‘Pig butchering’: New crypto scam targets victims through online dating apps
We speak to an online fraud prevention expert to reveal how you can avoid the scam
A new scam, known as ‘pig butchering’ is targeting people online with victims persuaded to invest in fake cryptocurrency schemes.
The scam combines romance fraud with crypto cons as victims are promised a “happily ever after” and big crypto wins.
In reality, they are left financially and emotionally devastated.
The cybercriminals operating this long con spend months gaining online daters’ trust, using romance and the lure of fast crypto returns to swindle victims out of their savings.
This can cause irreparable financial harm, on top of lasting emotional and psychological trauma.
i spoke to Jane Lee, a researcher at Sift, an online fraud prevention firm, to find out more about how the scams operate.
How does the scam work?
The scammers meet victims on popular dating apps, before moving the conversation on to WhatsApp, and bombarding the victim with flirtatious messages until turning the conversation to cryptocurrency.
The fraudster, posing as a successful crypto trader, offers to show the victim how to invest their money for fast, low-risk gains.
From here, the scammer helps the victim buy cryptocurrency on a legitimate site, like Coinbase, and provides instructions for transferring it to a fake cryptocurrency exchange.
The victim’s money appears on the exchange’s website, and they start “investing” it in various crypto assets, under the scammer’s guidance.
This phony third-party trading site is simple in design but mimics a real crypto trading platform, showing accurate real-time values of cryptocurrencies.
Victims instantly start seeing supposed profits, as the scammers manipulate the returns displayed on the trading platform, further earning trust.
Once the fraudster has drained their victim, or when the victim realises they cannot withdraw any additional funds, the scammer will simply disappear.
Has it grown in popularity?
Cryptocurrency has surged in popularity in recent years – particularly among younger generations – meaning there are a lot of people for criminals to target with this kind of fraud.
Interest in crypto continues to grow, as both a speculative asset class and possibly as a payment method.
Jane Lee said: “Dating apps must do better when it comes to proactively detecting nefarious actors on their platforms.
“When it comes to romance fraud, online dating has been growing in popularity for years, and the increased isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic has led even more singles to turn to dating apps to find love.
“Unfortunately, fraudsters are also turning to online dating to find their next victim.”
Why are people susceptible to crypto scams?
Fraud follows trends and when there’s growth or increased interest in a certain industry, like cryptocurrency, fraudsters are not far behind.
In this case, scammers are taking advantage of consumers’ growing curiosity around cryptocurrency.
A general lack of consumer education around crypto is partially to blame, with people new to the space especially vulnerable to misinformation, and prone to falling for sketchy investment practices in the hopes of striking digital gold.
Social media is awash with so-called “success stories” of people that have made a fortune investing in cryptocurrency.
Many people now view crypto as a get-rich-quick scheme, which makes them susceptible to falling for scams.
What are other common crypto scams?
While cryptocurrency has plenty of legitimate uses, the currencies themselves are a favoured payment method by cybercriminals looking for fast money whilst also maintaining their anonymity.
Ms Lee added: “Most recently, we’ve noticed fraudsters on messaging app forums posing as legitimate charities seeking cryptocurrency donations for Ukraine.
“However, because crypto payments are confirmed by both parties on the blockchain, the donors have no recourse and the fraudster can walk away with the money.”
How can people be sure to invest safely?
Increasing digital literacy is more crucial than ever before as more of our everyday lives move online.
People should educate themselves before investing in crypto and always ensure that any platform they are using is official and legitimate. Presence on legitimate search engines and app stores is a good place to start.
What are the signs people could be being targeted by a scam?
There are a number of signs to look out for. Fraudsters will often promise high returns for very little financial commitment.
A scammer will often pressure you and create a sense of urgency to try to hurry your decision-making.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Contact; firstname.lastname@example.org if you find yourself in this situation. It’s never too late if you act on time.