How Pig Butchering Scams Work & How to Avoid Them

Pig in a penPig butchering scams, a term that might sound odd and even gruesome in the context of cybercrime, are increasingly becoming a significant concern for individuals and businesses alike. More sophisticated than phishing or social engineering attempts, these scams are a long game to which many savvy people have fallen prey. In fact, the Homeland Security Investigations’ Countering Transnational Organized Crime division estimate that in 2022, $3.3 billion was lost in these types of scams, and much more in 2023.

Why Are They Called “Pig Butchering” Scams?

Just as a pig is fattened before slaughter, the scam victim is psychologically groomed and emotionally invested before being defrauded. This grooming process lasts significantly longer than other scams – for weeks or even months – allowing the scammer to build a false sense of trust with the victim.

How Do These Scams Work?

Bad guys create fake profiles on various platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, TikTok, Twitter (X), Instagram, Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge to initiate contact with potential victims. They start with innocent conversations over these apps or even as a text message sent to a wrong number.  Once they get a response, they start building a relationship with their victim slowly, sending “getting to know you” messages that seem sincere. They do their research and often claim to have circumstances similar to their victim to manipulate them. They will act vulnerable and share personal details to encourage the victim to do the same, gathering information that they can later use to influence them.

The scammers eventually share information about a cryptocurrency investment opportunity that has been a windfall for them. To further build credibility, the money never goes through the person sharing the data, but via a link to a legitimate looking website or app that they share. Once invested in this “opportunity,” victims will see substantial gains, often leading to further investments.

At some point, the rapid returns plummet. When the victim tries to withdraw money, they can’t, or are told they must pay certain taxes before they can. In some cases, your new “friend” will act like they are helping you or pretend to be a victim themselves. But ultimately, the money was never in a real account (no matter how real the app and its reports looked) and cannot be recovered.

How the Scammers May Also Be Victims

The dark underbelly of pig butchering scams is that they are often executed by victims to another scam. Individuals apply for high-paying tech jobs, yet when they arrive at their new employer, they are kidnapped and forced into work camps to execute these financial frauds. These camps operate under strict surveillance, with victims coerced into scamming others under the threat of violence or other severe consequences. This exploitation highlights a sophisticated and deeply unethical dimension of cybercrime, merging human trafficking with financial fraud. Workers in these camps are often subjected to inhumane conditions, with their personal freedoms and passports stripped away as they become tools in the scammers’ elaborate schemes to defraud unsuspecting victims.

How to Avoid Pig Butchering Scams

  1. Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Contacts: Whether it’s a new connection on social media or a message on a dating app, approach unsolicited contacts with caution, especially if the conversation quickly turns to financial matters.
  2. Protect Personal Information: Be wary of sharing personal information or details about your financial situation with someone you’ve met online.
  3. Verify Identities: If someone you’ve met online proposes an investment opportunity, take steps to verify their identity and the legitimacy of the opportunity through independent research.
  4. Educate Yourself and Your Team: Awareness is key. Educate yourself and your team about the existence of these scams and the red flags to watch for.
  5. Use Secure Communication Channels: Ensure all communications take place over secure, verified channels.

 What to Do If You Are the Victim of a Pig Butchering Scam

  1. Report It: Immediately report the scam to local law enforcement and any relevant financial institutions. In some cases, quick action can help recover some of the lost funds.
  2. Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of all communications with the scammer, as this information can be valuable to investigators.
  3. Change Your Security Settings: Update your privacy settings on social media and change passwords to any accounts that the scammer may have had access to.
  4. Seek Support: Being the victim of a scam can be emotionally distressing. Consider seeking support from friends, family, or professional counseling services.
  5. Spread Awareness: Sharing your experience can help prevent others from falling victim to similar scams.

Pig butchering scams are a stark reminder of the evolving nature of cybercrime, requiring both individuals and businesses to remain vigilant and informed. By understanding the mechanics of these scams, recognizing the signs, and knowing the steps to take if targeted, you can significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

Richard Stokes: As the Director of Sales for Network 1, Richard identifies “future” clients that can benefit from the support of an experienced, outsourced IT team. He helps clients and prospects find technology solutions they need to achieve better productivity and efficiency so they can focus on making money and growing their businesses.

Network 1 designs, builds and supports the IT you need to run your business more securely, productively and successfully. Whether you want to outsource all of your IT needs to a reliable, responsive, service-oriented company, or need to supplement the work of your internal IT staff, we will carefully evaluate where you are now, discuss where you want to go and implement and support a plan to get you there with as little interruption as possible.

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