Unmasking the fast-moving pig-butchering scam hitting Utah

Feb 16, 2024, 2:48 PM | Updated: 2:53 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Pig-butchering is a devastating combination of romance and crypto scams, and it’s taking Utahns for all their worth.

Scammers use social engineering to bring in their victims, then those victims are fattened up with fake investment returns until the scammers move in for the kill. We’ve previously told you about Dianne and her digital relationship with a man she met on a dating app.

“We started talking, and he was so sweet,” Dianne said of him.

Eventually, he steered the talk towards cryptocurrency.

“I can help you learn how to trade crypto,’” he told her.

“They’re really good at social engineering or human engineering if you will,” said cybersecurity expert Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura.

Ramzan said social engineering is the bread and butter of a pig-butchering scam. A scammer will take weeks, even months, to build a relationship with their victim.

“Once that trust is established and developed, then and only then do they actually begin the scam portion of the show, so to speak,” he said.

The scam portion includes an online trading platform where the victim can log in to see live market data and watch their investment grow. It’s all been faked.

“Oh look, you know that $100 you gave me? That’s now $300,’ in some cases,” Ramzan said. “They even let the victim cash out a portion of what’s been what’s been there so the victim thinks that they’re dealing with a legitimate entity.”

Over time, the scammer fattens up their victim by pushing them to pay bigger and bigger investments. And when the victim has no more money to put in, no more loans they can take out, they’re slaughtered. The scammer takes everything and disappears.

“I started throwing up,” Dianne said. “I was so sick to my stomach.”

So, how can you avoid the butchers?

Don’t send money or personal or banking info to someone you’ve never met in real life. Investments touted as guaranteed are huge red flags – especially in cryptocurrency. Someone who refuses to video chat face-to-face is most likely not the person in the profile pic. And don’t respond to unsolicited messages.

“If somebody reaches out to you out of the blue, there’s a good chance that they’re not up to any good,” Ramzan said.

Pig-butchering can strike anywhere: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – you name it. Often, it starts as a text message sent to your phone that seems meant for someone else. Even after you tell them “wrong number,” – a scammer will try to keep a conversation going. Don’t do it. Instead, delete the message and block the number.

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Unmasking the fast-moving pig-butchering scam hitting Utah