Random Episode 6: How Kevin Rose and Glenn McElhose Got Scammed in China – Ha!

Total length: 20 minutes.

This is a weekend edition of Random. It is a happy-hour special of Chinese scams.

How did Kevin and Glenn get totally screwed by Chinese “art students”? More important, how do you avoid getting scammed while traveling?

This episode lays out one of the most common scams and explains how to spot similar set-ups worldwide…

Show Notes from Glenn:

– Open intro with weird light: Kevin shooting a laser into a “7 Cups” vessel. Animation by Tynan.

– Yin Bar, Beijing – http://www.theemperor.com.cn/

– Travel Website: www.virtualtourist.com


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The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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188 Replies to “Random Episode 6: How Kevin Rose and Glenn McElhose Got Scammed in China – Ha!”

  1. Always entertaining.

    Tim, what more can you say about the Room to Read event? Trying to decide whether or not to attend.

  2. I was the victim of a scam in Peru. They are getting creative in these touristy hot spots. Basically I jump into a cab, and it the car wont start. The driver tells me to get out and give him a little push. As soon as I push he takes off with my travel bag safely secured in his trunk. Ya, I was stupid to fall for it, but I have to give it to him. So much better than pick pocketing or mugging.

  3. Tim- Excellent stuff. My partners and I have all read the book- (bought two copies!) and swear by a lot of it. Now we need you to take one of our self-guided tours on a motorbike of your liking. When are you in Tokyo next? Don’t forget your IDP!

    Yoroshiku ne…


  4. The scam tip off is this:

    When women are playing both masculine and feminine roles a guy is being taken. Masculine shows direction, feminine follows. Strippers do both in an artful weave, beautifully…if they are good.

  5. Haha, I had to laugh while watching this. It was enlighting since I am going to be traveling abroad for the first time next year. I have a feeling that Europe will be a little safer when it comes to scams but I will be on the look out now.

    Also, I may be off…but was Kevin Rose on Attack of the of Show a few years ago?


  6. I got into serious trouble once in Turkey under similar circumstances. My original idea was to go to Bodrum and “practice” negotiating at the local market. It was a very hot day (46 °C / 115 °F at around 5 P.M.) and I’ve already had a few funny encounters on the streets (dude extending hand and then accusing me of not shaking it: “Why don’t you want to shake my hand? It’s human!”, subsequently dragging me into a carpet store once I did).

    Following advice from very friendly locals, I let them lead me into the middle of the market, full of small, shady alleys. There were many nearly identical stores filled strictly with stuff containing national symbols. Mind you it was extremely hot, which would wear anyone out combined with all the noise and hectic market ambience. By the time we got there, I was feeling really tired and had trouble to focus.

    So, I was checking out one store with my “new friends” and got interested in a T-shirt with a Turkish flag on it, but it just didn’t look right. I told the seller that I’m sorry, but I’m not going to get anything this time and turned around to leave, just to realize that my “friends” were gone. Suddenly, the seller starts screaming about how I hate Turkey and that he’s going to kill me, at which point every other shop owner in the alley ran up to the store and circled me with sharp objects in their hands. For a minute my chances looked really bad, but then I found a way to talk my way out by purchasing the cheapest thing I could remember, feeling very lucky in the end…

    Watch out!

  7. This is one of the reasons that I prefer to pay cash for most things – no links back to my bank account. Most gas stations here are “pay at the pump” for debit/credit cards. Almost anywhere else can take cash. Thieves don’t know it’s in my pocket unless I wave it around.

    When we went to Tokyo we paid for almost everything (except our hotels and maybe one large purchase) with cash. I know the Japanese are unusually law abiding, but even so this way there was less temptation to misbehave with our card numbers. Also less temptation for us to spend the money. Spending actual cash feels painful psychologically. 🙂

  8. Is there a video that all you people are talking about? Is there a story? I have looked all over this page and I cannot find either one. An help will be appreciated. Thanks

  9. Man I love these videos. There’s a guy begging for a storyline. Can’t give one up. China is a great place to have a good time, not matter what happens if you have the spirit, intelligence, since of adventure, and sense if humor, that makes exploring other cultures as one of life’s highlights. I’ll sign up to get scammed and drink blended Bai Jui with them boys any time any where.

  10. Tim

    THIS IS DRIVING ME CRAZY: What are you going to do about your hair?

