Beware of the “pig slaughter” crypto scam spreading across America
The FBI says America has a “pig-slaughtering” problem. And it costs the victims millions of dollars.
“We don’t talk about what’s happening on the farms,” said Frank Fisher, public affairs specialist for the bureau’s Albuquerque division. “We’re talking about a cryptocurrency investment scam it sweeps the country.”
The term pig slaughter refers to an unsuspecting victim—the “pig”—who is tricked by scammers into parting with money for promised high returns.
Scammers “fatten the pig by tricking the victim into thinking they’re investing in something and getting them to transfer money to cryptocurrency,” said Santa Clara, Calif., District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office runs a multi-agency technology crime task force .
Once criminals “fat” their victims’ digital wallets, they steal the money, Rosen says.
Pig slaughter operations usually start with a basic approach, Rosen told CNN: Scammers send millions of unwanted messages every day to unsuspecting victims via text and social media, often with an innocuous note like “Hi, how are you?”
The scammer, operating under a false identity, builds a relationship with the victim, sometimes in just a few weeks, before offering the victim to “invest” in cryptocurrency.
One technique involves assuring the victim that the scammer has made significant profits in cryptocurrency, convincing the victim that they should not miss out on the benefits of cryptocurrency investments.
Those who fall for the scam are forced to send more and more money and are even provided with fictitious financial statements that make it appear that their investments have made significant returns.
“That’s where ‘fattening the pig’ comes in,” says Rosen. Eventually, “you get a little suspicious. You try to contact the person who contacted you online and ask for your money back. [But] this man is a ghost to you.’
Rosen says the holiday season is a particularly lucrative time for scammers because they often target people who may be feeling lonely.
And while the initial approach is simple, Rosen says the actual fraud operations his team has investigated — which typically operate overseas, including in Cambodia and China — involve highly sophisticated methods.
“They are trained by psychologists to try to find the best way to manipulate people,” he says. “You’re dealing with people who will use various psychological techniques to make you vulnerable and get you interested in parting with your money.”
Experts say basic awareness and diligence are key to protecting yourself from online predators.
“Be very careful when you go on social media and dating apps and someone starts developing a relationship with you and wants you to start investing,” says the FBI’s Fisher. “Don’t be slaughtered.”
As shoppers spend billions online this holiday season, the FBI says it has also seen an increase in fraud involving mega-retailer Amazon. “Online criminals’ scams are only limited by their imaginations and they have an impeccable sense of timing,” says Fisher.
In one type of scam, “someone calls you and pretends to be a representative of Amazon or another wholesale distributor and says there’s a problem with your credit card,” adds Fisher. The scammer then asks for a new credit card number.
Another variation of the Amazon scam involves a criminal calling a potential victim and stating that a suspicious purchase has been noted on the user’s account, resulting in suspension of purchase privileges. The victim is asked to make a credit card payment immediately afterwards to restore the account.
“Sometimes they’ll even threaten to report you to law enforcement about your purchase,” says Fisher. “Another dead ringer. Don’t fall for this scam.”
Amazon’s security team advises users that the company will never ask a customer for personal information and users should not respond to emails requesting account details or personal information.
The company said in a statement that it has worked to take down thousands of online phishing websites and phone numbers associated with impersonation scams and referred suspected fraudsters to law enforcement agencies around the world.
“Fraudsters trying to impersonate Amazon are putting consumers at risk,” said Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s vice president of affiliate sales. “Although these scams are happening outside of our store, we will continue to invest in protecting consumers and educating the public on how to avoid scams.”
The FBI says other types of scams that are on the rise this holiday season largely target senior citizens. “Scammers tend to target the elderly because they know they trust them, and they know older Americans tend to have more money,” says Fisher.
In so-called lottery scams, victims are contacted and congratulated on winning a lottery prize, but are told they must first send money to cover taxes and processing fees, which can be exorbitant.
Legal “lotteries won’t do that,” says Fisher. “They’re not going to make you pay up front to get your money.”
In New Mexico alone, there were about 60 victims of bogus lottery tickets last year, with total losses of $1 million, he says.
The FBI suggests people check with elderly relatives and friends about their online habits and whether they may have been targeted by cybercriminals.
“If someone has approached them and wants to be their friend and develop a relationship,” Fisher says, “ask questions.”
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