The Tinder Swindler is taking a back seat as ‘pig butchering’ crypto-bros drive the latest online dating scams.
No pigs are harmed in the making of this scam, but people looking for love most certainly are. Especially a 37-year-old tech executive from Philadelphia who claims she fell for the online romance scam.
Often called ‘Sha Zhu Pan,’ a Chinese phrase that loosely translates to ‘pig butchering,’ the cryptocurrency investment scam involves a dateable fraudster playing the long game with their victims, earning their trust over months, and making them believe that they are there for love.
Then they slowly introduce the idea of investing money with the promises that they’ll make bank, except the money is being sent to fraudulent crypto platforms controlled by the scammers.
In the beginning, the victim may be allowed to withdraw some funds from the fake app, but after a number of investments, they are unable to take out more. In a last-ditch effort to get more money before the scam is discovered, the app will ask for a payment called a “tax.”
Shreya Datta says this scheme drained her bank account of more than $450 000 – around R8 million (!!!). The New York Post reported that she was forced to rent a cheaper apartment, sell her car and reflect on the red flags in her so-called “relationship,” which began on the dating app Hinge.
“It’s like my psychology was hacked,” Datta told the Philadelphia Inquirer of the experience.
Datta says she met “Ancel Mali” who claimed to have moved to the West Philadelphia area from France, where he had worked as a wine trader. Once they moved their convo to WhatsApp, Mali claimed to delete his Hinge profile, saying he “wanted to focus on her,” which flattered the new divorcee and made her mushy for the money-taking.
He told Datta one of his hobbies was trading cryptocurrency – because he dreamed of “achieving wealth freedom” – eventually persuading her to download a crypto trading app that appeared to be from SoFi:
Mali walked her through the process, allegedly converting $1,000 from her savings account into crypto using a real platform called Coinbase, then sending it to the fake trading app.
The app appeared legitimate — it asked her for two-factor authentication, and even had customer service. At first, her $1,000 turned into $1,250, and she was able to withdraw the entire balance from the app, something scammers often allow in the beginning.
This whole time, Mali was sweeping her off her feet, constantly checking in and sending cute messages, only to instruct her to sell stocks and take out personal loans later on. Datta said she liquidated her 401(k), raising questions from people at work:
By the end of March, her $450,000 investment in the fake app had more than doubled, she said, but she couldn’t withdraw it. Instead, she was hit with a demand for a 10% personal tax to access her own money.
That’s when she started freaking out and contacted her lawyer brother in London, hired a private investigator and allegedly found the photos Mali had sent her were not of him, but of a German personal trainer.
“Sometimes I’m like, ‘It’s just money,’” Datta told the Inquirer. “Some days I’m like, ‘I should just cry.’”
Shame, Datta is not the only loved-up victim out there. The US Department of Justice’s report from last month shows how investment fraud caused the highest losses of any 2022 scam reported by the public to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center, totalling a whopping $3,31 billion.
In fact, the pig-butchering scams – run by criminal groups that operate out of centres in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia – boast thousands of workers who are themselves “enslaved and abused,” according to the Inquirer, and given “sophisticated scripts” to target victims. One NGO worker told VICE the system was turning into a “humanitarian crisis.”
Yikes. Run from all the red flags, folks, run.