From business email compromises to romance scams, criminals are raking in billions by using one powerful tool: social engineering. They lure their victims into making mistakes that could cost them everything – whether it’s trusting someone they shouldn’t or sending their hard-earned money into a black hole. But just when we thought we’d seen it all, a new sinister scheme called “pig butchering” has emerged, and it’s quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to steal large sums from unsuspecting targets.
Originally hailing from Southeast Asia, pig butchering scams have now made their way across the globe, leaving a trail of heartbreak and empty bank accounts. The scam is typically run by a group of cryptocurrency scammers who scour dating apps and social media platforms in search of vulnerable targets. The scammer creates a fake profile and reaches out to their victim via social media, WhatsApp, Tinder, or other dating sites. They may even try random texts, posing as an old acquaintance or sending messages to an incorrect number. Once they’ve made contact, the scammer will engage the victim in friendly conversation, posing as a new friend or a potential lover. Their ultimate goal? To establish trust with the victim and reel them into their trap.
The Pig Butchering Scam has 3 phases:
The Slow Build
This first phase of the scam can take days, weeks or even months. A stranger will contact you out of the blue via social media, text, email or a messaging app and attempt to engage you in an exchange and build a rapport. They may try to win your trust by messaging you about topics that interest you and that they already know interest you from going through your own online activity and social accounts. In this initial phase of the scam it is likely that they won’t even mention money or financial investments.
Sharpening the Knife
The goals for the next phase of the scheme are twofold: to create the perception that you’ll make money by following the bad actor’s instructions and to ensure that you have the ability to invest into the forthcoming scam. Once the scammers are happy that they have built a relationship with you they may reach out to share that they have a connection at a reputable financial institution and offer to share the contact with you or dangle riches they supposedly made through trading cryptocurrency. They’ll encourage you to purchase or transfer cryptocurrency assets using a specific trading platform, which in all likelihood is fake and controlled by the scammers or others associated with them. There are variations of this scam with the same end goal, to relieve you of large sums of money through deception.
With the relationship firmly established the scammers may now try to capitalise further by showing you fake evidence of massive gains and encourage you to invest larger amounts. Once they determine that they’ve taken all they can from you or you try to withdraw some of your gains they will likely cut of all contact and disappear into thin air, leaving you with significant financial losses.
In other cases, the stocks that scammers promote may seem promising at first, only to quickly plummet once the scammer manipulates the market. And if you’ve recently moved your assets to a new cryptocurrency platform, you might suddenly find yourself locked out of your account.
According to experts, these kinds of scams can take a severe toll on victims both financially and emotionally, much like romance scams and other forms of personal exploitation. The psychological impact can be particularly devastating, and some scams even involve the use of forced labour to carry out their schemes, creating even more urgency to address the threat.
How to avoid them
Look for red flags:
- Strangers sending seemingly innocuous text messages out of the blue.
- Strangers who quickly try to move the conversation to WhatsApp or another social media site.
- People who avoid video-calling with multiple excuses or flatly refuse to initiate any kind of video-calling.
- People chit-chatting about their insider investment knowledge.
- The URL of the investment platform doesn’t match the official website of a popular cryptocurrency market or exchange but may be very similar.
- The investment app generates warnings of being “untrusted” when launched, or the computer’s antivirus software marks it as potentially dangerous.
- The investment opportunity sounds too good to be true.
Follow these steps:
- Don’t send money, trade, or invest with a person you have only met online.
- Don’t speak of your financial position or investments.
- Don’t share personal information or current financial status with strangers.
- Don’t provide your banking information, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site that you cannot verify is authentic.
- If an online investment or trading site promotes unbelievable profits, it is most likely just that—unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.