The man sitting across from me was not named John Winters, but he wanted me to call him that anyway. John was well dressed in a tan suit, seemed to be in his late 40s, and explicitly asked me not to mention his race. We’d made plans to meet up in the disproportionately homeless and crack addled Tenderloin district in San Francisco to discuss his revenge-for-hire website, NefariousJobs.com. He explained over e-mail that, “People in the [Tenderloin] tend to mind their own business, in the [Financial District] it seems everyone has an ear open.” Sitting in the corner of a deserted tiki bar, save for the old Korean woman uncapping our Blue Moons, it felt like a cheap aping of every bar scene in the last season of Breaking Bad; nobody around, hushed tones, startled glances at the door as nobody came in because 3 PM on a Wednesday.
Right off the bat, the whole thing reeked of scam. After visiting their Geocities-style website, covered in off-sized stock photos and clip art, I assumed it was a joke. At worst, I thought it could be a desperate attempt by teenagers to cash in on emotional suckers who’d pay the $1,850 to $10,000 for overly-vague descriptions of revenge and be too embarrassed/legally fucked to get their money back. Their blog was seemingly written by an angry Russian with a weak grasp on the English language, “When backed into a corner with direct confrontation. The smart ones use us, and destroy their enemies without ever being seen or noticed.”
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, there was John, sitting with me and claiming his operation was totally aboveboard. As we began our chat, he seemed excited to explain the legitimacy of his company.
VICE: How long has NefariousJobs been around?
John Winters: About ten months.
How did that happen?
We actually started because we were investigators with another firm here in San Francisco, and we decided to branch off because we discovered that the requests we were getting were becoming more and more “exotic," you could say. Eventually we said, hell let’s just go completely nuts with it, and offer a whole range of packages for people who need to “balance the scales,” so to speak.
The packages on your site are all extremely vague. You don’t promise anything concrete at all.
That’s necessary. I mean, every situation is a little bit different. Every package has to be tailored to the specific situation. Say somebody came along and broke up you and your girlfriend, and now you decide you want to break them up. We can completely fabricate a woman and have her call them up and go, “Hey, we’re having an affair, he’s a cheater.” Or, what seems to work best is going and doing a comprehensive background investigation on the individual who she’s left you for.
How would you do something like that?
Well, that’s easy. You can go to Intelius and do that nine times out of ten. They’re public record, any arrests or things like that, and a lot of individuals have domestic charges, fraud charges, all kinds of terrible things that they’ve done, anything this lady might not be aware of. We make that information known to her, and before you know it… over. But this is all hypothetical, I can’t speak on specific cases.
What else could you hypothetically do to someone?
Well, our most popular right now is our Boss Breaker. Hypothetically what might’ve happened recently was that a particular division of the company had a boss that’s a complete jackass, but you know, there’s nothing the subordinates can do. They call us up. We will, at their request, send a hypothetical pile of dog shit to the company CEO from that individual, and send, uh, send faxes with that person’s face flipping the bird to every fax machine that they have, saying, “I quit, you lousy sons-of-bitches.” The truth is that it doesn’t matter if it came from him or not. The company’s mad, he gets fired, and the client is happy.
A real screenshot from this very real website.
OK. So, how much of your business comes from clients going on your website?
Well, everybody checks out the website. You have to take a look and find the package that works for you. We usually get an email from the people, we let them know our terms of service, and we have a very strict confidentiality policy. Technically, we are a pranks website. We do pranks.
I know this is a pointed question but, is any of this illegal?
Honestly, it seems like this would be in violation of some harassment and stalking laws, at the very least.
Truth is, there’s really a fine line. We go through our legal [department] every time we do an operation, to know what we can or can’t do. Also, we work extensively overseas with a lot of our workers. We have over 100 contract computer scientists.
That kind of sounds like you found outsourced freelancers on oDesk or Elance.
Well, no. That’s where we initially got our core team actually, oDesk, but once we locked them down, they take jobs on commission from us when we need them. We’ve also got about ten guys in our local core team. My first career, I was a cop. Hated it. Corporate security for a very long time, hated it. Investigations, was bored with it. I spent twenty years in that field.
Can you tell me about the Total Annihilation?
