pig butchering scams

Pig butchering scams, how they work and how to avoid them

Pig butchering scams are big business. There are hundreds of millions of dollars involved every year. The numbers are not very precise because some see them as a special kind of romance scam, while others classify them as investment fraud.

The victims in Pig Butchering schemes are referred to as pigs by the scammers, who use elaborate storylines to fatten up victims into believing they are in a romantic or otherwise close personal relationship. Once the victim places enough trust in the scammer, they bring the victim into a cryptocurrency investment scheme. Then comes the butchering–meaning they’ll be bled dry of their money.

And they usually start by someone sending you a message that looks like it’s intended for someone else.

Scammers trying to initiate pig butchering scams

The accounts sending the messages often use stock photographs of models for their profile pictures. But even though you won’t know these people, a simple reply of “I’m not Steve, but…” is almost exactly what the scammers want—an initial foothold to talk to you a bit more.

After some small talk, the scammer will ask if you’re familiar with investments, or cryptocurrency. They’ll then do one of two things:

  • Direct you to a genuine cryptocurrency investment portal, and send you some money to invest or have you do it on your own dime. Eventually you’re asked to transfer all funds and/or profit to a separate account which belongs to the scammer. At that point, your money has gone and the proverbial pig has been butchered after a period of so-called “fattening up” (in other words, gaining your trust and convincing you to go all out where investing is concerned).
  • Direct you to a fake cryptocurrency site, often imitating a real portal. The site may well have its numbers tweaked or otherwise deliberately altered to make it look as though your suggested investments are sound bets. The reality is that they are not, and by the time you realize it, your money has gone.

Once you are satisfied with the profit on your investment and decide to cash out, the problems come at you from different directions. A hefty withdrawal fee, a huge tax to be paid, will need to be paid to get your money back. Which you won’t, but this is the last drop the scammers will try to wring out of you.

John Oliver talked at length about Pig Butchering scams in the latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), lifting the lid on some shocking examples of people who got scammed, and the role that organized crime plays behind the scenes. (Note that you’ll need to be in the USA to watch it, or have a good VPN 😉

As John Oliver put it:

“You may have an image of a person who might fall for pig butchering, but unless you are looking in a mirror, you might be wrong.”

So here are some pointers.

How to avoid becoming the pig

The good thing about pig butchery scams is that they mostly follow a narrow pattern, with few variations. If you recognize the signs, you stand a very good chance of going about your day with a distinct lack of pig-related issues. The signs are:

  • Stray messages for “someone else” appear out of the blue.
  • The profile pic of the person you’re talking to looks like someone who is a model.
  • Common scam opening lines may involve: Sports, golfing, travel, fitness.
  • At some point they will ask you about investments and/or cryptocurrency.
  • They will ask you to invest, or take some of their money and use that instead.

As you can see, there is a very specific goal in mind for the pig butcher scammers, and if you find yourself drawn down this path, the alarm bells should be ringing by step 4 or 5. This is definitely one of those “If it’s too good to be true” moments, and the part where you make your excuses and leave (but not before hitting block and reporting them).

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Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.