The Pig Butchering Scam: 10 Warning Signs & How To Avoid It

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Jory MacKay

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    What Is a “Pig Butchering” Scam? Are You a Victim?

    When 25-year-old Divya Gadasalli joined Tinder, she was looking for love. And the sparks flew when she connected with “Jerry” — a charismatic young man with an interest in cryptocurrency trading.  

    The two quickly built a relationship online, with Jerry convincing Divya to send parts of her recent inheritance to his trading partners. She started with $10,000. Then $86,000. Then multiple six-figure transfers — all of them going to Jerry’s “special” investment platform. 

    But it was all part of one of the fastest-growing types of scams in the world: the pig butchering scam

    By the time Divya realized she was a victim, she’d lost $8 million from her inheritance [*]. 

    In 2021, the total combined losses to “pig butchering” were believed to be in the tens of billions [*]. Yet, people still fall for this scam on a regular basis.

    Before you invest in any new cryptocurrency platforms or take trading advice from an online friend or love interest, get familiar with the red flags of pig butchering scams so that you know how to avoid becoming a victim.

    How Does The Pig Butchering Scam Work? 

    The pig butchering scam is a type of fraud in which criminals lure victims into digital relationships to build trust before convincing them to invest in cryptocurrency platforms. Unbeknownst to victims, the fraudsters control the platforms and will eventually take all the money and vanish. 

    Drawing its name from the Chinese phrase, Shāzhūpán, pig butchering scams are long-term con jobs that combine elements of romance scams, investment schemes, and cryptocurrency fraud. 

    Here’s how a pig butchering scam plays out:
    • The scammer — or “host” — initiates contact with a target online via social media, a dating app, or by sending a “wrong number” text message.
    • Once hosts find a suitable target — the proverbial “pig” — they stay in constant contact to build a relationship.
    • After earning the victim’s trust, the host encourages the victim to start cryptocurrency trading. The host will claim to have insider tips or family connections in the investment industry, and explain that massive returns are common.
    • The host then encourages the victim to download an app — and offers to trade together, showing how easy it is to yield returns. However, it’s a fraudulent platform controlled by a gang of scammers. 
    • Once victims join the platform, the host simulates trades to make it look like they’re earning profits. The host may even encourage victims to withdraw some of their “gains” to build their confidence.
    • Convinced that everything is bonafide, victims invest larger and larger sums of money. Over time, the host continues to manipulate victims (and the platform) to keep them investing. This step is known as “fattening the pig” before a proverbial slaughter.
    • Later, when victims try to withdraw their money, the platform will claim there’s an issue with the account — or will inform them that they need to pay massive fees and taxes to get their cash. 
    • Eventually, the victim realizes the truth — and the fraudster (and platform) disappear. As all transactions happen on the blockchain, recovering the funds is almost impossible. 

    According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), these long-term schemes originated in China in 2019. Since then, Southeast Asia has become a hotspot — as gangs in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar run a corporate-like structure, using human trafficking victims to run the scams [*]. 

    So, how can you avoid becoming a victim of this advanced scam?

    The 10 Warning Signs of Pig Butchering Scams

    1. You receive “wrong number” texts or WhatsApp messages
    2. Someone you meet online suddenly starts talking about crypto
    3. A match on a dating site quickly starts “love bombing” you
    4. Scammers use emotional manipulation to build your trust
    5. A friend wants you to invest in a crypto exchange with “guaranteed” returns
    6. You’re told to download a “special” crypto trading or investment app
    7. Investment sites offer tiers with minimum investment amounts
    8. The scammer starts trading with you to show you how it works
    9. You get a quick, small return on your initial investment
    10. You’re told you need to pay a hefty tax bill or “fees” in order to withdraw your returns

    Pig butchering scams use social engineering to build your trust over weeks and months. If you see any of these warning signs, break off all contact with the scammer.

    1. You receive “wrong number” texts or WhatsApp messages

    Many pig butchering scams start “by accident” to prompt you to lower your guard. Scammers send messages via Whatsapp, texts, social media, or dating apps like Tinder pretending that they’re trying to reach someone else. 

    An example of a "random" text that lures you into the pig butchering scam
    An example of a "random" text that lures you into the pig butchering scam

    But this contact is no mistake — you’re in the crosshairs of a con artist. The message is bait, as the scammer attempts to lure you into a conversation.

