Cybercriminals use lo-fi manipulation tactics to infiltrate personal and work networks. Their aim: gain your trust before scamming you out of everything.

In late 2023, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a U.S. Treasury entity, alerted financial institutions and the world at large about an investment scam that’s been circulating. It’s called “pig butchering,” named after the practice of fattening a pig for slaughter. In this case, the pigs are the human victims, and the slaughter is draining their bank accounts.

Read on to learn the scam and ways to avoid becoming a victim.

How a pig butchering scam works

Fraudsters use fictitious identities to leverage relationships and get their foot in the door. They engage in a“love-bombing” phase where they are dedicated, attentive, and always there for the victim. They pretend to be interested in a romance or friendship, carefully building the relationship over prolonged periods, usually several months.

Over time the victim comes to know them as a trusted confidante and exchanges personal information without thinking. Meanwhile, the scammer absorbs all the information they can on the victim to use in their scam. Everything they learn helps them further manipulate the victim into trusting them without question. But the victim just thinks they’ve found a loving relationship with someone genuinely interested in them.

The victim becomes fully invested in the relationship and won’t question the scammer, no matter how outlandish a story might sound.

That’s when the scammer hits the victim with a cryptocurrency investment opportunity to solve all their problems. It could be a small request, initially. They link the victim to a legitimate-looking platform or banking institution to open an account and deposit the funds. The victim is left to set up the account that will eventually be their demise. The first few “investments” typically show a profit as a confidence builder. But it’s all a setup to steal the victim’s life savings.

The scam ends when there’s nothing left to take. Victims are left penniless, in debt, emotionally devastated, and confused.

Even though pig butchering and catfishing scams exploit relationships to deceive, they employ different tactics. Catfishing is shorter, and usually committed by an individual. Pig butchering is longer, and involves criminal group operations that use extreme emotional manipulation to win the long game of stealing someone’s life savings. Patience is their key strategy.

A real-life pig butchering story

One victim reported his story to Forbes in 2022. The scheme took months and hundreds of text messages. The fraudster texted the victim, saying they were old coworkers and wanted to catch up. Then she sent pictures of the lunch she was eating. She talked to the victim like she knew him already, and they bonded over a love of sushi.

He later shared details about his life: He had a wife, an ailing father, a college-bound daughter, and growing financial stress. The scammer used the victim's situation to set him up for a takedown. She offered him tips on a stock trading platform she’d been using that made her fast cash. He opened an account and his investments skyrocketed, just as promised.

Months passed and the scammer convinced him to continue investing in the cryptocurrency platform. Every time he checked his account his investments were on the rise. Until one day, the platform disappeared along with the $1 million he'd invested. The trading platform was fake, and the schemers made off with his entire life savings.

How to avoid pig butchering scams

Follow these tips when meeting people online:

Verify platforms.

Only use verified platforms for online dating or investment opportunities. These platforms have mechanisms that make it more difficult for scammers to operate.

Don’t give loans.

An online love interest you’ve never met in person requesting money from you is a big red flag, no matter how compelling their sob story seems.

Be skeptical of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

An immediate high return on a low investment for a limited time is always suspicious. Consult your financial advisor instead.

Verify identities.

Ask to meet in person or request video chats. Deepfakes can complicate this, so you might need to meet multiple times under different conditions to be sure.

Guard your personal data.

Don’t share bank account numbers, Social insurance numbers, insurance policy numbers, or any sensitive data that could be misused.

If a person or an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is. If someone gets upset because you won’t loan them money or follow their investment advice, it’s a red flag. Stand your ground. Don't be afraid to be rude or cut off contact: That's what manipulative schemers count on.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a pig butchering scam, report it to local law enforcement. Even if you didn’t lose any money, report it anyway. Your tips could help expose the operation and protect others.

This content is for informational purposes only and not to provide, financial, medical, or legal advice. You should contact your attorney, doctor, broker, or advisor to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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