How to avoid pig butchering scams

May 4th · 9 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

New threat on the block: Pig butchering scams

It's not news that the internet is filled with scammers, but you might have noticed a particular new scam popping up more frequently. It starts off with a seamlessly innocent yet weird text from an unknown number. Something like, "Sarah, can we move lunch to 2?" when you're not Sarah, or "Steve, what time is the show tonight?" even though you're not Steve and have no concert tickets.

Most people ignore these messages, but some write back, get sucked into a conversation, and eventually end up losing a lot of money. Welcome to the world of "pig butchering" scams. Despite its gruesome name, rest assured that no pigs are harmed in a pig butchering scam. The term chillingly illustrates how scammers groom their victims with sweet nothings or dazzling dollar signs, only to plunder their bank accounts when they least expect it. Picture less oinking, more swindling.

In the last 4 years, people lost over $75 billion due to pig-butchering scams.

In this article, we'll dive deep into the deceptive world of pig butchering scams, how they work, the intricate methods scammers use to build trust, and the devastating impact on victims. We’ll also offer you some practical tips on how to spot these scams and steer clear using Guardio's cybersecurity tools. Ready? Let’s dive in!

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Pig butchering scams

How pig butchering scams work

Unlike the hit-and-run deception of typical phishing, which bombards you with urgent texts or emails, pig butchering scams are more like a slow dance with a stranger pretending to be the perfect partner or financial guru. Often centered around the seductive world of cryptocurrency investments, these scams have globally drained millions of dollars from unsuspecting people.

The mechanics of pig butchering scams are like a meticulously crafted Martin Scorsese thriller—they're complex, surprising, and expertly designed to bamboozle you. At the heart of this hustle is the scammer, a complete stranger who skillfully builds a relationship with you, weaving a web of trust through charm and seemingly genuine interest. This deception is a long play and unfolds through a series of calculated steps, each one meticulously designed to deepen the illusion and draw you further into the trap.

Imagine this: Someone contacts you out of the blue, gradually builds a rapport, and then introduces an incredible investment opportunity. Here's how the scam would usually play out.

The pig butchering playbook

Creating a fake identity: Scammers create detailed online personas and fake profiles, often posing as attractive singles or successful investors on social media and dating apps. They use stolen or AI-generated photos coupled with compelling backstories to make themselves appear trustworthy and appealing. These profiles are so well-crafted that you might find yourself drawn to their charm and apparent success without even realizing it.

The scammers invest significant effort into making their profiles resonate with you, selecting interests and hobbies that align closely with yours, thus fostering a sense of connection and familiarity. This strategic alignment makes you more likely to trust them and feel a bond, setting the stage for deeper engagement as they gradually draw you into their schemes.

Tip: Avoid accepting friends or message requests from anyone you don’t recognize.

Random messages: Scammers reach out to you through various channels, including dating apps, social media, or direct communication methods like texts or calls. They use scripted messages to initiate contact and target those who are more likely to fall for the scam. One common tactic is the "wrong number" strategy, where the scammer might send a text saying something like, "Hey Mike, I'll send you the documents first thing in the morning."

When you respond to clarify that they have the wrong number, they use the opportunity to strike up a conversation. This seemingly harmless interaction serves as a stepping stone for the scammer to gradually build a relationship with you, often extending over weeks or even months. By forming this connection, they create a foundation of trust, which they can later exploit when introducing fake investment opportunities.

Establishing trust: As mentioned, over weeks or months, the scammer will engage with you frequently, gradually "fattening" you up by mirroring your interests and sentiments to create a strong bond. This process might include sending small gifts or performing thoughtful gestures, all designed to enhance their credibility and deepen the emotional connection between you. These actions are not just random acts of kindness; they’re calculated moves to make you feel appreciated and understood, thereby making you more receptive to their suggestions and advice. This continuous and attentive communication helps to build a seemingly genuine relationship, setting the stage for more significant manipulations and requests in the future.

“Too good to be true” investment opportunities: Once a level of trust is established, the scammer introduces the concept of investing together in cryptocurrency or other assets, painting it as a shortcut to financial freedom. Interestingly, they might not even explicitly invite you to join in on these "lucrative" opportunities right away. Instead, they cleverly flaunt their own financial success and the supposedly easy gains they're making, which can spark envy and a strong desire in you to get involved.

By showing off their significant returns without directly asking for your participation, they create an irresistible allure. You're then more likely to bring up the topic of investing yourself, which pulls you deeper into their carefully laid trap. This subtle approach enhances the scam's credibility, making the whole scheme appear more legitimate and enticing, ultimately making it tougher for you to resist the temptation to dive in.

Fake returns: After successfully guiding you to make an initial small deposit through a fraudulent investment app, the scammer cleverly manipulates data to show astounding returns on that modest investment. What adds credibility to the investment opportunity is the sophistication of the fake websites and investment platforms. They are so polished and professional-looking that they could easily be mistaken for legitimate operations. They feature user interfaces that dazzle with financial data, which, although entirely fabricated, appears convincingly real. Seeing these promising numbers, you’re naturally inclined to believe that larger investments will yield even greater returns.

