Contrary to what its name would imply, it is the latest cyber scam which has trapped thousands of victims every year across the globe.
Let’s take a closer look.
Scams known as “pig butchering” occur when victims are first “fattened up” through a fake romantic relationship and then “butchered” by fraudulent financial advice, according to Times Now.
The term is derived from the old Chinese proverb “zhu zai,” which translates as “to slaughter a pig.”
An organised crime
It operates by con artists pretending to be romantically interested on dating apps, then convincing their matches into investing in fake bitcoin schemes.
Strong Chinese syndicates operating in Southeast Asia, many of whose activities are located in Myanmar, just across the border, are the ones behind these cyberscam networks.
Such acams are sometimes lengthy and involve the con artist courting the victim for months.
In the beginning, they will let victims withdraw money from the investment app easily; but, the problem occurs when they have made huge investments and are unable to withdraw.
Dailymail reported Michael Holloway, a 62-year-old real estate agent from New Jersey, as sharing how he was conned out of half a million US dollars by scammers who managed to gain his trust.
He told the outlet that he hit “rock bottom” after the scam and was “ready to end his life.” He was rushed to a hospital by his daughter. The con artists reportedly spent months gaining his trust before bringing up an “investment opportunity.” Once he was convinced, he transferred his life savings into bogus cryptocurrency platforms.
Another 42-year-old woman, according to the report, missed warning signs when she was tricked out of more than $100,000 by scammers, who posed as a French entrepreneur.
Human trafficking victims pose as scammers
A significant number of con artists are also victims of human trafficking, having been tricked by false ads for rewarding jobs and imprisoned in complexes resembling prisons.
Dailymail quoted United Nations human-right office as saying that more than 120,000 people may be forced to work as scammers in Myanmar, with another 100,000 in Cambodia.
Notably, Myanmar’s border regions, which in the past have attracted drug trade, are now a hotbed of various types of cyber frauds.
Scammers have been operating out of Southeast Asia, in nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. The leaders of many such groups are Chinese criminal lords who have left Beijing to avoid being prosecuted. These bosses are provided additional protection for these crimes in some Southeast Asian countries.
The Wall Street Journal reported a Malaysian trafficking victim’s ordeal on how he was trained to spend weeks “fattening” his victims and winning their trust before “butchering” them.
He reportedly fell victim to an ad for a customer-service role in Cambodia, but had been forced to work as a scammer due to violent threats. According to the report, he was trained by a handler who gave him a cellphone with fake social media accounts, a “victim list” or potential targets, and scripts to be followed to build trust.
It is growing
Investment fraud is now the fastest growing scam in many countries, including the US.
According to the Times of India, data suggests such scams cheat Chinese citizens out of billions of dollars each year.
Earlier in the month of September, the US Treasury Department warned its citizens about these scams – which it believes to have robbed Americans of billions of dollars.
FBI said Americans lost a whopping $2.57 billion to cryptocurrency investment fraud last year alone, which is over three times the amount stolen in 2021.
China on alert
This has pressured Chinese authorities to unleash a heavy crackdown in the past recent months.
Beijing is going beyond its borders and conducting mass arrests. In August this year, the neighbouring country launched a “special joint operation” with Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and reportedly caught thousands of suspects.
Last month, Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced its “Summer Operation” brought back 2,317 scam suspects from northern Myanmar to China, according to The Associated Press.
At the end of October, the ministry said that as of the end of September, it had caught 387 “important leaders and backbone” criminals in cyber scam networks.
Overall, China has arrested over 5,000 Chinese nationals suspected of illegal activity.
“China is starting to signal that enough is enough,” Inshik Sim, a Bangkok-based lead analyst for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s regional operations told WSJ.
“From the vantage point of the Chinese government, it’s a source of extreme embarrassment that you have so many of these Chinese criminals operating all across Southeast Asia,” Jason Tower, an expert on transnational crime with the United States Institute of Peace told AP.
Despite such intense actions, he warned that these groups are not going to go away easily – and will look for fragile places in the world which they are able to exploit.
With inputs from agencies