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • You receive a realistic text message that seems intended for somebody else. The message may be flirtatious or mature in nature and the sender often has an attractive profile photo. 
    • After you tell the sender they have the wrong number, the person continues the conversation.
    • Despite persistent contact and personal conversations, the mysterious person will only communicate via messages — never phone or video calls.

    What to do instead:

    Don’t respond to unsolicited text messages. Regardless of what the person is saying, you shouldn’t engage in conversation. Instead, delete the messages and block the number.

    2. Someone you meet online suddenly starts talking about crypto

    PJ Jenkins doesn’t fit the profile of the average fraud victim. The 57-year-old retired cop knew all about scams when he matched with a woman named “Alice” on the dating app, Hinge. 

    But soon after, Alice fleeced the Atlantic City man for $15,000 [*]. It’s the imperceptible way that pig butchering works — even an experienced police officer can fall prey to this insidious long game.   

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • A new acquaintance you’ve met online claims to have insider knowledge about profitable cryptocurrency investment opportunities.
    • The person directs you to specific apps or platforms and instructs you to buy and transfer cryptocurrency.
    • The person claims they need your assistance to secure a "mining certificate," or they talk about a niche crypto field known as "liquidity mining."

    What to do instead:

    Beware of any new person in your life who encourages you to invest in cryptocurrency. Never share any financial information, like your credit card numbers or bank account details. If the person persists, end all contact and block their number.

    💡 Related: The Latest Investment Scams to Watch Out For →

    3. A match on a dating site quickly starts “love bombing” 

    Simon Leviev convinced several women that he was the son of a famed Russian-Israeli diamond oligarch known as the “King of Diamonds.” Under this guise, Leviev lavished women with gifts, jewelry, and foreign getaways — winning their trust and affection [*].  

    But as revealed in the Netflix adaptation of this tale, The Tinder Swindler, it was all a scam. In the dating world, this romance scam helps con artists take control of their victims. It’s also an effective tactic commonly used in pig butchering scams.

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • A new online relationship moves quickly, and you are lured by expensive gifts or plans for trips together.
    • The new beau becomes very personal and forward early on, sharing intimate details about their lives and expressing their love for you.
    • The person is constantly available to chat via messages, morning or night.

    What to do instead:

    When it comes to online dating, you should always take things slowly until you truly know the person — which usually involves a few in-person meetings before taking things further. If you have suspicions, it’s best to end contact and block the person on all platforms. 

    4. Scammers use emotional manipulation to build your trust

    When a 52-year-old man named Cy met a woman called Jessica online, he was already at a low point. Over a few months, the Bay Area man built a relationship with Jessica, sharing news about his dying father and how he felt alone and under pressure to support his family.

    Jessica weaponized his feelings, convincing him to invest in cryptocurrency to help his family. As she ensnared Cy, he sank over $1 million into her fabricated investment platform — much of it that Cy had borrowed from friends and family [*]. 

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • The person texting you talks a lot about big ambitions and goals, and encourages you to do more with your life.
    • The person casually mentions how much money they spend on large purchases, like cars and holidays. Often, scammers make these remarks in an attempt to shame you or entice you to do what they want.
    • They constantly remind you of your struggles — and position cryptocurrency investments as the solution to your problems. 

    What to do instead:

    If you share personal information about your life or financial situation, and the person texting starts encouraging you to invest in cryptocurrency, that's a major red flag. End contact with these people immediately, especially if they use emotionally manipulative tactics. 

    💡 Related: How To Tell if Someone Is Scamming You Online →

    5. A friend wants you to invest in a crypto exchange with “guaranteed” returns

    There is no such thing as “guaranteed returns” with any form of investing, especially cryptocurrency. 

    Many people fall for this trap because a pig butchering scam is a long game; fraudsters build trust with their victims first, and use convincing fake websites and apps.

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • Within a few weeks of initiating contact over a dating app or on WhatsApp, the person starts talking about a cryptocurrency investing or trading platform that delivers high profits. 
    • Despite your disinterest, they continually bring up investing and encourage you to get involved. They promise you high returns on your investment or tell you about big wins they have enjoyed recently. 
    • They direct you to an app or site that promotes guaranteed returns — such as 20% or 40% on your investment. 

    What to do instead:

    If an investing tip or opportunity came to you via social media or a dating app, you should stay away. Keep your personally identifiable information (PII) safe to avoid identity theft, and don’t get involved with any site or app that the person promotes. 

    Also remember that friends or family members (not just online strangers) who encourage you to invest money in cryptocurrency and “get rich” opportunities may be unwitting victims of a pig butchering scam.

