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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Posted on: October 8, 2009.

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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. 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!


  2. 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.


  3. 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…


  4. 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).


  5. 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… :)



  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. 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


  9. 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. =)


  10. 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.


  11. 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.


  12. 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…


  13. 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. :)