The FBI says America has a “pig slaughtering” problem. And it costs victims millions of dollars.
“We’re not talking about what’s happening on the farms,” said Frank Fisher, a public affairs specialist in the bureau’s Albuquerque division. “We are talking about a cryptocurrency investment scam that has swept the country.
The term hog slaughter refers to an unsuspecting victim — a “pig” — who is tricked by scammers into parting with money for a promised high rate of return.
Scammers “fatten the pig by tricking the victim into thinking they’re investing in something and getting them to transfer money to cryptocurrencies,” says Santa Clara County, Calif., District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office manages a multi-agency crime-fighting task force. technology.
When criminals “fat” their victims’ digital wallets, they steal money, Rosen says.
Pig slaughter operations usually start with a rudimentary approach, Rosen told CNN: Scammers send millions of spam messages every day to unsuspecting victims via text messages and social media, often with an innocuous note like, “Hi, how are you?”
A scammer working under a false identity builds a relationship with the victim, sometimes over just a few weeks, before suggesting the victim “invest” in cryptocurrency.
One technique involves convincing the victim that the scammer has made a significant profit in cryptocurrency, convincing the victim that they should not miss out on the benefits of investing in cryptocurrency.
Those who fall for the scam are persuaded to send more and more money, and even receive fictitious financial statements that make it appear that their investments have made significant returns.
“This is where the ‘pigs get fattened,'” says Rosen. Eventually, “you get a little suspicious. You are trying to contact the person who contacted you online and request a refund. [But] that person was ghosting you.”
Rosen says the holiday season is a particularly lucrative time for scammers because they often prey on people who may be feeling lonely.
And while the initial approach is simple, Rosen says the actual fraud operations his team has investigated — typically operating overseas, including in Cambodia and China — involve highly sophisticated methods.
“They were 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’re 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’s also seen an increase in scams involving mega-retailer Amazon. “Online criminals’ scams are limited only by their imaginations, and they have an impeccable sense of timing,” says Fisher.
In one type of scam, “someone calls you and claims to be from Amazon or some other wholesale distributor, and they say there’s a problem with your credit card,” adds Fisher. The fraudster then asks for a new credit card number.
Another variation of the Amazon scam involves a criminal calling a potential victim and indicating that a suspicious purchase has been flagged on the user’s account, resulting in the suspension of purchasing privileges. The victim is required to make a credit card payment immediately afterwards to reactivate the account.
“Sometimes they’ll even threaten to report you to the police about your purchase,” says Fisher. “Another dead bell 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 asking for account information or personally identifiable details.
The company said in a statement that it has worked to take down thousands of online phishing websites and phone numbers associated with phishing scams, and has 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 Selling Partner Services. “Even though 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 are mostly targeting senior citizens. “Scammers tend to target the elderly because they know they’re trusting and they know older Americans tend to have more money,” Fisher says.
In so-called sweepstakes scams, victims are contacted and congratulated on winning a sweepstakes, but told they must first send money to cover taxes and processing fees, which can be prohibitive.
Legitimate “sweepstakes aren’t going to do that,” says Fisher. “They’re not going to make you pay upfront to collect your money.”
In New Mexico alone last year, there were about 60 victims of fraudulent sweepstakes with total losses of $1 million, he says.
The FBI suggests people check in with older relatives and friends about their online habits and whether they may have been targeted by cybercriminals.
“If someone has reached out to them and wants to be their friend and develop a relationship,” says Fisher, “ask questions.