the United States or Bank of America. It's a brand name, real easy, you kind of login, take a picture of your driver's license, you can use your credit card, or you can wire in a hundred bucks and buy Bitcoin. And you kind of go, "Okay, I'm part of the crypto revolution now."
[00:28:31] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:28:32] Jordan Harbinger: Right, and you're generally safe there. Yes. And then these guys have figured out a way to get you to make that not the case.
[00:28:37] Winston Sterzel: So what they do is they get you to create this proper account. So first of all, now it looks legitimate. You've created a Coinbase account. Then, they ask you to buy some USDC which is a kind of cryptocurrency. It's just US dollar coin is what it's called. And it's tied more or less—
[00:28:53] Jordan Harbinger: It's tied to the dollar.
[00:28:54] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, it's tied to the dollar. Okay. So they get you to buy. So far, so good. And then what they get you to do is sign up. Usually, they say it's a short-term trading platform, crypto trading platform. It's all about short term is what it's called. This is their insight. They've got this website, which they use or belongs to somebody they know or whatever the case, but this is the insider secret that you are getting, is access to this website. And it looks legitimate. Okay.
[00:29:25] The one that they sent to me was called BTC Box dot something, and there is an actual real BTC Box. I think it's out of Korea or Japan, one of the two. It's legitimate, but this was a fake one. It was a little different. It was like BTC Box dot something else, like dot net or dot com slash something. So it was slightly different. You come up there, it looks completely legitimate. It's got graphs on it. It looks like, you know, it's got updating things about crypto values and it looks very professional to the untrained eye. Of course, digging deeper, I started to notice little spelling mistakes here and there that you would never find on a website like that. Links that if I were to view the source had Chinese in them, all this kind of stuff. So, of course—
[00:30:04] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:30:05] Winston Sterzel: —it was a scam site, but most people wouldn't know that because it looks legitimate. And it works legitimately too. You create an account, it sends an email to you for verification. You verify your email address, so you get your account there and then you have your wallet and a wallet address and all that sort of stuff, and all these options to invest and things. It looks very legitimate. So next what they get you to do is they get you to transfer that USDC cryptocurrency that you bought in Coinbase over to this wallet.
[00:30:33] And then once it's in this wallet on this fake website, it looks like it's there. It's not actually there. They've stolen the money already, right? But then because they have complete control over this website, they change the numbers and stuff to make it look like you're earning a lot of money, a lot of interest on your investment. So see, they try to get me to put $5,000 down, which I think is a bit ballsy of them to ask somebody to just buy $5,000.
[00:30:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:30:58] Winston Sterzel: You know?
[00:30:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:30:59] Winston Sterzel: So I talked them down to a thousand dollars and then they were like, "Ah," you can see they're kind of losing interest, but they went along with it anyway because I told them I had 500,000 to invest, but I wanted to test it first, right? So they kind of stuck with me because of that.
[00:31:13] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:31:14] Winston Sterzel: So your money sits in there and if you were to check your BTC Box or whatever they're going to call it because it'll have a different name every time, if you check your account every day, you're earning like 15 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent. It looks legitimate, looks like you're earning a lot of money. So you put that thousand dollars in by the end of the week, you've got $1,500 or 1,300 or something in the account.
[00:31:34] And this encourages you to invest more because this is where the greed takes over. You're like, "Wow, I'm making so much money. If I put five grand in or 10 grand in, imagine how much returns I could get. And every dollar that you're transferring to that account is being stolen, and that's how it works. And so you have people who keep their money in these fake accounts for months and keep adding and adding and adding, thinking that they're getting a lot of money. And then when they try to draw the money out, they can't. And then they get you with even further scams.
[00:32:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:32:04] Winston Sterzel: They'll be like, "Yeah, you can't draw the money out because of some exchange issue. You're going to have to send some money to this organization or something so that we can facilitate the transfer," so they get even more money out of you when you try to get your money out of the thing. It's quite despicable. And at the end of the day, every cent is gone.
[00:32:20] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So you're putting your money into this website, you see that it's doubling, but the website is simply being controlled by the scammer on the back end. So if you put in your $5,000, they'll show you that it's now $8,000. And they'll say, "Wow, the trends are really good now. You should put in some more," but your money is being drained from that wallet, which you have no actual control over anyway. Your Bitcoin or your USDC is gone. They're showing a fake balance. It'd be like if you logged into your Bank of America account and you noticed your money was doubled, and then they said, "Hey, if you want this to keep happening because you won our fancy bank lottery, you can put in 10,000 more dollars and we'll double it until the end of the week."
