Sometimes we might say things that go without saying: Social media and texting have made it easier than ever to keep in touch with friends. These days, you're never too far from the people close to you – and pretty much everyone else on the planet. Plus, you no longer have to guess what time is best for a call, as texting can be more convenient and less annoying.
But this ability to connect from everywhere is a two-way street. "You have the world in your hands, but so does everyone else, as fraudsters of all kinds lurk" say experts from digital security company ESET. "These days, they can just as easily knock on your virtual door, using increasingly insidious techniques to extort your money."
The tricks of fraud pig butchering
Surely you have heard of them unwanted calls on the landline or mobile phone, where strangers call you and try to convince you to buy something or invest. The same method naturally extends to emails and text messages. This type of approach can be used to achieve both legitimate and malicious goals.
"Certain forms of online fraud are more profitable when they use less intrusive but more sophisticated techniques," experts from the ESET. In many cases, these scams can start with something as benign as a message that was allegedly sent to you by mistake. But the message, sent "accidentally", may hide a harsh reality.
Lately, they have frauds increase in which scammers message people and build relationships with them, only to trick them later. This scam is called pig butchering (pig slaughter or pig fattening) and is very aptly named as it comes from farmers fattening a pig before slaughter with the aim of getting a lot of meat. In the digital sense, this… “meat” is, you guessed it, money.
Example of a tactical approach used by fraudsters for tip scams pig butchering
The fraud pig butchering relies on a combination of apps, websites, online services and people – in many cases, victims of human trafficking – for building trust with a random person over a period of weeks or months, often with pretense of romantic interest. As such, this method is not a completely new type of scam, but uses methods of tried and tested scam types such as the romance scam before giving it an investment feel and dropping its bait. of earning money through investing in cryptocurrencies.
Indeed, the online conversation will eventually turn to investment opportunities, usually involving cryptocurrencies, from which the scammer claims to have earned huge returns. The victim is then invited to participate – and often does, perhaps driven by fear of missing out on the next big opportunity. Indeed, who hasn't heard of someone who made a fortune after investing in cryptocurrencies?
Killing the prey
Once the victim deposits money the scammers will first allow them to make withdrawals - then lock the account and claim they need a deposit of some percentage of the balance to allow access. Even when the deposit is made the money is not returned and the scammers come up with new excuses to ask for more money.
It might sound far-fetched: How could anyone start such a close relationship with a random person who texted them out of nowhere? However, given that many have fallen victim to dating site scams , it seems that finally people are stepping on it with such methods.
Romance scams generally cost victims approx 1,3 billion dollars 2022, according to data available to the US Federal Trade Commission, nearly 70.000 people have reported such a crime, with an average reported loss of $4.400. One victim lost up to 2,5 million US dollars when he fell victim to a cryptocurrency investment scam.
International fraud on an industrial scale
If a person can be duped and lose a few thousand dollars in these kinds of scams, the returns from such a multi-victim activity must be huge, as only in 2021 $429 million was lost from these scams. We are talking about scams on an industrial scale, employing thousands of people for little or no money. The situation has become so bad that both the EU and the US have begun to focus more on this area, investigating and prosecuting people suspected of the spread of fraud.
The worst thing is that the online translation services, which have reached a high level of quality, can easily help create online scams in many languages. This, combined with the arrival of young people chatbots with machine learning, such as Chat GPT, helps fraudsters to create even more persuasive messages and at a higher rate than ever before, opening the door to international campaigns.
How to stay safe from them pig Butchers
A few more tips from her experts ESET to avoid falling victim to the pig butchering scam:
- Be wary of unsolicited messages, but also of messages you apparently receive "accidentally."
- Even if you do respond to such messages, don't trust someone you just met online just because they seem likeable.
- Don't discuss your financial situation with strangers online and be extra careful when taking investment advice from strangers.
Also, in accordance with FBI, the following should be considered red flags:
- A contact after a long time or a stranger on social media contacts you.
- The address URL of the investment platform does not match the address of the official website of a popular cryptocurrency market/exchange, but it looks very similar (typosquatting).
- You receive warnings from Windows that the investment app you downloaded is “untrusted” or your anti-malware software has flagged it as potentially dangerous.
- The investment opportunity sounds too good to be true.