What Is A Pig-Butchering Scam In Crypto?

Written by

Joanna K


Published Mar 8, 2024 at 4:24 PM
Last updated Mar 20, 2024 at 10:44 AM

Pig-butchering scams have been making the news lately as new technology gets more advanced by the day, and crypto-swindlers find more sophisticated ways of harming innocent people.

The phrase 'pig-butchering' is alarming in itself and conjures up all kinds of unpleasant mental imagery.

So just what is a pig-butchering scam in crypto? Let's find out.

What is a pig-butchering scam?

A pig-butchering scam is when a scammer slowly but surely creeps into an unsuspecting person's life and gains their trust in order to take their money – basically fattening up a pig for slaughter.

In short – it's a frightening term for a distressing and traumatic experience for a victim in its wake. But what's even more sinister is that it also involves human-trafficking and human rights abuses on a mass scale.

A recent study titled 'How Do Crypto Flows Finance Slavery? The Economics of Pig Butchering', released on 29 February 2024, estimates that $75.3billion has been stolen by pig-butchered victims across the world, having exploded during the pandemic. Of this amount, it was found that $15.2bn came from common crypto exchanges used by US-based investors. 

In Southeast Asia, it's believed that many pig-butchering crypto scammers are themselves victims of intricate crime networks. Enticed by the opportunity of a high-paying job, their passports and possessions are taken from them before being forced to run pig-butchering scams – or face the threat of violence. 

According to the United Nations, there is an estimated 200,000 people or more being forced to work in scam compounds across countries like Myanmar and Cambodia.

The study also found that 84% of the stolen funds were converted into the Tether (USDTstablecoin using exchanges such as Binance, OKX and Huobi.

How does a pig-butchering scheme work?

A pig-butchering scheme begins with someone contacting you out of nowhere by text, social-media messaging, dating profiles, LinkedIn, or commonly used popular apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram or WeChat. 

Here's where it gets murkier. 

First contact

This person will then begin their game and say that they found your details in their contacts list, or will create a group chat with several others in it to give the impression that you're not the only one they are speaking to, (or to see who'll fall for it first). They will have a fake profile image (especially easy these days with AI) and will have a bank of images and details ready to convince you that they're not a fraud.

Slowly, the scam begins. In order to to build your trust, they will instigate personal conversations that are not related to cash or investing. They will share with you fictitious back stories filled with lies to show themselves as honest people who do good things for other people. They will fabricate everything – what they know, where they come from, what they stand for. They may fake sob stories and pretend to be a single parent, a widower, or have more grandiose stories about serving in the military or owning houses in several locations.

All the while – as they open up and you open up – they are taking note of all the information you share with them. They will appear genuine so you believe what they tell you. You feel comfortable telling them your story.

Frequently, scammers will try the romantic route to get to win you over. The more vulnerable or lonely you are, the more likely you'll want to talk to someone merely showing such an interest in you.

It may take weeks or months, but they have their end goal in sight and nothing is going to stop them.

If you've ever watched The Tinder Swindler on Netflix about one conman who manipulated several women to give him millions of dollars to 'escape' his enemies, you already know what some people are capable of.

By this stage, you're in deep. So next – the conversation turns to money.

Showing fake results

Now the fraudster will up the ante and begin the crypto talk. They will lure you into a bunch of nonsense about the profits they made trading crypto and how you can too if you follow their advice.

They will be equipped with images of faked accounts showing the wealth they accumulated by investing in a certain coin or token on a certain platform – which is possibly controlled by their scam mates, or not even real to begin with.

They will convince you that this is a golden opportunity with 'guaranteed' results and use confusing jargon to bamboozle you.

You might be very desperate for the extra cash or easily swayed by smooth talkers, so you want it to be true.

Now, you are believing everything they tell you and ready to do what they say.

Deposit request

Now that they have you in their hook, they move quick to get you to hand over whatever they can get out of you. 

A scammer may trick you into moving your cash into crypto by either transferring it to a digital wallet or trading platform under their control – with the false pretence that you can still withdraw any initial 'profits' to keep your trust ticking over.

Then if you try to withdraw cash, the account will imposes fees or taxes.

When you realise that the platform is not real, the transactions have already vanished on the blockchain.

By now, the devastation has taken hold and your new best friend or potential suitor has vanished and nowhere to be found.
Pig-butchering crypto scam. Source: Unsplash

Common warning signs of a pig-butchering scam

  • Contacting you out of the blue: Unexpected communications from social media, dating and messaging apps. 
  • Avoiding face-to-face interaction: Of course they aren't the person in the profile picture.
  • Suddenly talking about crypto: And offering you extravagant gifts.
  • Appealing to your emotions: Scammers are adept at reading vulnerable people and their potential weaknesses. 
  • Grandiose claims: They say they can offer you 'guaranteed' results and profits. 
  • Rushing you to share your cash, wallet or bank details: The most obvious sign.
  • Poorly designed apps or websites, URLs with misspellings: It's amazing how scammers are smart enough to make these, but can't spell correctly.

How to avoid a pig-butchering scheme

  • Trust your instincts: Learn to read the signs when someone is showing a lot of interest in you.
  • Don't share your personal sensitive information: Please be aware of what you tell people you haven't met before. 
  • Be wise and block suspicious people immediately: Just block them. 
  • There is no such thing are guaranteed returns: Remember: If it seems too good to be true – it generally is.

What to do if you got butchered

First of all, this is very distressing and you should report it straight away in case the authorities can offer any help.

But sadly, the chances of you getting any crypto back after a pig-butchering scam are very slim – it’s nearly impossible to track down or refund.

You should also be aware of 'crypto recovery services' that will only scam you a second time while you are already in a vulnerable and confused state.

It's vital that you stay aware of the fast-evolving crypto scams out there and the lengths that some people will go to.

Remember to always do your own research into anything that involves moving your money anywhere. 

  • In the US, you can file a report with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. 
  • In the UK, you can report crypto scams to the FCA at fca.org.uk/consumers/crypto-investment-scams or call 0800 111 6768.
  • Global Anti-Scam Organization is a Singapore-based nonprofit advocacy group with further resources on the pig butchering meaning, at globalantiscam.org

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get my money back from pig butchering?

You should report the crime straight away (see globalantiscam.org), but the chances of you getting any crypto back are very slim – it’s nearly impossible to track down or refund. What's more, be aware of 'crypto recovery services' that will only scam you a second time while you are already in a vulnerable and confused state.

What are the red flags of pig butchering?

  • Contacting you out of the blue: Unexpected messages from social media, LinkedIn, dating and messaging apps.
  • Avoiding face-to-face interaction: Of course they aren't the person in the profile picture.
  • Suddenly talking about crypto: Offering the promise of 'guaranteed returns'.
  • Appealing to your emotions: Scammers are adept at reading vulnerable people and their potential weaknesses.