[00:32:57] Right? It's ridiculous when you think about it happening with the US Bank, with actual US dollars, but for some reason with cryptocurrency, people just don't understand it and they think, "Well, Bitcoin went way up, so why wouldn't USDC get doubled?" And the truth is it that doesn't make a ton of sense, even if they explain the scam, it doesn't really make any sense. But they will continually do that. And then yes, "Oh, you can't withdraw until the 30th of the month. Oh look, your money keeps going up so much you should put in more." Or, "Oh, you know what? You're not in our VIP tier where you can withdraw more than a hundred dollars a day if you want to withdraw more than a hundred dollars a day, which you should because the trends are going down again, you need to put in a thousand dollars. That'll get you to the V I P tier, and then you can withdraw up to $10,000 a day."
[00:33:39] So then, you do that, but then, "Oh, the government is now making it so that we can't actually transfer your money out, or it takes two weeks for us to process this transaction." And you're like, "But you didn't tell me that." So you go to customer service on the website and the customer services, of course, in on it, because they also own the website. And I think this is what trips up a lot of people, the scammer site, they're the ones who own the website. So the scammer can say, "Oh, if you back out now you're going to cost me money because I put in money for you, or I vouched for you." And the customer service people will tell you that exact same thing. "Oh, it's a contest. Your friend helped you do this." They will gaslight you—
[00:34:14] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:34:14] Jordan Harbinger: —into putting more money in there. And you will believe them. If you've been in a relationship with your scammer for three months by this point, right? You think you're dating or something like that. And they're behind this whole thing. And there's a lot of contests that these fake websites will run. "You know, your friend matches you this and you're in it together. But if you want to withdraw your money, your friend's going to lose 30 percent of their assets. And wow, they have a hundred thousand dollars in here. Do you want to do that to your friend?"
[00:34:40] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:34:40] Jordan Harbinger: You know, it's really, really advanced and despicable.
[00:34:43] Winston Sterzel: It really is. And they're very clever at doing this. And this is an evolution of many of the scams that I've myself witnessed and experienced in China. If you think about it, it's an extension of the tea house scam or the whiskey bottle scam that you get where — I don't know if you want me to explain that to your audience if we got time.
[00:35:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. When I went to China, a friend of mine was late for a meeting and he goes, "You guys aren't going to believe what just happened to me." Because he was there before us and he had been taken advantage of by the tea house scam. Yeah, if you can explain it, tell us, because this happened to my friend. I'd never heard of this before. It's probably 10 years ago, almost now. And it was unbelievable.
[00:35:19] Winston Sterzel: Well, this scam is specifically meant to take advantage of tourists. And when you go to a big city like Shanghai or Beijing or wherever you're going to one of the big tourist sites like, I don't know, Tiananmen Square or Nanjing Street in Shanghai or something, you will get approached by young women, not always. They can sometimes be middle-aged. In fact, I made a video where I got scammed on purpose in Beijing, the tea house scam exactly. But I'll just break it down for you very quickly. You get approached by usually young women, and they can speak a little bit of English and they will ask to take a photo with you, or they'll strike up a conversation in one way or the other.
[00:35:59] And then they'll pretend that they're also traveling and they would like some company, they know a really good place where you can sit down and have some Chinese tea and they can show you the whole Chinese tea culture type thing. And of course, foreigners are going to fall for this because you think, "Oh, China tea, it's so beautiful," you know all the history and all that stuff. So they'll take you to a place which is owned by their syndicate or their boss or their gang or whatever it is, and they'll take you and sit you down in a private room. And the menu will say something like, it's five dollars for a cup of tea or something like that. It doesn't look bad, but it's worded in Chinese that it's like, yeah, it's five dollars per gram or something. Or there'll be something in there that, you know, if it ever gets down to it, they can just point to it and say, "Look, it was there on the menu in Chinese," but there's always some trick to it.
[00:36:47] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:48] Winston Sterzel: And you sit down and they'll open snacks, which you didn't ask for, and they'll do this sort of thing, and at the end of the day, they'll force you to drink with them and you think you're having a great time. And then this bill for a ridiculous amount of like a thousand dollars or 800 US dollars or something will arrive and you're like, "What's going on here? This is supposed to be like $10 or $20, you know?" And then, they'll coerce you into paying because they'll bring in the heavies and you know, you won't be able to leave and they'll make a big thing out of it, being a misunderstanding.
[00:37:16] And again, this scam has been going on for the longest time, targeting local Chinese people, Chinese tourists that go there. But they've realized that it's actually easier to scam foreigners because of the language barrier. They don't know what to do. They have connections with all the local police anyway, these gangs and these syndicates. So there's never any repercussions for them. Even if the police do get involved, the police will say, "You must pay or at least pay half," or something like that. So they still get their money out.