    💡Related: Watch Out For The 10 Latest WhatsApp Scams →

    Take action: If you accidentally give scammers your personal data, they could take out loans in your name or empty your bank account. Try an identity theft protection service to monitor your finances and alert you to fraud.

    6. You’re told to download a “special” crypto trading or investment app

    Pig butchering scams use fake crypto trading apps or exchanges to make it look like you’re getting a massive return on your investment (so that you’ll keep putting in more money). 

    In some cases, scammers use plug-ins for legitimate trading apps (such as Virtual Dealer for MetaTrader) to manipulate market prices and simulate account balances, profits, or losses. 

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • Someone you meet via text, WhatsApp, or an online platform tells you to download a trading or investment app.
    • They may try to convince you to download the app by claiming they’ve made a lot of money or that they have a relative with “special” knowledge who uses it.
    • They offer to run simulations on the app to show you how it works.

    What to do instead:

    Remember that even if it seems real, any website or app can be manipulated. Never join an investment platform suggested by someone whom you’ve only met online. 

    Pro tip: Research all apps and investment accounts before disbursing any money. You can check Reddit, the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker, and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

    7. Investment sites offer tiers with minimum investment amounts

    Courtney Nolan lost over $5 million on a platform called XTB market. Her “new friend” from Twitter introduced her to the site, which had several different investment packages. The divorced mother of three recalls how the Platinum plans promised a 45% percent investment return, and required a minimum investment of $265,000 [*]. 

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • A cryptocurrency investment or trading site is promoting unbelievably high profits.
    • The site includes tiered plans with minimum investment amounts.
    • As you invest more, the platform requests that you pay taxes or fees if you want to withdraw your investment.

    What to do instead:

    If a platform promises high returns that sound too good to be true, stay away from it and end all contact with the associated people. You can protect others by reporting the website to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

    8. The scammer starts trading with you to show you how it works

    In August 2021, a Redditor posted a lengthy account about her experience with a pig butchering scam. After meeting a man on Instagram, she sent him $5,000 on Coinbase. He offered to show her how he invested money, and promised to send her money back with the returns. 

    Sure enough, the scammer stayed true to his word at first. But, a few months later, the victim lost her entire life savings of more than $100,000 [*]. 

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • A new online friend asks you to send money to show you how an investment platform works.
    • They promise that they will send your money back with high returns.
    • They offer to trade together — so that you can earn more profits and keep your money safe instead of taking risks trading by yourself.

    What to do instead:

    If you aren’t confident enough to use a cryptocurrency platform yourself without the help of an online stranger, you shouldn’t take the risk.

    9. You get a quick, small return on your initial investment

    Sajid Ikram thought his ship had come in when he was able to withdraw $33,000 from his new cryptocurrency account. But the Canadian man fell for the bait and soon invested more into the platform. Before he realized it was a pig butchering scam, he had lost almost $400,000, including money borrowed from his friends [*]. 

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • The platform permits small withdrawals at first, potentially in the tens of thousands.
    • As you invest more, your online associate may hand over communications to the platform’s “customer support.”
    • When you try to withdraw a higher amount of money, the customer support service comes up with various excuses to stop you.

    What to do instead:

    If you suspect you might be caught up in the early phases of a pig butchering scam, but are able to withdraw money, make your withdrawal immediately and stop right there. Quit while you're ahead, and don't invest another dollar. End all contact with the people, and block their numbers

    💡 Related: How To Tell if a Crypto Recovery Service Is a Scam →

    10. You’re told you need to pay a hefty tax bill or “fees” in order to withdraw returns

    Pig butchering scammers will try to get as much money out of you as possible before you discover their scheme. One way they can get more is by claiming you need to pay bogus fees and taxes to withdraw your earnings. 

    In one example, a woman named Cindy Tsai invested more than $2.5 million in a fraudulent Ethereum exchange. She only realized it was a scam when the site demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and fees [*].

    Warning signs to look out for:

    • You may receive notifications that your account is frozen and you will lose money if you don’t pay fees.
    • The platform's customer support agents explain that there are processing fees, lending fees, or compliance fees. They claim that you may face an exorbitant IRS tax, which cannot be deducted from the profits. 
    • Even if you explain that you are from outside the United States, or claim to have paid all fees, the platform will concoct other excuses to deny you access to your investment, such as server downtime and technical issues. 

