Romance scams are unfortunately common. Swindlers gain people’s trust by pretending to date them online, and Americans have lost millions of dollars as a result. One woman in Philadelphia recently lost hundreds of thousands to a lesser-known hoax.
In addition to “classic” scenarios like military scams and oil rig scams, there’s another to look out for: “pig butchering,”(opens in a new tab) a cryptocurrency investment scam. Similarly to other romance scams, perpetrators of pig butchering play the long game with their victims, earning their trust over months. Eventually, scammers ask victims to start investing with fraudulent crypto platforms; the victims’ money actually goes to cryptocurrency accounts and addresses controlled by the scammers.
The name comes from a loose Chinese translation, where the scam is thought to have originated. Last month, the Department of Justice seized over $112 million(opens in a new tab) linked to pig butchering.
“The victims in Pig Butchering schemes are referred to as ‘pigs’ by the scammers because the scammers will use elaborate storylines to ‘fatten up’ victims into believing they are in a romantic or otherwise close personal relationship,” stated an affidavit in support of a seizure warrant concerning these schemes in Los Angeles, as shared by the Department of Justice. “Once the victim places enough trust in the scammer, the scammer brings the victim into a cryptocurrency investment scheme.”
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Shreya Datta, a victim of pig butchering(opens in a new tab), lost $450,000 due to the scheme, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer. She met a man who claimed to be a French wine trader on Hinge, and soon he encouraged her to invest in crypto. She downloaded a SoFi crypto trading app that appeared to be legitimate, then converted $1,000 to crypto on Coinbase before sending it to SoFi. Months later, the scammer loaned her $150,000 and kept encouraging her to invest more money. Soon, Datta invested $450,000.
Her investment seemed to have doubled, but when Datta tried to take the money out, the app asked her to pay a 10 percent personal income tax. Suspicious, she called her brother, a lawyer, and with the help of a private investigator, they learned that the French wine trader wasn’t who he said he was. They also learned that the SoFi trading app was illegitimate. Coinbase froze her account, saying Datta may have sent money to a fraudulent platform.
From there, Datta spotted the red flags, like how he never wanted to meet and made unusual references to China. Since learning that she was scammed, Datta started therapy and joined a support group for romance scam victims. The Inquirer reported that she has a high-paying job and her family was able to pay her debt. Still, she’s had to deal with the shame of being a victim.
Avoid romance scams like pig butchering by spotting red flags early: If they will never meet in person or over video; if they’re quick to ask for personal or banking information; and if they ask for money. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in-person.
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