[00:37:43] So they've got this tea house scam, and it works in very much the same way that you're talking about because the girl that comes in with you or the girls, sometimes it's two that sit down with you. They will also pretend to be all shocked. Like, "Oh, why is this so expensive? I didn't think it would be this much. Oh no, we're in trouble. What am I going to do?" And so it makes you, the mark, feel guilty as well and responsible and you're going to try and look after them because they're also caught up in this terrible situation with you. Meanwhile, they're the ones that are in on it.
[00:38:15] It gets even worse with the whiskey bottle scam because they target foreigners and, you know, walking around at night in these streets and like, "Come, let's have a drink, let's have a beer and sit down, have a beer." And then they'll be like—
[00:38:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:25] Winston Sterzel: "I really want to drink a whiskey. Can we share a whiskey? You can have a beer, I'll have a whiskey." And you're like, "Okay," because on the menu it's like cheap in these dodgy little bars. And then, they'll bring like a shot of whiskey out and then, they'll be like, "Oh, but we had to open this very expensive bottle of whiskey in order to pour that one. Now, you owe us for the whole bottle," and it'll be something stupid amount—
[00:38:48] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:38:48] Winston Sterzel: You know, stupid amount of money, like 1400 US dollars or something for this bottle of whiskey.
[00:38:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my goodness.
[00:38:54] Winston Sterzel: Especially if it's a kind of a nighttime thing and you're out there on the streets at night and this pretty girl wants to have a drink with you and you're a dumb gullible foreigner, and you walk into one of these places, you're screwed. There's no way out of it because they'll bring in these thugs that will beat you up if you don't pay, and they'll escort you to the ATM to draw money out. If you don't have the money on you or you can't pay. It's a really bad thing.
[00:39:14] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:39:15] Winston Sterzel: But again, they involve that whole guilt-by-association thing. Like the girl will also pretend like, "Oh, I didn't know," or, "Oh no, we're in trouble. I will help you pay, but I only have, you know, this amount of money on me. Please help me." And so you get it into that whole sort of emotional guilty kind of set up and it's part of the scam. It's part of the psychology.
[00:39:34] Jordan Harbinger: This happened to a friend of mine in Ukraine actually. He was so excited to go on a date with this girl, and I was like, I was thrilled for him, right? He was kind of like down on his luck and he went to Ukraine and he is like, "Man, the girls here are great. I met this really friendly girl," and he went on a date and they had a great time, and then the bill came and then, he's like, "Dude, this is insane." And she, I think, kind of played dumb at the time. I don't remember exactly what the story was, but yeah, then all these like Russian gangsters came out.
[00:39:59] And they're like, "We have an ATM in the corner. You can withdraw the money." He was like, "Uh, hold on, I don't have a working atm." And they're like, "You better find out how to get the money." So he called me and he's like, "Dude, I have no idea what to do right now." And I was like, "Tell them you have to run your credit card because you can't get the money out." And they ran his credit card on a friend's machine and I was like, "Just call your credit card company and tell them it was a scam." So he did that and he didn't end up having to pay the money. I don't know how they hadn't figured this out. This is almost 20 years ago now. So I think now they would just be like, you know, "We're going to keep your phone or something like that until you figure this out." I don't know.
[00:40:36] But I remember going around Shanghai and Beijing and there'd be girls in the middle of the road and they'd just look at you and go, "Want to get a beer?" And I thought this is some amateur sh*t like you don't even know, but just lunging at me, "Want to get a beer?" I thought these are prostitutes for sure. And it turns out they were probably scammers. I just thought, what a sloppy open this is, you know?
[00:40:55] Winston Sterzel: Yeah. Sometimes they played a little smarter. Usually, it can be a group of people. Sometimes, it could be guys and girls together, like sort of pretending to be students, and they come up to you like, "Can you take a photo of us?"
[00:41:06] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting.
[00:41:07] Winston Sterzel: Then, they're like, "Oh yeah, by the way, we're traveling here too. Maybe we can go sit down and have a coffee together or something, and it goes from there. There's all these interesting ways that they try to hook you with this stuff where they say like, "I'm a student and we're having an art exhibition, you know, in my college or whatever. Come take a look at our artwork." So I got approached by that in the Forbidden City in Beijing a few times. That's another well-known scam where you go and they just kind of lock you in a room with all this crappy art that you can buy for pennies in China, and then they kind of coerce you into buying this art, and they don't really let you leave until you buy something, that kind of thing.
[00:41:42] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:41:42] Winston Sterzel: So it's quite common, but it's just interesting. I know we're off-topic here, but it's interesting to see how many of the same tactics that are used in these—
[00:41:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:41:49] Winston Sterzel: —in your face, real tangible scams that happen on the streets of China that I've experienced, have moved over into this kind of cryptocurrency slaughter-the-pig scam, which is now being experienced around the entire world.
[00:42:01] Jordan Harbinger: We mentioned earlier that they'll use Korean photos, but they often use directly translated Chinese expressions. So they'll say something like, "Have you eaten yet?" Chīle ma is what you would say in Chinese. It's kind of like, how's it going? You're not supposed to say, "Well actually, here's how it's going." It's just like a hello thing. So you see sloppy scammers will almost have like a leakage of their Chinese culture. In fact, I've gotten these people to admit that they are Chinese before, even though they'll say they're Korean or they're living in Canada, or they're not Asian at all. I'll get them to admit that they're Chinese by saying, "Oh, I'm pretty sure you're Chinese." And they'll go, "How do you know?" And I'll say that I work for the MSS, which is like a Chinese, would you say FBI CIA combination?
[00:42:44] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:42:45] Jordan Harbinger: And I'll write it in Chinese.
[00:42:47] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:42:47] Jordan Harbinger: I'll write it in Chinese and they will just start freaking out, right? They're like, "I'm sorry, your job is so good. You're so good for the state or the country." Basically like, "Bless you. You're such a champion."
[00:43:01] Winston Sterzel: Mm-hmm.
[00:43:02] Jordan Harbinger: You know, like they'll say all these kinds of things in Chinese back and I'm like, yeah. And that's just funny sitting there thinking this guy is sitting behind the computer going, "Oh sh*t, I'm going to get in so much trouble for doing this." And I will tell you that after I did that the first time, I didn't get one of these scams to my number for months after getting them multiple times per week because I think they went into the computer, they went to the boss and said, "This number belongs to an MSS guy. You better take this crap out of there." And they probably jumped over the table to delete my file.
[00:43:34] Winston Sterzel: Oh yeah.
[00:43:35] Jordan Harbinger: Because the last person you want to screw with an authoritarian regime like China is their internal secret police.
[00:43:41] Winston Sterzel: Correct. Absolutely right. And it's very easy to figure out if they're Chinese or not. It just strikes up a conversation about Tiananmen Square or something and see what the—
[00:43:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:43:50] Winston Sterzel: —replies are. But yeah, super easy, like you said. All these sayings leak out usually. They slip up. Like if you look at their profile, instead of saying, "Hi, I am now using WhatsApp," it'll be in Chinese saying like, [Xiànzài shǐyòng] WhatsApp or something. There'll be Chinese characters.
[00:44:05] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:06] Winston Sterzel: It's very easy to tease this kind of information out of them, especially if you speak Chinese. But look, the majority of these scammers are Chinese. This whole pig-butchering scam, it's originated in China, It's run by Chinese gangs and there's a lot of money being made, huge amounts of money. 2021, they made over 580 million or something like that with this scam.
[00:44:29] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:44:30] Winston Sterzel: They make so much money. And they've got so much incentive to do it. So 99.9 percent of the time, it'll be a Chinese person on the other side of the call, definitely.
[00:44:43] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Winston Sterzel. We'll be right.
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[00:45:43] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, I see what you did there.
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[00:46:42] Jordan Harbinger: Again, thank you so much for listening to the show. I love having these conversations. And all of those discount codes, the advertisers that keep things going around, all of those are on one page. jordanharbinger.com/deals is where you can find it. The page is searchable. It works on your phone. You can also search for any sponsor using the search box right on the front page of the website as well. Please consider supporting those who support this show.
[00:47:05] Now for the rest of my conversation with Winston Sterzel.
[00:47:10] It's real money that can buy a lot of cover inside Southeast Asia or anywhere for that matter. And earlier we mentioned that a lot of these scammers are Chinese living abroad. Let's discuss why they are in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia. You mentioned because they're on the border of China, but there's something here — I spoke with a journalist named Sam Cooper, episode 677 about money laundering.
[00:47:32] Winston Sterzel: Mmm.
[00:47:32] Jordan Harbinger: Essentially his take was — and I think he has evidence for this, I don't think it's just theory — gangsters who get caught scamming or being thugs in China, they go to prison for let's say a couple of months. And then the internal police, the security police, the MSS, who I was probably posing as, probably those guys, they'll say, "Hey look, you can stay in prison. Or we can send you outside of the country and your agreement is you're going to work for these gangsters, triads, whatever, and you can leave prison, but your target is now going to be Westerners and we're going to get a little kickback from this gang and you're going to work for them. Or you can just sit here and rot in a Chinese prison." And all these guys are like, "Wait a minute, I can go live in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Canada, maybe even, and just scam people. Sure." It seems like there's a lot of unsavory criminal elements that were in China now operating outside of China because it gets rid of criminals, but also it turns them into elements of unrestricted warfare for the Chinese Communist Party. Right? They can generate revenue, weaken the state that they're in, that's not China, and they're not China's problem anymore. So it's kind of a win for the Communist Party all around.
[00:48:40] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, I'd say that's not beyond the realms of imagination. I mean, China does and has been on record. They use prisoners for all sorts of things. They use prisoners for mining gold in World of Warcraft for goodness sake to sell that back to like nerds who can't do their own grinding—
[00:48:56] Jordan Harbinger: In the video game?
[00:48:56] Winston Sterzel: Okay.
[00:48:57] Jordan Harbinger: I did not know that. Wait, so prisoners in China are sitting there playing Warcraft and doing like menial tasks so that they can sell the—?
[00:49:04] Winston Sterzel: The goal back. Yeah. I mean they've done all sorts of things. They use them for like garlic peeling and a lot of tasks that would usually cost money. You know, you'd have to pay a laborer to do but whole industries in China rely on this free prison labor. They do all sorts of things. They also do the 50 Cent Army stuff on the Internet. A lot of prisoners have been co-opted their reports, they've been co-opted to go and leave these nasty comments and attack pro-Western YouTubers and stuff, and anti-China Western YouTubers and so on or whatever. They could just go on and talk crap and do the 50 Cent Army stuff. So yeah, that's not beyond the realm of imagination.
[00:49:43] But the biggest reason why they tend to operate outside of China, at least as far as I'm concerned, is well, number one, to escape the long arm of the law, number one, because—
[00:49:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:49:54] Winston Sterzel: —usually they would be scamming Chinese people, and that's a big no-no. Like I said, in China, if you get caught doing that, you get into a lot of trouble. But if you're outside of China, it's difficult for the Chinese government to do anything about it. Number two, it gives the Chinese government, of course, they turn a blind eye to this because it's not their problem anymore. If the scams are coming from outside of China, nobody can blame China for it, right? Or they can't blame the Chinese society or the government for these scams because, oh, it's happening in Cambodia.
[00:50:20] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:50:20] Winston Sterzel: "It's not within our control." They're kind of endorsed in that way. And of course, money laundering, free Internet access is very important. If you're going to be doing these scams, like I said earlier, you need to have a free Internet. And the Internet is so sensitive and so blocked and so controlled within China that it's difficult to pull these things off. It's very easy for them to find out where these scammers are because of their massive control over the Internet. So if they're outside of the country, they can kind of anonymously continue to do this stuff without the Chinese government being held accountable and finding them.
[00:50:53] But there's another element to this, and that's human trafficking.
[00:50:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:57] Winston Sterzel: They very often trick younger, rural people into doing these kinds of jobs. And once they've got them out of the borders of China, you know, there's nothing they can do. So recently, we spoke about this actually on one of our shows, but young teenagers, you know, 13, 14 years old, they get convinced into going to do these scamming jobs by being told they're going to get some work or abroad, or they got some work in a factory or whatever the case, and they get them over the border and once they're there, they don't have a passport, they don't have any way to get back, they don't have anything to fall back on, and they're kind of enslaved into doing this job.
[00:51:33] So it's another way of them to control their scammers. Their cheap labor is to have them in a situation where they're vulnerable and don't have any recourse.
[00:51:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's pretty tragic. So it's not just lone thugs exiled from China doing this. It's kids trafficked from rural China to Chinatowns in Cambodia, Burma, for example, and forced into things like scam centers. And I actually looked at photos of some of these scam centers. There are leaked photos from, I guess, people who've escaped from these. And it's gross. It's like a disgusting third-world prison that has a computer lab, for lack of a better word, in there. And the guys are, you know, bunked up in these gross, gross conditions, barbed wire, stonewall around the place in the middle of the jungle, no air conditioning, you know, just kind of gross existence. And they're just in there smoking all day and scamming. And then they go to bed.
[00:52:23] It's just extra sad if it's not somebody who's doing that because they feel like they need the money. It's somebody who thought they were going to get a real job and now they can't talk to their parents. It's really a shame that that is potentially the case. And there are a lot of victim testimonials, of course, not just from scam victims, but from actual scammers who testified that they were kidnapped or tricked thinking like you said, they're going to go do a factory job and they just get locked in this gross existence and they get beaten up or tased if they don't scam or if they try to escape. And there's photos of these guys like, "Hey, this is me when I got beat up and my legs were broken because I tried to climb the wall and then they tased me and beat me up."
[00:52:59] I mean it's really horrifying. And the scammers, the gangs that run this, you know they have, even if you do escape, the police are, for sure, getting a kickback. That's not like they don't notice the giant makeshift prison that's been built just outside their town.
[00:53:12] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, it's all corruption. And of course, the gangs, the triads really kind of control the whole area so the police wouldn't dare mess with them. It's a weird situation because you know, China's a very powerful country with a big military and all of that right next door to your neighbor. And the people that are doing these scams are Chinese and they've got connections with the corrupt police over the border. That's how they smuggle, do the human trafficking, and so on.
[00:53:35] So it's a twofold thing. The local police in these smaller developing countries, they do not want to mess with the thugs, first of all, because they're incredibly dangerous, but they also don't want to mess with the thugs because they're Chinese and if they create too much of an issue with the thugs, it could bring down the might of China onto them as well.
[00:53:52] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:53:52] Winston Sterzel: So it's a very bad situation. I mean, this is also why you see, going back a little bit, why sometimes they're very sloppy with their scamming is because they've got massive quotas to fill. So they'll just start throwing out. You know, they have to reach a certain quota. So they'll just immediately start within the first day or two days, start talking about crypto just to see if they can get them on the line or on the hook because it's getting harder and harder for them to pull this scam off as people become more and more aware of it.
[00:54:19] And it's through shows like yours and the videos we do that more and more people are realizing that these are actually very dangerous scams. It's not just some missed number and a pretty Asian girl who wants to get to know you, show you her breakfast, or whatever. It's really quite a big thing that's happening. And the more people that become aware of it, the harder it is to catch anyone. So now they're just throwing the bait out there, just seeing if there are any nibbles at all. Rather than trying to invest a lot of time in people, it seems, they seem to be getting a little bit more sloppier. But at the same time, I've seen them evolve.
[00:54:54] The latest one that I played along. I wasted a month of her time, and it was a her because she sent voice messages and stuff.
[00:55:01] Jordan Harbinger: That must have been so satisfying. She had such a meltdown cursing at you. It's like, just kick back in your chair and be like, "Yeah—"
[00:55:07] Winston Sterzel: Yep.
[00:55:07] Jordan Harbinger: "—nice."
[00:55:09] Winston Sterzel: It's so good to waste their time. But you know, the thing is, it's evolved to a point where it really does take it to the next level. She was sending me voice messages in English. She was sending me videos because I was telling her that I lived in LA. I don't live in la but I was telling her I lived in LA. So then she decided that it would be a good idea to send me videos of herself in LA. She said she lives in LA too. They have connections. So obviously, it wasn't her, but she had somebody actually film like just the traffic in LA.
[00:55:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:55:41] Winston Sterzel: "Oh yeah, I'm busy driving in LA." Just on their phone, film very quickly, and say a couple of words or something, and send it to me. Like, "Look, I'm in LA. Oh, I'm going to Universal Studios this weekend." And she sent me a cell phone clip of a show in Universal Studios. So you see, they're making it more and more believable if they really think they've got you on the line. They're putting a lot of extra effort into it.
[00:56:00] So, for your average person, you would think this must be a real person. She must be who she says she is because look, she's sending me voice messages. She's sending me pictures of her groceries that she's just bought at the Vons. You know, she's sending me all this stuff. And most people would think that's legitimate. It's not just some random scammer with doing Google Translate. It just shows you how much more sophisticated they're getting.
[00:56:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It seems like, I think the common rationalization is if this were a scammer, it just doesn't make sense for her to be a scammer because look, she sent me a photo of her in LA. They're putting in way too much effort. I'm not some rich guy. But what you forget is even if you make $40,000 a year, you're making, I don't know, 40 times as much as somebody who's in a scam prison.
[00:56:44] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:56:44] Jordan Harbinger: Right? So you are a giant whale, even if you are a 17-year-old grocery bagger at the grocery store.
[00:56:52] Winston Sterzel: Correct.
[00:56:53] Jordan Harbinger: On your first job, right? You're earning minimum wage. And there's a lot of psychology at play here. I've seen news reports from Singapore because Singapore is actually a huge target. They did a bunch of investigative stuff on this. They get training from their scam masters running the office on psychology, which is a lot of it was kind of disturbing because I talk a lot of psychology and persuasion and influence on this podcast, and we've got a whole playlist on persuasion and influence, and a lot of it is Rapport building, persuasion, influence. The same stuff that I use, that I still teach, that I use to talk about a lot more even on this very show. And rapport-building techniques, they've got cheat sheets for all types of topics.
[00:57:30] And remember in your video you said, "Oh, I like cars," because you do. And they're like, "Oh, here's a bunch of detailed information I have about certain types of Porsches and photo banks." The guy, the scammer who they interviewed in the Singapore news report, he said, "Yeah, we've got just a huge database of stuff we can go to. If it's travel, there's entire trips through Southeast Asia with photos that we can talk about and post and send, and we use the same ones," but they're just probably made by people on the ground and/or just created by a writer with stolen photos.
[00:58:04] It's really incredible. They really pull out all the stops and they'll do things like they'll ask to video chat you first. And then when the time comes, they'll come up with excuses. Same thing for meeting up. So what you'll think is, "But they asked to video chat first, so it can't be fake. Why would they have wanted to meet up first or video chat with me first?" And the truth is, they never planned on doing it. It looks more credible if they don't wait for you to say it and then come up with an excuse, they say it and then come up with an excuse later.
[00:58:32] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[00:58:32] Jordan Harbinger: It just looks more credible.
[00:58:33] Winston Sterzel: It's so convincing. And it really does make you think that you're dealing with a legitimate person. I mean, in my case, I could quite easily figure out that the pictures that, in this most recent one, the pictures the girl was sending me, it was a girl, she did speak to me, but the ones that she was sending me were of a Korean person because I could spot Korean writing in the backgrounds and on her water bottle and stuff like that at the gym, but she was pretending that she was Chinese. Because in the beginning, I spoke Chinese, doing Chinese as well, to say I'm learning Chinese to try and throw off.
[00:59:06] I actually legitimately didn't want to deal with this scammer, so I was trying to prove to her, I know what you're up to, but it didn't work. She still kept going, very tenacious. Anyway, she said she was Chinese living in LA but the picture she was sending was of a Korean person, and all the other photos and videos, clips that she sent me did not have this Korean woman in it. There would be like glimpses of, okay, there's a woman's hand or something, but it's not the person in the pictures.
[00:59:33] Jordan Harbinger: Interesting.
[00:59:34] Winston Sterzel: Yeah, it's sophisticated. They obviously have, like you say, huge database and because I know how the Chinese diaspora works, it's very easy for them to ask one of their friends to just take a video for them, you know? Or even just go steal a video clip off of one of their friends' Moments that they know, or somebody that they know who's living in the states, depending on where they are. It's incredibly interesting and it's very devious the way they do this.
[00:59:58] Jordan Harbinger: So what's the best thing to do? Block and stop responding or never respond and just immediately block. I worry about validating my contact info and they go, "Oh, this is a real number with a real person. I'm just going to try a different angle in two weeks."
[01:00:10] Winston Sterzel: Absolutely. The absolute best thing you can do is just block them and not respond because they're building up a database and when they see that there's a response. Like you say, you're validating that you're a real contact. Then they will sell that information off because that's also how they make money. They'll sell that information off to various different organizations, whether it's marketing or whatever, it doesn't matter because they know you're a real person. This number belongs to someone. Because it's usually just kind of like a scattershot method that they use. They just send like to random numbers. You know, they'll have a program and a bot system. I've seen these setups that they have where they'll have like a thousand phones in a room and they're all running scripts on them to just go out there and send messages until they get a hit.
[01:00:51] Jordan Harbinger: Huh.
[01:00:52] Winston Sterzel: So once you've validated that you're a real number, now they're going to pass it on to all their other buddies. If they can't manage to scam you, they'll sell your information on. So absolutely. If it says, "Hi Mike, this is Moira. Long time no speak," and your name is not Mike and you don't know Moira. I'd say just ignore it and block it and report it as spam if you have that option in your phone. Because if you start to talk to them, it's just going to be like a never-ending thing. And the other thing that you can do, like what you did to say that your MSS is to have a prepared Chinese phrase that basically tells them that, you know, they're a scammer, get lost. You're reporting them to the police or something like that, and then they won't contact you.
[01:01:33] Jordan Harbinger: You know what we should do after this, after we record here, send me a text that I can put in the show notes.
[01:01:40] Winston Sterzel: Okay.
[01:01:40] Jordan Harbinger: And we'll just, people can just copy and paste it right from the show notes. This is something like, I don't know, "You're texting a Chinese person. My uncle works for the police in the Chinese Communist Party. Screw off and remove my number right now or I'm going to report you," something, or whatever we decide is the most effective, we can talk post-show. But I would love for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to go and get that. And then they're just totally confused, right? Because they get this from everyone.
[01:02:05] Winston Sterzel: Yeah.
[01:02:06] Jordan Harbinger: And also look, if it gets rid of them and they remove a few hundred or a few thousand numbers before they realize that we've duped them, then we've won there as well, in my opinion.
[01:02:16] Winston Sterzel: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think that's an incredibly effective method because they feel completely safe. Like I said, there are no repercussions for them to scam foreigners. And like I said, it's encouraged by the rhetoric of the government right now, and it has always been encouraged to treat foreigners as something different. It's an "us versus them" type of thing.
[01:02:36] And so I've experienced it myself many times during the 14 years I lived in China, where the local populace gang up on a foreigner, even if there's a local person that's done something wrong, it will still take his side because you're a foreigner and they're Chinese, so they have to stick together type thing. It's kind of built into society there. That's what the Communist Party's been brainwashing people to believe for the longest time that foreigners are there to humiliate Chinese and they're always trying to put him down and that type of thing which, of course, is nonsense, but that's what's built into the mindset.
[01:03:09] So they do not face any repercussions whatsoever from the Chinese government and the police. And there's no way that somebody's sitting in New York or whatever can somehow affect somebody sitting in Cambodia or Laos or wherever it is in Burma and one of these scam call centers. There's nothing you can do. But if they think that the Chinese government is involved and the Chinese government disapproves of what they're doing, that's a different story. That's when they will start to actually worry, you know? And that security blanket will be ripped off. So that's probably a good idea to have a message in Chinese that gives them a bit of a fright.
[01:03:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I love this idea. Winston, we'll have to have you back on the show. I watch all of your videos on China. I have for years. There's lots of stuff we can talk about next time as well but I'm glad we did this PSA. Thank you so much for coming on, man.
[01:03:57] Winston Sterzel: Thank you for having me. I'm also a big fan of your show. I feel honored to be a part of it. Thank you.
[01:04:03] Jordan Harbinger: If you're looking for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to sink your teeth into, here's a trailer with Charles Ryu here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:04:11] Charles Ryu: When I was 14, I get my first opportunity to escape North Korea and go to China. Police came to our house. We are getting deported to North Korea. I got transported to a detention center. They are brainwashing us for nine months.
[01:04:27] I started working at a coal mine when I was paid only in rice. So one morning, instead of entering the mine, I walked off the path and began running. And in the distance, I saw a train come to stop. This is my chance. I need to get on that train. I finally made it to the border town. I'm already determined the next day, right? I walked into the river that divides North Korea and China, which is Yalu River. And then, I slowly walked into the water. I slipped on a rock and I let out a scream. A flashlight was on my back and I heard a soldier screaming at me.
[01:04:58] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[01:05:00] Charles Ryu: [Foreign Language] "Stop. Stop or I will shoot." The guard kept screaming at me, but he never pulled the trigger. And then I went into cornfield. I'm in China now, so I embarked another long journey to Southeast Asia. I got to Thailand. That was the best day of my life, going to Thai prison. And then I was trying to apply for South Korea, but they didn't recognize me as refugee. And they're like, "We would have to send you back to China." Chinese government sent me back to North Korea, but those guys don't want to help me.
[01:05:32] Jordan Harbinger: And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He escaped the police. He had to run with secret police in China. I mean, this guy just has an absolutely amazing sense of survival and story. And that's episode 84 with Charles Ryu, confessions of a North Korean escape artist, part one and part two, episode 84 of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Make sure you check it out.
[01:05:52] There we go. I hope this was helpful for everyone. I know a lot of you have been targeted by this, just by sheer probability, many of you have received these texts. I actually want to dig more into the trafficking element of this, but that's going to be a different show. I found training documents in Chinese written by scammers on how to run this scam. Actually, Winston helped me find these. They're in the show notes. If you're curious, they're translated into English. It includes a lot of scam psychology. I just think this stuff is really, really interesting. The fact that these documents are just available, the training documents that the scammers use have been leaked, so I wanted to give you a chance to see those. I know a lot of you won't bother, but for those of you who are like hyper scam junkies, maybe you might find those interesting.
[01:06:33] Hopefully, this PSA episode keeps some of you from falling for this type of scam. You don't actually have to be dumb to fall for this scam. Anybody can get sucked into it. Share it on scam forums. Share it with friends and family. Hopefully, this saves at least somebody from getting duped by this stuff.
[01:06:48] Also in the show notes, I'm including a script in Chinese, you can cut and paste. It'll scare off some of the scammers quickly. It basically says, "I'm a government official, and delete my number," and it gives someone's name, who's a real government official. And now, some of these scammers, they're not going to care. They're out of the country. They're criminals. They might not give a crap. Some of them will never hit you again. And hey, if they delete you from their stupid list, that's a victory, right?
[01:07:11] Thanks again to Winston for being on the show. All things Winston will be on the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Also transcripts in the show notes, videos up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who make the show possible. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:07:33] 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. It's our Six-Minute Networking course. The course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Want you to dig that well before you get thirsty and create relationships before you need them. Many of the guests you hear on the show actually subscribe and contribute to the course. So come on and join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[01:07:58] 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 you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know a China watcher, somebody who's interested in scams, definitely share this episode with them. 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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