    Are you just giving up and not caring, or do you not know what to do?

    I love you Tim and I dont want to see you go bald unless you really want to.

    I really care and am not trying to pick on you or anything.

    Please respond so I can have peace of mind

    Stay strong brother

  11. I got scammed a few years ago in Egypt, I was in a taxi on my way to see the pyramids, it stopped at traffic lights and a local man got into the taxi, told me and the taxi driver “the pyramids are closed but I can take you in another way”. I knew I was being scammed but the taxi had already sped off down through the maze of backstreet Cairo. Luckily I only had to pay them $100 to get out of there AND I did get to see the Pyramids but it wobbled my travel confidence for a long time afterwards.

    BTW, I agree with Melissa, the beard is HOT but I guess London is too far to travel for a convincing cup of tea! 🙂

  12. i just become one or ur fans….. i discover u book and i love it….. u think the same like me “dont ask permission to take whatever u want, as long anyone gets hurted”

    ahhh nice surprise: nice mind in a nice body… good mix 😛

  13. Come on man, you can’t get scammed like that. I did not hear anything to excuse you guys from what happened. As world travelers you have to be more suspicious than that.

  14. The part near the end talking about people coming up and trying to help you is not limited to overseas. That’s pretty standard anywhere there are large concentrations of tourists. I’ve heard that same intro in Dallas near the Kennedy Assassination site, in New Orleans, Times Square, Downtown L.A., Vegas, and just last weekend outside of Pike’s fish Market in Seattle.

  15. Been there, done that. Although for me it happened in the Qianmen area – and this was back in 1999. I don’t even know if they had credit card machines in the art places back then.

    I was by myself, and so only 1 young lady came up to me, and I was near the end of a 3 week trip by myself living off cash, so I really didn’t have much with me. At least I was able to pull off some Chinese bargaining techniques of my own – “Oh, I only have a 50 note left!” so I managed to bargain them down a bit. But still not that much, they’re used to the usual foreigner markup. I carried my paintings with me in the little rolled up tube. My sisters liked the gift at least.

    In other related news, be very careful changing money illegally on the street in Ho Chi Minh City – those guys are world class prestidigitators. You’ll be watching them count out the bills, and when they fold over the 10th, they’re swapping the high value bills inside the stack for 9 low value bills – taking 90% of your money in the process. Stupid high-exchange rate dong.

  16. You people are so “virtual” you are virtually no good. I have asked and asked how to view the video the blog keeps referring to and nobody can take the time from gazing at themselves in rapt admiration to help anyone else. The only way any of you will ever achieve the life you are seeking is if you somehow get a lot better than you can be bothered to give.

    Which ain’t likely.

  17. Yeah, how did you get scammed like that with some travel under your belt? Opening maps in the middle of the street is the first rule anybody tells you. Plus, I was hoping the chicks that lured you were a bit hotter, haha.

    At least you got to chill in China. Unreal Chinese Tim. Cheers!

    @Jay – Relax bro. Everybody is referring to the really large Vimeo video at the top.

    1. Hi Casey,

      Thanks for the comment. Keep in mind that I didn’t get scammed, though. I’ve spent enough time in China to see those types from a mile off. Kev and Glenn weren’t so lucky 🙂



  18. Just click the play button on the picture at the top of this page. There’s a hilarious 20 minutes video. I couldn’t view it from my laptop in a cafe with slow internet today though. Could be your problem. Hope that was helpful!

    Melissa 🙂

  19. Melissa, Thank you for your kindness. The problem is that all I see at the top of the page is a picture placeholder within a square that looks as though it should hold the video frame. I am using a laptop, however my connection is high speed cable.

    It appears that somehow one size does not fit all. Oh well. Again, thank you for trying.


  20. the worst scammers I’ve encountered in Egipt, and one trick made me laugh from myself for the whole eveinig. Young boy selling cigarettes took 50 ponund note and handed me the pack of cigarettes different than we talked about earlier. When I said I did not want them, he took the thing back and gave me 50 piastra note (piastra = 1/100 pound) that looks almost the same and the digits are not “arabic” as we know them. Of course I did not notice when had he changed the notes, and it was on the street in the eveinig, so the trick was even easier 🙂

  21. Jay- Sounds like you are missing the appropriate plug in. I’m guessing here but I think you need Adobe Flash Player 10.

    Tim- After having traveled extensively and always ending up in precarious situations like the scam you guys described, I started filming. I think I have a really good one captured from a trip to Morocco. They actually tried trading 20 camels (real camels not cigarettes) for my friend. When that failed they tried to trade for me.

    In the end we either purchased carpets or died. So we picked the carpets.

  22. I was in Rome earlier this month and the scammers were everywhere. It was a constant nuisance…I nearly fought a taxi cab driver over his excessive fees, argued with a waitress over an expensive unsolicited bread charge and had to forcible take back my luggage from a hussler wanting tips for loading bags onto the train, just to name a few.

    On the other hand, the week I spent in Florence was splendid and relaxing.

    Tim, you showed the world how to travel and live your 4HWW (THANKS)…now we must learn to travel the world and not get scammed.

  23. I think you guys should have messed with the second and third set of scammers a little more. You could have told them that you where porn scouts looking for new talent.

  24. Tim-

    It looks like I’ve started a trend and all your secret admirers are coming out of the wood-works. 😉 I may be in SF middle of next month, so send me an email (missyfitness@yahoo.com) and we’ll have tea. 🙂


  25. Dear Tim,

    It’s Cindy from Taiwan. The video shows some Chinese culture.

    I traveled in China before.They took me to a temple and cheated me to buy things too.

    Most of Chinese do care about money more than life. Sometimes people blind their mind and soul.

    As a Chinese girl, I’m blessing to see your book. Your philosophy encourage me so much.I read your book in 2008 .

    Than I stoped my job in January,2009.

    I arrived in Los Angeles since 26,May,2009 till now.

    I’m learning English at school and planing to stay in LA longer. (If my English confuse you..sorry.)

    Your shareing save me free and show me the peace… which I look for many years.

    I’ll be brave to become a 100% NR.

    Thank you Tim !! ^_^ You are a very kind person.

    Very nice to meet you. Wish you have a very good life forever~~


  26. i live in taiwan, and it’s crazy because everyone here really is, for the most part, genuine and willing to help. watching the vid made me remember what it was like living in central america where i was constantly on edge in the cities from being scammed. i realized watching i’m almost never scammed and then understood why: i never have enough money to consider the scams:)

  27. Tim,

    Did you hear about the Chinese Drywall in Florida and other areas? Very dangerous stuff. I agree, it appears that scamming others is acceptable and basically a cultural phenomenon. Toys with lead, drywall with carcinogens and phony art…very interesting.

    Great post.

  28. Damn it! That happened to me when I went to Beijing and I had no idea till I watched this blog! I was with my girlfriend(wife now) who is from Macau and they still had the balls to do this to us. It was not in Wong Fu Jing but actually in the gates of the forbidden city! It was so organized and believable. I was too cheap to buy anything. I feel so violated.

  29. My wife and I are very impressed with your correct pronunciation of your tones. Did you get to be so natural speaking from just being in China for long periods of time? …or did you lock yourself in a room until you got it right?

  30. I love these videos Tim, I can relate to all of them. When I went to China I had a student approach me to “practice English” and I thought “what the hell.” She kept trying to get me to go for tea, and so I ducked into a book store. This was right outside the Peking duck restaurant in Beijing. She also looked older than she said. A few girls from the group I was with got hit with the art room scam, though they didn’t buy anything. It’s funny (for me) that Kevin and Glenn got hit with both scams by the same girls.

  31. This is a great lesson, this is not just happening in China or Thailand… but these scam can happen across the world even in the US, if it’s too good to be true it’s probably is… this is something that you can’t learn anywhere. Thanks for sharing!

  32. Great Post Tim as always. Got my lesson of hard knocks in the Philippines when asked by the trike driver “How long you been in Manilla”. Lesson learned by 10x charge for a ride. Granted still only like 3 bucks, but live and learn. Keep up the great work, looking forward to the new book as my original’s pages are getting tattered from use. Cheers

  33. Getting scammed happens all the time in any country.

    But not so cool that you got to keep the paintings AND got your CC company to reverse the charges for being a dumbass?

    .. um… isn’t that fraud?

  34. Tim,

    I get so excited every time I find out there there is another episode of Random posted. All three of you are entertaining, and the content always interesting. Keep them coming. Is there is a way to track down some of the Trial by Fire pilot? I would love to check it out.

    To our Mutual Success in Life and in Business.

  35. So good to hear someone else falling for the same tea scam as me :S

    It took me a while to even realise I was scammed. I bought $300 worth of fine tea!

  36. Thanks. What a great video. I’m headed to Beijing possibly for the Great Wall Marathon in May, so I’ll be prepared to “look at some artwork.”

  37. I’m a foreign teacher in China (Sichuan province, which I choose to teach in solely because of the food).

    Anyway, I had a Web VPN to access all the U.S. sites, but my laptop got stolen from my apartment recently; therefore, my VPN is MIA. My students tell me, “As the New Year approaches, thefts increase.” The guy scaled the side of the building and opened my window from the outside, stuck his hands through the bars and got the laptop. It was a cheap Acer, so it was no big deal. Thankfully, when I discovered it was stolen, I was drunk and didn’t care to much. I was barhopping that night and was playing a Chinese bar-dice game, called chui niu (??) – great to play if you want to learn your Chinese numbers quickly.

    Long story short, can someone upload this video to a site that is not firewalled by China? (youku, tudou…) That is, of course, if it is okay with Tim/Kevin/Glenn.

  38. actually there is no need to even search specifically at some website – you can read about this in the “Scams” section of a Lonely Planet (at the end as part of the “Directory”). At least the Lonely Planet Beijing describes the art student / tea house scam in some detail (along the airport taxi scam which also seems to be well established).

    In general though, i have to say that Beijing felt very safe – even though we were approached by these ‘art students’ many times (one interesting variation was a couple of “chinese tourist” that claimed they where also visiting Beijing and who’s uncle had a tea house nearby). And lets face it – overpaying for tea and art while being in friendly company is really not the worst that can happen to a tourist.

  39. I spent a lot of time in Istanbul and experienced that as well.

    – My first rule is to answer that I’m never alone, and “I’m always on the way to meet my friends somewhere”. Most of the scammers are looking for lonely people and they will just look for another target.

    – Most of the time, as Tim said, they ask you “how long have you been here ?” which most of time means “Have you already been scammed ?” cause they know that you’ve been if you here for more than three days ;-).

    – I’m always leaving my credit cards at the hotel, this the best way to avoid the worst things.

    There’s plenty of advices like that, I saw a great list there…

    Have nice travels guys !

  40. Was scammed the same way over 2 ago. The scammer also sold me ‘cheap’ tickets to a kung fu show and brought me to many shops. Once I also wanted to change money and was brought to some unofficial place where they offered me 30% of the value of my Euros. Had I not known the exchange rate, I could have been ripped off for more than 400 Euros.

  41. Japan is an awesome and super safe place. People don’t even lock the front door there a lot of the time. That said, I had a couple ‘freindly’ guys come up to me at a train station in Tokyo and they ended up taking me to a Church of Scientology. At least that’s what they said it was… I didn’t stick around.

  42. yeah, saw frank abagnale speak a year ago (the guy about whom catch me if you can was written, great speaker) and one of his pointers to avoid financial headaches was to never use a debit card. he always uses an amex. even for cash.

    (i think his other two pointers were to use a micro-shredder and to use a credit reporting service/credit lockdown service.)

  43. Tim – just came back from South Africa on Saturday where they have widespread ATM and credit card fraud. I normally use AmEx as well but overseas I exclusively use Capital One which doesn’t levy any currency/international fees. Someone cloned our card and we found $13k in charges today but, thus far, resolving it with Capital One has been easy. I am also a merchant however, and have to deal with chargeback inquiries. Without fail, the longest and most documentation-heavy disputes that come through are from Visa/MC cardholders.

    This is the first episode I’ve watched but having traveled extensively (and fallen prey to a few scams myself), this was great! I had that try-not-to-laugh grin on my face listening to Kevin describe it go down. “Ohhhh reeeeallly, how long you in town?” Classic!

  44. The view from the hotel looks like a dreamland. I was laughing inside every time you said to Kevin about the sugar injection he was asking for 🙂

    I started to read your book for the 3rd time this afternoon. Every time I go back to it, every once after a few months, I get a different perspective out of it.

    I’m glad to say I’m in a business which looks like it’s going to lead to a great outcome, and reading about the NR makes me want it even more.

    Let me send you my most sincere appreciation and I hope I bump into you again some time soon, maybe in another Apple Store outside NYC.