I can tell you pieces. Can’t tell you all of it, but basically it’s where we dedicate a team of eight guys to work 24/7 until it’s finished. Our job is [to] basically delve into every aspect that we can of this person's life and existence to find ways to tear it down. We’ll go after everything from personal life to professional life, business contacts, all of it.
*Hypothetically, what would be a specific terrible thing that you would do as part of this top-tier package? *
Okay… let’s say hypothetically… you have a client who… OK, so first of all let’s say he’s a lawyer. And so the first thing you do is go through his Rolodex community, and after that we will put out whatever negative information would do the most harm. We’ll make press releases. We’ll even launch a website so that anytime someone searches their name, our site will come up. I know it sounds really, really sleazy, but that’s just how it is sometimes.
So for $10,000 you say you’ll hire eight guys full time for a month. Even at minimum wage, you're paying well over ten grand. The second month only costs $500. How do you do that and turn a profit?
No. We have one oversight who’s here in the US, and the rest we all outsource, and in the end, relatively inexpensively. It’s not unique. There are other companies who do the same things, but we are probably getting to be one of the best.
And what do you do to assuage new customers that you won’t just take their money and run?
That’s a question we get very regularly, and it rests on two important factors. Number one is that we only accept payment through PayPal, and we have an excellent rating with PayPal. Number two, you can check any scam reporting website, or online, anywhere, you won’t find anything on us. Not a thing. There shouldn’t be anything positive or negative
Because of the nature of your business…
Yes. But if we were scamming people, it would come out.
Seems like having a very prominent searchable online presence would encourage unwanted attention. Have you had any heat from law enforcement?
None. We didn’t go deep web with this. We wanted very basic. Our website? That’s a Shopify website. We’re not hiding.
That’s what was so surprising to me. It’s so brazen in its delivery while saying so little up front.
Law enforcement has not questioned us, in part because even if they knew it was us doing it, it’s pretty hard to prove it. Like I said, anything that’s coming from us is coming from offshore. We don’t do anything here.
Do you have a list of “Won’ts”?
OK, nothing physical. Umm… if the client seems like they’re entirely too interested in the outcome. I mean, everybody wants revenge but they need to be prepared that it won’t turn out the way they want it to, and we don’t guarantee any particular outcome. All we can do is set into motion a series of events which will probably have the desired outcome. Jesus Christ, just recently we started a new package, and it’s because we had so many women asking for the Relationship Breaker operation against guys who had sexually assaulted or raped them. So we started the Sexual Assault Revenge package. The interesting thing about that is that we do not under any circumstances mention the sexual assault. We just go after him in every other way, and the good thing about that one is that [our workers] actually feel good when we’ve done one of those. The girl comes and tells us all these things that have happened, some of these 10-15 years ago and they never got closure, and so we get them back. I mean, in all honesty, I’m pretty amazed by all the angry people out there. People are pissed as hell, and it’s an unfortunate reality, but there is a huge market for it.
What’s the worst thing someone’s asked you?
To kill someone
And that was a no.
I told them straight up, “Here’s how this works. Do not email us, do not call us. We strongly advise for your own safety, and since you don’t want to go to jail, you desist with that particular operation. Because if we feel at any time you may actually do so, we will alert the authorities.” Not fucking around with that. Don’t like murderers and killers. Fucking scumbag work.
Have you been asked to do something to someone with a high profile?
Well if they want to be a client, that’s fine, but we don’t act against public figures. And no judiciary, no law enforcement, no military, no intelligence services. We're very serious about that in our terms of service. Don’t even ask us for that.
Do you turn down a lot of cases?
We really only turn down one or two every so often, but I mean, we are expensive, and that pricing keeps us at a certain level. We don’t get a lot of bottom feeders. Some people just want to hurt people. Jilted lovers are the hardest, women in particular. Women probably make up the majority of our clients. They get pissed off at a former lover, or a boyfriend who is getting married, and they want us to break up the marriage. We tell them no, and they’re like “what do you mean, 'no'?”
Why would you not tackle that?
It has to feel right, honestly. It has to be of a certain quality, and that’s hard to define until you look at the case file.
Do you feel an ethical or moral responsibility?
Oh, yes! The things we’re doing have very serious repercussions in people’s lives. Not to say they won’t find someone else to do the work, but I walk a very delicate karmic balance. Very delicate.