Motivated by the manipulated success, you could easily persuaded to pour more money into the scheme, expecting to capitalize on what appears to be a golden opportunity. This stage is critical for the scammer, as it not only secures a larger commitment from you but also deepens your trust, making you more susceptible to further deception and increasing the likelihood of the scam's continued success.

Vanishing act: After extracting as much money as possible, the scammer executes a cold and calculated disappearance, cutting off all communication and leaving you in a state of shock and financial disarray. You suddenly find yourself unable to access your funds or reach the scammer through any previously used channels of communication. Emails bounce back, phone numbers are disconnected, and any online profiles vanish into thin air.

The sudden ghosting is devastating, as it not only strips you of your financial assets but also leaves you without any recourse or ability to seek immediate help. Often, you're left grappling with the harsh reality of the situation, struggling to understand how your investment turned into an elaborate betrayal, and facing the difficult task of explaining the situation to banks and law enforcement without substantial proof of the scam. The combination of social engineering, sophisticated fake platforms, and emotional manipulation in these scams can trap even the wary investor.

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Pig butchering scams

How to protect yourself from pig butchering scams:

Not all is lost, and you can definitely avoid falling victim to these scams by taking a few proactive steps. Here are a few scam protection tips to keep you safe from pig butchering scams:

  • Limit sharing personal information: This is a general rule of caution when it comes to the internet. Be cautious about how much personal information you share online, especially with people you don’t know, new contacts, or unverified individuals.

  • Be skeptical of overly lucrative offers: If an investment seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always verify the legitimacy of the person offering the investment and the platform itself.

  • Use reliable security software: Tools like Guardio offer essential security against malicious sites, fake investment platforms, phishing emails, and malicious links. Even if you accidentally click on a harmful link, Guardio will block it, ensuring that your identity and finances remain secure online.

  • Educate yourself and your family: Understanding the signs of these scams can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to them. Awareness is a powerful tool against cybercrime.

How can Guardio help against pig butchering scams?

Pig butchering scams can be tricky, but you don’t have to face them alone. With Guardio’s cybersecurity protection, you can keep your online activities safe and sound.

Here’s how Guardio helps:

  • Blocks shady websites: It stops you from accidentally visiting sites that look real but are set up to trick you.

  • Filters out sketchy messages: Whether it’s a weird text or an email, Guardio keeps scams out of your inbox and phone.

  • Keeps an eye on your inbox: Guardio scans your emails for signs of scams and alerts you if something’s fishy.

  • Protects your social media: It manages your account cookies to prevent hackers from taking over.

  • Stops dangerous links: If you click on a malicious link, Guardio will immediately block it, keeping you and your device safe from potential threats.

  • Checks for data leaks: Guardio lets you know if your personal info has been compromised somewhere online.

With Guardio by your side, there's no way you'll get tangled up in pig butchering or cryptocurrency scams.

Difficult to recognize, easy to fall for

Don't be a victim of pig butchering scams. Protect yourself with Guardio!

The even darker side of pig butchering scams

While it's hard to feel sympathy for scammers, digging deeper into pig butchering scams reveals that these scammers themselves are often victims, ensnared in a nefarious web of exploitation. Many are actually victims of human trafficking, coerced into participating in these frauds under dire circumstances.

Lured under the guise of legitimate employment opportunities abroad, these workers find themselves tricked and transported to remote locations where they are forced into digital scam sweatshops by criminal syndicates. Threatened and controlled, they are compelled to engage in scamming activities, often targeting unsuspecting individuals across the globe.

These workers are often confined in large warehouse-like facilities resembling sweatshops, where they are made to work up to 20 hours a day under constant surveillance. Their personal documents are typically confiscated to prevent escape, effectively trapping them in a cycle of forced labor. Reports indicate that tens of thousands have been deceived into these conditions through false job advertisements and fraudulent interviews.

This chilling exploitation amplifies the reach and impact of pig butchering scams, turning them into a systemic issue of forced labor and human rights violations within the cybercrime industry. The individuals caught in this cycle are not just unwilling participants in the scams but are also victims of a much larger criminal enterprise that preys on their vulnerability and desperation.

The bottom line

Navigating the murky waters of pig butchering scams might seem daunting, but with a bit of savvy and the right tools, you can steer clear of trouble. It's important to remember that we're all potential targets because, at the end of the day, we're human and crave connection. When someone reaches out, it taps into our innate desire to believe in them, especially when the conversation comes with the allure of making easy money.

Equipping yourself with investment scam awareness and Guardio’s cybersecurity shield can keep your bank account safe and ensure a scam-free online experience. By understanding the playbook of these digital con artists, you're better prepared to spot their tricks from a mile away. So keep your wits about you, and let's keep our online neighborhoods as safe as our real ones.

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