Pig Slaughter: A Day in the Life of a Cyber ​​Fraud Fighter

Pig Slaughter: A Day in the Life of a Cyber ​​Fraud Fighter

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Fighting online fraud and helping to make the internet a safer place is a passion of mine. I’ve helped build solutions at Square and Facebook to protect users from malicious activity, and I research and advise clients on emerging threats. In late 2021, I turned my focus to understanding a new technique used by scammers, one that combines the emotional manipulation of romance scams with the lure of crypto investment. It is often referred to as “pig slaughter.”

I thought I had seen it all…

During a routine client meeting, one of Sift’s dating app clients flagged a specific type of suspicious behavior—pig slaughter—they noticed on their platform. As an occasional dating app user myself, I immediately noticed that these types of accounts were prevalent across other dating apps and took this as an opportunity to investigate. I rolled up my sleeves and signed up for every major dating app under a pseudonym to understand the anatomy of the scam.

To my surprise, I uncovered an elaborate and increasingly common type of romance scam targeting dating app users. In this scam, the targets are referred to as “pigs” being prepared for slaughter – they are raised for a juicy profit under the promise of a happy ending and big crypto wins. But in the end, the fraudster runs off with the victim’s money.

I found that all the fraudulent accounts are similar to the fact that they are profiles pretending to be successful business people. They often talk about financial freedom and wanting to retire early to travel the world with their families. The scammers show off a luxurious lifestyle and model-like photos and include irrelevant answers to the app’s questions. They send messages to unsuspecting users and then try to push the conversation out of the app and onto an encrypted messaging platform, like WhatsApp, as quickly as possible. This allows them to maintain their anonymity and avoid detection by a particular platform.

When the conversation is in a secure, unmonitored channel, the scammer lures the victim into making investments in a fake crypto platform, controlled by the scammer, and ultimately lets the scammer make off with all the money “invested”.

Online fraud: Go undercover with a pig butcher

After learning about the sophistication and cruelty of the scam, and how it could potentially affect the nearly 50 million Americans who use dating apps, I wanted to know more so I could better understand how to protect businesses and consumers. And, I thought, what better way to get an inside look than to go undercover like a guinea pig?

When I linked to a scammer’s profile, they immediately began to “love bomb” me with repeated flattering and romantic messages. I knew this was a way to gain my trust quickly, so I continued to play along.

After they felt they had built enough trust with me, the scammer suggested we continue our conversation on WhatsApp. I followed suit and after less than two days they started talking about money. At first, the scammer began touting his crypto winnings and boasted about how much he had invested. He followed that up by promising to teach me about crypto investing so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to make extra money. I didn’t want to blow my cover so I acted hesitant at first and then they started using psychological tactics to manipulate me into investing in haste.

It was at this point in our conversation that I “volunteered” and he taught me how to create an account on a legitimate crypto exchange. Once I was set up, the scammer claimed to know of a better exchange for trading and sent me a link to a new platform. This new platform had zero presence on search engines and app stores, and domain registrant information was made private. This fake trading site mimics a real crypto trading exchange, displaying accurate real-time cryptocurrency values ​​to appear credible.

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This image shows what the fake cryptocurrency exchange looked like.

I put 100 USD worth of Tether (USDT) into the fake exchange and almost immediately I started seeing the earnings coming in. I suspected that this was because the scammer controlled the returns shown on the exchange and further tried to earn my trust by showing gains. I played along to show my trust in the platform and was pressured to invest larger amounts. Throughout this period, the scammer kept luring me with phrases like “don’t miss” and “don’t give up” to try to get me to put more money into their exchange.

After establishing an understanding of this scam, I knew the cyber scammer would continue to try to drain me of more money. With no need to further “invest” with the scammers, and with my patience running low, I decided to confirm if my hypothesis that this was a scam was true.

Using publicly available tools that track blockchain transactions, I was able to trace the history of the account associated with me. To my surprise, “my account” had seen a total of $130,000, confirming that I wasn’t the only victim this scammer was targeting.

Combating sophisticated online fraud

Today, 22% of consumers who encounter crypto scams lose money, and that number is only going to rise as these scams continue to proliferate. After uncovering the inner workings of pig slaughtering, I began working closely with Sift’s dating app customers to spot scam accounts and shut them down before they catch more victims.

After witnessing this scam, I would encourage consumers to remember these tips:

  • Take things slow: If you talk to someone on an app and they immediately try to remove you from the platform, that’s a sign that they might be a scammer. Do not comply. Instead, push back and say you’re more comfortable chatting longer on the app.
  • Money Can’t Buy Love: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and if it were that easy to become mega-rich, we’d all be. Always do background checks before investing in anything.
  • Use recognized investment platforms: Not only do legitimate crypto exchanges provide higher security measures, but in the event that your account is hacked, it will be much easier to resolve issues with the exchange. When evaluating the reliability of a crypto trading platform, make sure you verify that the platform has an online presence on a trusted app store and/or search engine.
  • It’s not just on the consumer: Companies have a responsibility to educate users and the public about online fraud and online threats. If a company sees an increase in a certain type of fraud, it is the company’s responsibility to warn its customers. This will help reduce the number of individuals who fall victim to these scams.
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Whether you’re a dating app user, a crypto investor, or even a cyber fraud researcher, there’s no way to avoid scams completely. That’s why we as a community – businesses and online fraud fighters – need to come together to use the tools at our collective disposal to stop scammers from appearing on dating apps in the first place.

Jane Lee is a trust and security architect at Sift.

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