    What to do instead:

    All excuses, fees, and stalling are part of the ruse to get you to continue investing. Stop putting money in as soon as you encounter any fee or tax. It’s a scam, and the only thing you can do is cut your losses.

    Do You Think a Scammer’s “Fattening” You Up? Do This! 

    • Break off all contact with the scammer. Effective immediately, stop all communications across text, social media, apps, and email. Don't send any explanation or say goodbye, as you don't want to arouse their suspicions. 
    • Block and report their account. It’s common for gangs to use multiple digital “friends” of the host to add credibility to the long-term scheme. Make sure to report every profile that might be part of the scam.
    • Change all your passwords and login credentials. If you share any account numbers or access codes for your cryptocurrency accounts or online platforms, you'll need to create new, complex passwords that aren’t easy to hack.
    • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). It helps to include specific details and any supporting documents — like screenshots of email, text, and WhatsApp conversations. 
    • File a police report. You can inform your local law enforcement office with full details of the fraud, and ask them to contact the crypto exchange.
    • Monitor your online and financial accounts for signs of fraud. Keep a close eye on all your credit reports, bank accounts, and credit card statements to spot any unfamiliar transactions.
    Take action: Pig butchering scammers may try to gain access to your financial accounts. Aura monitors your credit, bank, and investment accounts 24/7 and can alert you of any suspicious activity. Try Aura's identity theft protection service free for 14 days.

    How To Protect Yourself From Pig Butchering Scams

    In September 2022, the state of Delaware responded to the growing prevalence of pig butchering scams. The state’s Department of Justice (DOJ) froze the accounts of three entities and individuals connected to these cryptocurrency scams [*].

    While this action is a promising sign, the threat of pig butchering scams is very much alive. 

    Here are six things you can do to stay safe:

    • Never share your personal information with people you’ve only met online — especially not your Social Security number (SSN) or bank credentials.
    • Never send money or cryptocurrency to anyone you haven’t met in real life or don’t personally know and trust.
    • Never join any investment site, or download an app, at the behest of someone you have only met online. Even if it looks and seems real, it could be a fraudulent app that scammers are controlling to give the impression that you’re earning profits.
    • Remember that there is no such thing as "guaranteed returns." Never believe any person or investment site that promises returns — or requests minimum investment amounts.
    • Don’t invest in cryptocurrency if you don’t fully understand how it works. If you need someone’s constant guidance to use the platforms, you should steer clear.
    • Search online for third-party reviews and known scams related to any exchange, app, or investment platform before you get involved. You can check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) scam tracker (or public forums like Reddit) for stories of scams connected to specific platforms. 

    Can You Get Your Money or Crypto Back After Pig Butchering Scams?

    Unfortunately, the chances of getting your money back from a pig butchering scam are slim to none. Scammers use cryptocurrency because after you’ve sent it,  it’s almost impossible to track or refund.

    Even worse, many people get retargeted by "crypto recovery services" that claim to help victims recover their losses. But often, these companies are fraudsters who run refund scams to hit victims a second time when they’re vulnerable. 

    While there are some examples of victims recovering their losses, these pale in comparison to the billions lost. For example, earlier this year, Binance recouped approximately $318,000 worth of cryptocurrency. This seizure is the first time authorities have managed to recover any losses from crypto-romance scams [*]. 

    The best thing you can do is be proactive about your digital security, monitor your credit, and stay up to date on the latest scams. 

    The Bottom Line: Don’t End Up on the Butcher’s Block

    Pig butchering scams are a threat to anyone. Victims aren't just vulnerable or elderly — many young, tech-savvy professionals fall prey to this insidious scheme, including lawyers, doctors, and police officers [*]. 

    You can keep your finances and family safe from scammers by using Aura’s identity theft protection services.

    With Aura, you get:

    • Virtual Private Network (VPN). Browse, bank, shop, and work online with military-grade encryption so that malicious websites or threat actors can't steal your data.
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    • Password manager. Securely create and store unique passwords for all your accounts so that you don’t have to worry about remembering them. 
    • Rapid credit monitoring and fraud alerts. Monitor your financial accounts for suspicious activity 24/7. Also, get alerts 4x faster than any competing digital security provider.
    • Dark Web scanning. Check your personal data exposure to ensure that your Social Security number (SSN) or credit card details are not at risk.
    • $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy. If the worst should happen, Aura covers eligible losses that result from identity theft.
    Don’t lose your savings to scammers. Try Aura FREE for 14 days.

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers