This story was originally published by ProPublica.
Thousands have lost huge sums after being lured into fraudulent online investment schemes by seemingly attractive strangers who strike up online conversations with them. Here’s a guide to spotting the telltale signs.
If you’re like most people, you’ve received a text or chat message in recent months from a stranger with an attractive profile photograph. It might open with a simple “Hi” or what seems like good-natured confusion about why your phone number seems to be in the person’s address book. But these messages are often far from accidental: They’re the first step in a process intended to steer you from a friendly chat to an online investment to, ultimately, watching your money disappear into the account of a fraudster.
“Pig butchering,” as the technique is known — the phrase alludes to the practice of fattening a hog before slaughter — originated in China, then went global during the pandemic. Today criminal syndicates target people around the world, often by forcing human trafficking victims in Southeast Asia to perpetrate the schemes against their will. ProPublica recently published an in-depth investigation of pig butchering
, based on months of interviews with dozens of scam victims, former scam sweatshop workers, advocates, rescue workers, law enforcement and investigators, along with extensive documentary evidence including training manuals for scammers, chat transcripts between scammers and their targets and complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
“We’ve had people from all walks of life that have been victimized in these cases and the paydays have been huge,” said Andrew Frey, a financial investigator for the Secret Service, the federal agency that is taking a lead role in combating online crime
and trying to help victims recover their stolen funds.
These swindles are not only highly organized but also systematized. Here’s how the fraudsters typically go about it, including photographs, excerpts from text exchanges between scammers and targets, advice from training guides for fraudsters and police reports from pig butchering cases:
1. Create a fake identity
Pig butchers most often begin by creating a phony online persona, typically accompanied by an alluring photo (which itself might have been stolen) and images that convey a glamorous lifestyle.
2. Initiate contact
Once they’ve got an online profile, fraudsters begin sending messages to people on dating or social networking sites. Alternatively, they may use WhatsApp or another messaging service and pretend to have stumbled on a “wrong number” as they contact you. (A spokesperson for Meta, which owns WhatsApp, previously told ProPublica that the company is investing “significant resources” into keeping pig-butchering scammers off its platforms.)
In December 2020, a Connecticut man received these messages on WhatsApp from a seemingly friendly stranger. He responded and eventually ended up getting tricked into two scams that cost him a total of $180,000. …Continue Reading
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