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What is a pig butchering scam?

Finding love in the digital age is tough. Who should start the conversation first? Emojis — yes or no? And what if, just when you feel like you found a real connection, they start promoting their crypto trading app? Unfortunately, this won’t fill your bank account. You might be a potential victim of a new pig butchering scam that combines romance scams and cryptocurrency fraud.

What is a pig butchering scam?

What is a pig butchering scam?

Pig butchering uses social engineering to manipulate the target into losing thousands of dollars. So how does it work?

The definition of a pig butchering scam

Pig butchering is a type of crypto scam that uses catfishing to gain the victim’s trust and then convince them to join a financial investment scheme. The scam spawned in China, where it’s known as the Chinese phrase Shāz Hū Pán (meaning, literally, “pig butchering”).

The term itself refers to how the cryptocurrency scammers gain the trust of the victim (regarded by the fraudsters as a pig) and “fatten it up” before the butchering — being taken for everything they have.

How do pig butchering scams work?

The scam starts with a text. It can be on social media sites, messaging apps like WhatsApp, or dating apps like Tinder.

Usually, the message sounds like its intended recipient is someone else and the sender just got the number wrong. Something like “Hey, Tom, let’s catch up tomorrow?” but when you tell them they have the wrong person, they keep texting you to build a connection. The second stage of the scam begins.

Now, it’s all about gaining the victim’s trust. Scammers will build a close personal relationship that can go on for weeks or even months.

Then they casually start mentioning how much money they have — fast cars, fancy vacations, even private planes. All thanks to an investment app you’ve never heard of. Maybe you should invest in cryptocurrency as well? They can even give you investment advice.

This is where the third phase of the scam begins — the “fattening up.” The scammer will recommend a specific trading platform for them and you to try together.

To build trust, the scammers will offer making small investments first. You’ll immediately see returns on your investments. The scammer might even encourage you to take out some money, to be sure the platform is legit. But, unfortunately, these are all fraudulent cryptocurrency trading platforms.

Once you start trusting the person behind the con, they’ll encourage you to invest bigger and bigger amounts. If you decide to finish trading or change your mind after investing thousands, they’ll tell you that you need to pay huge fees to get your money back. After that, the scammers disappear. They got all that they needed from you. They butchered the pig.

Pig butchering crypto schemes around the world

Even though the scam originated in China, it quickly spread to other countries in southeast Asia. Now, places like Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia, are at the heart of these scams. Especially after China’s government started cracking down on pig butchering scams in their own country.

Pig butchering quickly got the attention of crime syndicates. They “industrialized” the scam, perfected the scripts that get victims to trust their scammers, and then “outsourced” the scamming.

The people doing the scamming are often in trouble themselves — victims of debt, violence, and even human trafficking. People fall for fake job adverts only to end up doing forced labor for a crime syndicate.

How to identify a pig butchering scam

When someone targets you for a pig butchering crypto scam, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.

Signs of pig butchering schemes

  1. You got a “wrong number” message. Texting you was no accident. Especially if they continue the conversation after you told them that they mixed up the number.
  2. They don’t leave you alone. Your new buddy always has time to chat — morning, day or night. The relationship moves incredibly fast — they start sharing the most intimate details of their lives early into the relationship.
  3. But you’ve never met them. Changing the subject when you suggest a meeting and refusing to have a video call is a solid indication that you’re chatting with a fake account.
  4. They start talking about money. They bring up how much money they have and how you could make more money too with just one good cryptocurrency investment.
  5. They know this great investment platform you’ve never heard of. Or the provided URL of an official platform you have heard about doesn’t quite match its actual name.
  6. Your antivirus, browser, or other security software flags the trading site or app as unsafe.
  7. The platform can guarantee insane returns on your cryptocurrency investment. Think 20% or even 40% returns.
  8. The scammer starts trading with you to show how it works. Maybe they even ask you to send money directly to them, so they can trade for you.
  9. The cryptocurrency investment app has rules on minimum investment amount.
  10. You’re told to pay fees. When you try to withdraw money that you earned, you’re told about taxes that the platform cannot deduct from your earnings. Your account might get frozen until you pay “processing fees.”
  11. The platform breaks. Even if you pay the taxes that the platform warned you about, your account is still frozen. Or the app is experiencing issues that prevent you from getting all your money back.
  12. Your friend is gone. They no longer text you back and their social media accounts have been deleted.

How to protect yourself from pig butchering scammers

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself from pig butchering scamms.

  • Don’t text with strangers. If you got a “wrong number” text, don’t answer, just delete and block the number.
  • If you feel like someone you met on a dating app is love bombing you, break all contact.
  • Don’t share personally identifiable information with a stranger.
  • Don’t join online investment platforms and don’t download any mobile apps because a stranger recommended them.
  • Don’t start cryptocurrency investments if you’re not sure how they work. Make sure to do your research before making any commitments. Start with the question: is cryptocurrency safe?
  • Do your research. If you find a new cryptocurrency investing platform, Google it and read the reviews.
  • Do use cybersecurity software. Ensure your logins are secure with a password manager, and protect yourself from malware with antivirus software.
  • Do use NordVPN. Turn on NordVPN’s Threat Protection feature to avoid malicious websites, trackers, and malware infected files during downloads.

Check out this video for a comprehensive guide to avoid romance scams, a precursor for pig butchering:

What should you do if you’ve been scammed?

Unfortunately, if you lose money to this type of scam, the chances of getting back your stolen funds are pretty slim. However, there are things you can try.

Steps to take after falling for a scam

  • Document everything. Take screenshots of texts with your scammer, bank statements, and chats with the trading app’s support.
  • Report the scam to law enforcement. Go to your local police and they should direct you to the appropriate authorities in your country.
  • Protect your data. If you revealed financial information to your scammer, contact your bank immediately. If you shared a password — change it quickly.

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Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė
Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė Sibilė Šimkevičiūtė
Sibilė spends her days browsing the net, which is where she started to learn about cyber security. She believes that everyone should have the right to go online safely, so now she shares her insights as a NordVPN content writer.

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