“Pig-Butchering” Scam Combines Crypto and Romance

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In our area, you can be forgiven for hearing that a scam is called “pig-butchering” and assuming it has something to do with the agriculture or meat processing industries. The actual scam though is about as far from that as possible. In this scam, criminals use social media and online dating platforms to find and cultivate targets before using sophisticated fake websites and finance apps to steal money.

How the scam works

The scam starts when the target receives a message via text, social media, or dating apps. Over text or social media, this might seem like a wrong number or a case of mistaken identity, while on a dating app, it will start with a match or connection. The scammer will then use any opening to build a rapport with the target, trying to strike up a friendship or online romance. Eventually, the conversation will turn toward how the scammer has recently been striking it rich by investing in cryptocurrency and will offer the target the opportunity as well.

If the target accepts the offer, they will be directed to a legitimate-looking app or website to manage their investment. These platforms can be very sophisticated, with investment updates based on real cryptocurrency price movements. Some have even made it past reviewers into the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Victims will even be allowed to make withdrawals early on, which shows real gains and entices them to deposit even more money.

Eventually, the victim will be locked out of the account and be unable to withdraw money. At this point the scammers may simply disappear with what was in the account or attempt to extract more money by claiming fees must be paid or additional deposits needed before being able to withdraw. This is where the scam got its distinctive name since the scammers look to “fatten up” their victims and get as much money within their control before taking the victim for as much as possible.

How you can protect yourself

  • Do not respond to unsolicited messages on social media or by text. This is often how the scam starts and it relies on people’s feeling of obligation to respond to any message they receive. The easiest way to not get sucked into a conversation that turns into a scam is to not start the conversation at all. If you feel you must respond, a simple “you have the wrong number” is sufficient, then mute or block any further attempts to engage.

  • Be cautious about any online conversation that quickly turns to money. As money and finances are a touchy subject for most people, we generally don’t expect someone we’ve recently met or connected with to offer up that information early on. Thus you should be wary when someone claiming to be building a personal relationship with you online quickly moves to talking about how much money they are making and how you can too.

  • Be wary of claims of extraordinary returns. Just like in any scam, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. When evaluating any potential investment, do not focus on just the anecdotal stories about the most successful investors. Look at the whole picture including average returns and potential losses over different time scales from the short- to long-term.

  • Evaluate any investment opportunities independently. When making an investment, one should never rely just on the solicitation or sales materials provided by the person pitching the investment. This goes doubly so for any pitch you receive unsolicited. Do your own research by looking up information about the investment yourself. Do not rely on links or sources provided by the person pitching the investment as those may be malicious or fraudulent.

  • Do your homework before selecting an investing platform. When choosing an app or website to use to manage investments in cryptocurrency or any other asset, gather as much information as you can on your own. Just like the investment itself, do not rely on materials, links, or sources provided by someone encouraging you to use that platform. Also do not rely solely on signals like the app being in an official app store or having a secure connection or displaying trust marks. Look for reviews of the app from independent reviewers and confirm the platform both has the certifications it claims and that those certifications come from legitimate organizations.

To learn more about cryptocurrency scams and their connection to romance scams, you can read the in-depth report published by BBB last year.