The FBI says the US has a “pig slaughter” problem. And it’s costing victims millions of dollars.
“We’re not talking about what’s happening on the farm,” said Frank Fisher, a public affairs specialist with the office’s Albuquerque division. “We are talking about a cryptocurrency investment scam that is sweeping the country.”
The term pig slaughter refers to an unsuspecting victim, the “pig,” who is tricked by scammers into shelling out money in exchange for a promised high rate of return.
Scammers “fatten the pig by making the victim think they are investing in something and have them transfer money into cryptocurrency,” says Santa Clara County, California, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office manages a task force of various agencies. combat technology-related crime.
Once criminals “fatten” their victims’ digital wallets, they steal the money, Rosen says.
Pig-killing operations typically start with a scrappy approach, Rosen tells CNN: Scammers send millions of unsolicited 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 for as few weeks as possible, before suggesting the victim “invest” in cryptocurrency.
One technique is to reassure the victim that the scammer has made significant cryptocurrency gains, convincing them that they should not miss out on the benefits of cryptocurrency investments.
Those who fall for the scam are persuaded to send more and more money, even provided with fictitious financial statements that make it appear that their investments have made a substantial return.
“This is where ‘pig fattening’ comes into play,” says Rosen. Eventually, “you get a little suspicious. He tries to contact the person who contacted him online and asks for his money back. [But] that person has deceived you.”
Rosen says the holiday season is an especially lucrative time for scammers, as they often take advantage of people who are feeling lonely.
And while the initial approach isn’t complicated, Rosen says the actual scam operations his team has investigated, which typically operate abroad, including in Cambodia and China, involve highly sophisticated methods.
“They have been trained by psychologists to try to figure out the best way to manipulate people,” he says. “You’re dealing with people who are going to use different psychological techniques to make you vulnerable and make you interested in parting with your money.”
Experts say basic awareness and diligence are key to protecting yourself against online predators.
“Be very careful when you go on social media and dating apps and someone starts to develop a relationship with you and wants you to start investing,” says the FBI’s Fisher. “Don’t let yourself be killed.”
As shoppers spend billions online this holiday season, the FBI says it has also seen a rise in scams involving mega-retailer Amazon. “Online criminal scams are only limited by your imagination and have an impeccable sense of timing,” says Fisher.
In one type of scam, “someone calls you and pretends to be from Amazon or another wholesale distributor, and says there’s a problem with your credit card,” Fisher adds. 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 flagged on the user’s account, resulting in the suspension of purchasing privileges. The victim is asked to make a credit card payment at that time to restore the account.
“Sometimes they even threaten to report you to the authorities regarding your purchase,” says Fisher. “Another dead ringer. Don’t fall for this scam.”
Amazon’s security team advises consumers that the company will never ask a customer for personal information, and users should not respond to emails requesting account information or personally identifiable details.
The company said in a statement that it has worked to remove thousands of online phishing websites and phone numbers associated with phishing scams, and has referred suspected scammers to law enforcement around the world.
“Scammers trying to impersonate Amazon put consumers at risk,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president of Amazon Selling Partner Services. “Although these scams occur 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 are primarily aimed at defrauding seniors. “Scammers tend to target the elderly because they know they trust them and they know that older Americans generally have more money,” says Fisher.
In so-called sweepstakes scams, victims are contacted and congratulated on winning a sweepstakes prize, but told they must first send money to cover taxes and processing fees that can be exorbitant.
“Legitimate sweepstakes won’t do that,” says Fisher. “They won’t make you pay upfront to collect your money.”
There were roughly 60 victims of fake giveaways in New Mexico alone last year whose collective losses totaled $1 million, he says.
The FBI suggests that people check with older family and friends about their online habits and whether they may have been attacked by cybercriminals.
“If someone has approached you and wants to be friends with you and develop a relationship,” Fisher says, “ask questions.”