Receiving a text message from an unknown number is not unusual. The average response like “Sorry, wrong number” usually does the trick to notify the sender that they’ve contacted the wrong person, allowing both parties to continue about their day. But these days, responding to an unsolicited text message may be placing one at risk of getting caught in a pig butchering scam.
This scam starts with a seemingly innocuous, random text message that–one surprising text after another pleasing one–turns into a relationship. Over time, the scammer wins the target’s trust and manipulates him or her into making an investment in cryptocurrency or some other opportunity, immediately disappearing with the funds when they are sent.
How Does It Work?
The term pig butchering alludes to the way in which hogs are “fattened” up before they are butchered: In this case, the victim is the pig, who is primed to sink as much of their funds as possible into phony cryptocurrency platforms until they get “slaughtered” by the scammer, who steals their money and runs.
It all starts with a message on SMS texting (or on platforms like WhatsApp or WeChat), usually something simple like, “Sorry, I’m running late.” or, “Are we still meeting at the restaurant?” This message from “a friendly stranger” seems like an innocent mistake, a text message sent to the wrong contact. If the target responds by pointing out that the sender has the wrong number, the scammer will apologize for their mistake, and then seize the opportunity to strike up a conversation. They may ask questions like where their target is from or pretend that they are a former colleague, convincing the target that they are serendipitously hitting it off with a new virtual friend or even a romantic interest.
Over the course of several weeks or even months, the scammer moves the conversation from chit-chat to more personal, intimate exchanges. As the relationship develops, they will refrain from discussing investment-related topics, but begin to drop hints that they are financially successful, while also extracting personal information from their target that they may use against them in the future. For example, the scammer may learn from their target that they have an ill family member and that they are struggling financially with high medical bills. Eventually, the scammer will guide the conversation to center around finances and cryptocurrency, hinting that they have insider information that has earned them millions by investing in cryptocurrency, and that they can help their target do the same. If the target is hooked, the scammer will then pull the trigger and ask them to buy crypto.
To the Butcher:
From this point on, the scammer acts as a crypto-sherpa to their target. They will walk them through which crypto app to acquire, usually a fake platform the scammer has created or purchased from a criminal service. On these fake dashboards, the scammer can curate “real-time” market data meant to show the potential of an investment. At first, the scammer will encourage the victim to invest modest amounts, manipulating large financial returns to bolster the victim’s confidence. To ease any suspicions the victim may have, the scammer may also allow them to withdraw a small amount of money from the platform, or even join a video call with their new “friend.” Both of these situations are hallmark tactics in pig butchering scams.
After pointing out impressive gains and ensuring the legitimacy of the app, the scammer will encourage the victim to deposit increasingly larger investments. Once they do, the scammer will go in for the kill, manipulating the fraudulent crypto dashboard so that the price of the “promising” stock dramatically plummets, or the new crypto platform that the victim transferred their assets into becomes suddenly inaccessible, leaving the victim with nothing.
In some cases, this marks the point where the scammer will cut communication with the victim. In other cases, the scammer attempts to further exploit the victim, convincing them that they must pay various fees or taxes to get their money back. In many cases, the victim feels so entrenched that they continue send money until they are ghosted by the scammer.
Whether we call them “confidence scams” or “romance scams” the use of crypto as a lure is the latest twist offering as it does an extremely fast and easy way to move money across international borders.
Never trust or engage with an unexpected or direct message from a stranger, whether it be via text message or on any social media app – it might be the first step in an elaborate deception.