    Big hug and take care,

    Luis M.

  45. Yeah, your chinese is impressing, but more impressing is your chinese accent and not just chinese every language you speak you have amazing accent.

  46. I got scammed in Mexico… Around Cancun, not sure if the entire country is like this, all the gas stations are full service. We were going to pay with a credit card, but they tried running it and said the machine was down. So, we payed in cash. After handing them the money they came back and said, “oh, you only gave us a 20 not 200 (or whatever denomination it was)”.

    They were real friendly, so it just takes you off your guard a bit. Not until later did we realize that we had in fact gave them the correct amount. Didn’t get scammed for much, but still…

  47. Man, that was funny. I wonder if American scammers could pull off a similar con on Chinese tourist? This video makes me want to do two things. First, see China-that view is awesome. And second,learn a third language (my french is choppy but I know enough).

  48. Tim,

    Why is that a beard would have prevented those girls from talking to them? Is it because they have some strange form of respect for facial hair? or just that it would have made them look older?

    I was in Beijing for about 3 months last year and didn’t get approached by scammers once. Now I’m wondering if it’s because I always kept about 5 days worth of growth, or perhaps it could have been I stayed mostly in Wudaokou…. could it also be different if you try to speak Mandarin with them? then perhaps neng pian jiu pian doen’t apply? I think it’s this kind of stuff that keeps me so interested in Chinese culture… definitely not for everyone though… 🙂


  49. Now that is funny. I have spent a couple of weeks in China but we had locals escort us so we were not as susceptible.

  50. What’s the scam? They showed you artwork that you liked and you bought it. The fact that they claimed to be art students but in fact were not…seems essentially irrelevant.

  51. This doesnt just happen in China. I met a backpacker in Canberra, Australia who was being paid commission to travel door to door to sell art, posing as an art student.

  52. I spend a great deal of time in China, scammers are a big problem there. I have talked about this very same issue on my blog as well. What gets me is their boldness, they have no problems telling some of the biggest lies you have ever heard. iPhone clones are every where as well as Tailor Made golf club sets, lol. Thanks

  53. Are you guys going to do an episode on about Tea? I’d be quite interested to hear what you have to say. I had my first pu-erh tea recently and it was great.

  54. I’m a bit surprised that Kevin and Glenn were easily scammed. Especially when I saw those pictures of the “art students.” Tim’s explanations was dead on. Since Guangzhou is the first place I traveled in my life. (I was 3.) guess that’s why I didn’t understand why others can be so gullible. I learned these scans in such an early age. I still haven’t been to Beijing yet, but I hope to get a chance to pay a visit if possible in the future. Definitely going to try out that virtualtour site.

    Tim, your Mandarin sounds great to me, a native Cantonese speaker. =)

  55. I was laughing watching this. As I stare at my two largely expensive ‘student’ paintings on my wall from Beijing.

    I was greased with tea BEFORE the art showing though.

    I kid you not, exactly as you guys described about back in March 2006.

  56. Guys, this is just what happens when you think you’re smart. Luckily in your case you can afford it.

    This scam is so popular, it’s on wikipedia, I’m extremely disappointed you didn’t at least read of this before leaving, and considering you went on a special tour, you’d know to stay with the guides.

  57. If I hadn’t seen this video, I wouldn’t have believed it.

    What’s the bright side? You just saved us all from the same scam. 🙂 Thanks Tim – Thanks Kevin!


  58. Hey,

    I was watching your video and I recognise those first girls that scammed you they are the same people who scammed me and my dad on our first day in beijing in wang fu jing. I will never forget that face, luckily I told my dad to back off before it escalated to buying any art, although it ended up with us buying dinner for them…

  59. I’m watching this video now in 2012. I thought scams just happen in India, even when we locals travel within our country we have to switch on the sixth sense or be prepared for such a coincidence. Sometimes you buy some stuffs from someone, just move at a distance & you realize that you are cheated but when you reach that place to return the article, the seller disappears.

    The squatting video is much fun. You’ll find similar squatting places in India.

    Tim, you look so good with facial hair. 🙂

  60. Hey Tim! I’m colombian, we will help turist as much as we can, even if we have to take them by hand to the place they are looking for, it is just our culture. I guess there are some people that also take advantage, but I hope if you come to Colombia, you can trust people.