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


Want to get Random episodes delivered to your iPhone or iPad? Now you can! Just subscribe to the podcast in iTunes (or get the audio-only version here).

Posted on: October 8, 2009.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

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

  1. Sorry to hear you guys got scammed but if it makes you feel any better, there’s all types of scams targeted toward domestics as well as foreigners. We even have a slang phrase for getting scammed “kao nie de baong baong” which can mean anything from being scammed outright to being gouged on prices (like at a roadside restaurant.)

    I remember going to a historic village visited mostly by Chinese tourists and the same art scam taking place. They even had fake craftsman making pieces of a woodcarving in front of you to lend it more authenticity. A lot of the Chinese tourists bought pieces.

    I’d hate for you guys to take the sickening feeling of getting scammed and inevitably equating it to how Chinese vendors operate. In reality, Chinese businessmen have always had to deal with an inadequate legal system and as a result, have had to develop a system of commerce based on one’s reputation and trustworthiness commonly known as Guanxi. If it wasn’t for this code of ethics, I probably wouldn’t have a supplier and still be an investment banker.

    Checkout this link from James Fallows of the Atlantic about “Guanxi”



  2. If I tried to show this video to and non-tim-ferriss-addict, they would say it is a waste of time. I am still trying to convince myself of the same but keep watching!


  3. The two biggest scams for foreigners in China to watch out is the art room and the tea room ones. If you get students coming up to on the street, especially in Beijing, asking to “look” at some art work or “try” some tea, then run for the hills because you’ll probably end up losing lots of money.


  4. What I’d like to know is if Kevin and Glenn kept the paintings in the end. Because even if it was a scam they seemed to like them at first…

    (and these ladies are definitively in their 30’s ;-)


  5. I can understand why people get scammed in China. Mind you those student they got scammed by look late 40’s and that’s being nice.

    I live in Shanghai. The tea scam is the same here its on Nanjing Road shopping street.

    And there are scams all over the world. The one in the USA that i remember was the guys in tourist area of New Orleans kept asking “I can tell you where you got them shoes”

    Like the videos from China be interesting to hear the rest of the stories.


  6. hey Tim, nice explanations about scams and great Chinese accent =)

    Here in Portugal the only one i know is are taxi drivers who take a long way to charge tourist more, but despite this you should visit this country and get to know the language!


  7. I love it – I got the same art student scam in Shanghai, though I got away with just buying an art work and not the follow up milking (and I fortunately paid cash). There was a moment when I got nervous as the ‘gallery’ was in an odd out of the way lane within a department store, past various dodgy guys – and when I at first declined to make a purchase my otherwise polite new friends developed a nasty demeanour.

    For a nano second I stupidly figured I could take on the ‘art students’ but not the other guys, sanity prevailed and said a little cash and a dent to my pride was no big deal.

    The art work actually is nice, and it still hangs in my home.


  8. Excellent tip about being on your guard when people are overly friendly. In Japan it may be OK (I experienced the same situation with people going out of their way to help you find your way in Tokyo without expecting anything in return), but in other places that’s not the case. Most recent example was the Parisian train system- guy sees I’m lost, offers to show me how to get to my train, then demands money for the “service.”


  9. I find it so funny that Kevin got scammed :) Especially when considering he did that Broken / social engineering stuff yeeeeears ago cheating for free pizzas and stuff like that :-) I bet he thought himself to be knowledgeable enough not to get scammed.


  10. Thanks for sharing!

    I have to agree with Tim – Thai people are great, almost 0 chance to get scammed there, even though they might appear more over-friendly than any other people.

    The worst scam I ever got was in Tunisia. I was out with some friends shopping at a bazaar and this really friendly guy comes to us and says: “Oh! I know you guys! I work at your hotel! Come with me! I will take you to the store of my family!”.

    Anyway, then he offered to bring us ice-cream (he never brought it). There were no price tags on any products and when we asked how much does this or that cost, we were told that price doesn’t matter, that we are friends and we will talk about money later.

    Of course, at the end they asked for 300 euro, which was probably 10-15 times the real value. The problem was that we couldn’t just leave everything there, as they made some custom (crappy) custom bracelets which we were obliged to buy and 10 angry men were around us.

    In the end we payed just 100 euro but took only 1/3 of the items, so we still got scammed big time.

    What’s most intriguing is that we even felt bad in a way that we upset the friendly man and we weren’t friends anymore :))


  11. Ah ah!
    Good to hear about that scam (I am planning to travel for a while including in China in the next year or so)

    Random episodes are really wicked! It really adds another dimension to your blog and your persona too (is that a step to trying to become more mainstream?)

    Keep up the great episodes (and other posts)..


  12. Thanks for posting. I love the proverb. I play street ball (basketball) with Chinese here in Japan, and I am finally beginning to understand–“Trick if can be tricked”. No more accepting calls on fouls that weren’t actually fouls.


  13. Very cool video! I’m planning a trip to Beijing real soon and the info you guys gave me were priceless. Thanks a lot and keep it up!!


  14. I understand they were pissed about being taken advantage of, but I think reversing the charges was wrong for two reasons.

    1) You still had the products.

    2) You must have said four or five times how great the work was. And it was painted, not photocopied. So even if the girls didn’t paint it, it was good. You didn’t think you were paying more for a “name” artist anyway. So why is it suddenly worthless because it wasn’t done by the girls?

    That second rule really comes down to my general rule for not getting scammed: Only pay what you think something is worth. As long as you actually get what you paid for — and in this case you did — you got your money’s worth.


  15. I encountered a similar art scam in Paris when I visited a few years back. It wasn’t as complex as this though, the “art students” simply set up shop on the sidewalks and streets. I ended up buying one for $20 US, it ended up being very high quality print on canvas.

    I feel for Kevin and Glen, sorry guys. Lesson learned.

    As a side note, do you think they will actually ship you the paintings?


  16. The only time I’ve been scammed was in London. Awesome credit card scam where they timed it exactly so that someone said “hey you dropped a bill” and there was this 20 pound note crumpled on the ground. Funnily enough I thought I had 20 pounds in my pocket, and really thought it was mine, picked it up, and somehow they totally timed it so that they managed to pull out the card from the machine at the exact moment that I picked up the note. Really awesome timing, can’t believe they did it. And they saw the pin number. But luckily they didn’t take too much money for some strange reason.