This alarming "pig butchering" scam is stealing millions: Internet Scambusters #1,011
Pig butchering sounds gruesome, and it is. Not just for poor old pigs but also for the victims of a fatten-and-slaughter scam where online daters are subjected to a long, softly-softly process of building up trust with the scammer before he moves in for the kill.
It's a lethal combination of romance and cybercurrency scams, which is poised to sweep the US after huge successes for the crooks in China and other parts of Asia.
In this week's issue, we'll tell you how the scam works and the red flags that signal you may be a target.
Let's get started…
Arriving Now - The "Pig Butcher" Romance and Cyber Scam
Organized crime gangs have hijacked and merged two of the fastest growing scams in the US -- dating and cybercurrency -- into a sophisticated fraud dubbed "pig butchering." And the result is every bit as nasty as the name suggests.
Launched just a couple of years ago in China, where most of the gangs are based, the scam reached our shores late last year with individual victims losing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.
It's a far cry from the longstanding dating scam in which one individual cons a lonely-heart victim, often quite gullible, out of their life savings.
This time, carefully trained groups use sophisticated tactics and master scripts to convince their targets, who are often successful, savvy and well-educated Americans, into handing over their money.
In one recent case, a Denver software engineer admitted losing $1.6 million to the crooks, while losses of up to $8 million have been reported elsewhere globally. But the scammers also have hoodwinked would-be investors on a much smaller scale, costing them "just" a few thousand dollars.
The term "pig butchering," a translation of the Chinese sha zu pan, refers to the tactic of first fattening up the hungry (or even greedy) victim over an extended period of several months and then moving in for the kill when the hapless casualty tries to escape.
How the Scam Works
The trick starts, as most romance scams do, on dating sites and social media, sometimes via email. The crook, generally using a photo of an attractive person, strikes up a friendly online conversation.
They present themselves as an easy-going, wealthy professional, often in the same walk of life as a target.
But here's the big difference between regular romance scams: they never ask for your money.
Instead, they mix in mention of profits and losses they are making each day in cybercurrency trading. They might do this for several weeks or months, while the relationship develops with general chit-chat and flirting.
They use carefully written scripts designed specifically for the targets with psychological tactics that amount to brainwashing.
Eventually, the target, or mark, either asks about the scammer's supposed investment strategy or the crook introduces it into the conversation, which, by now, has moved to a messaging app like WhatsApp.
This leads to a fake but highly convincing cryptocurrency website and an app used for learning and trading. Sometimes, the victim is encouraged to buy currency on a genuine trading site first and then transfer the holding to the fake site.
The scammer sends them daily buy or sell tips and the victim sees their apparent holding grow. In the initial stages, if they suffer a big loss, the crook says he will carry it, though, of course, the money is already in his pocket.
This tactic is designed to make the victim increasingly confident about the scammer, who is also conducting a romantic conversation on the side. And the target can also withdraw a small amount of their supposed profits… until it's too late.
As they plow in increasingly larger amounts of money, guided by their new online "lover," and see their on-screen portfolio seeming to grow, they eventually decide to try to take their profits. Now they're given a variety of reasons why that can't be done. They may even be asked for more cash to meet processing costs. Then, it's not long before they realize all their money is gone.
The Red Flags
You surely don't want to be "butchered"! So, what can you do to avoid getting caught out by this scam?
The actions you can take are similar to those for a regular dating scam, but you have to be extra vigilant against the persuasive charm of these crooks.
Their scam works so well because the gangs behind the scheme are so thorough and convincing. Some of them even have fake customer service reps trained to talk victims out of trying to cash out. They use training manuals, tailored scripts, and translation software to seem educated, articulate, and helpful.
So, watch out if: Your online date is a stunner and they constantly greet you every day with a polite "good morning," etc.; they talk a lot about money and brag about their investing success, especially with cybercurrencies -- mixed in with the occasional "bad day" when they lost money; they say they've studied finance; they invite you to participate and use phrases like "trust me"; they claim to have inside information on cyber-trading and say they've helped others to success, or claim their technique uses artificial intelligence (AI); and they talk about fate, destiny, and big dreams.
These are all red flags that signal a potential scammer. After a few weeks, they may also start to add pressure by implying you're scared or not ambitious enough. And they'll come up with all sorts of reasons why they can't use video calls, or, if they're local -- a common claim -- why they can't meet up with you.
The FBI, which recently issued an alert about this scam, warns online daters and even people who just meet up in chat forums never to send money to or trade on the supposed advice of someone you haven't met and don't know. If you don't send money or invest with them, you won't get be a pig butchering victim.
This Week's Scam Alert
Instagram "suspension": If you're an Instagram user, don't be taken in by a new fake warning that you've violated copyright in one of your posts. The text or email says your account will be suspended unless you want to dispute it. A link in the message takes you to a realistic looking site where you're asked to sign on and provide other personal information. Just don't. Instagram doesn't do this.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!