What Is a Pig Butchering Scam: How to Protect Your Financial Future

  • By Steven
  • Published: May 14, 2024
  • Last Updated: May 27, 2024


How far are you willing to go to obtain love? Online threats surround us every time we get on the Internet—all of them are out for more than a lasting emotional connection.

Romance scams are the most insidious of online threats, not because they wreck the emotional and financial statuses of their victims but because they are incredibly well-thought-out. Simultaneously, cryptocurrency scams are among the most individually devastating schemes, as the orchestrator purposely targets specific groups most likely to fall for a “guaranteed” financial hack or investment.

Add the forethought and emotional insight of a romance scam to the targeting and promises of a crypto investment scam, and a new type of criminal scheme is born: pig butchering. These schemes are nuanced, highly complex incidents with particularly destructive results. By learning more about them, those at risk of becoming victims can identify the indicators of these threats and take action to prevent the potential damages of such scams.

Pig Butchering Scam

What is a Pig Butchering Scam

Pig butchering scams have always occurred, although their nuances have changed, along with the disguises of scammers. Functionally, pig butchering scams act as romance schemes, with a malicious actor building a relationship with their victim before obtaining money or assets from them.

However, pig butchering scams differ from romance schemes in that they require additional spear phishing from the scammer so that the actor can manipulate the victim into specifically investment-related or crypto losses.

These days, pig butchering scammers start their scheme by creating a persona and learning about their potential victims. After that, they build a false relationship, and when successful, the scammer can drain their victim of everything they have, from investments to funds, identity information, to account entitlements.

Why It’s Called Pig Butchering 

In English, “pig butchering” invokes images of slaughterhouses, hogs, and machines. However, the term directly translates the Chinese phrase Shāz HÅ« Pán. Pig butchering scams, as they are today, originated in China and invoked similar connotations for people of that culture; however, there are significant aspects of a pig butchering scam that are not immediately apparent within the term itself.

For example, English speakers may associate a pig with an animal of immense proportions, but in China, the “pig” portion of Shāz HÅ« Pán refers to the specific act of “fattening a pig.” These scams involve a scammer building seemingly irrefutable proof of an investment—encouraging their victim to trust them and share even more funds and information.

“Butchering” also has slightly different connotations in English and Chinese, as we may think of people in warehouses with walk-in freezers. The term, regarding Shāz HÅ« Pán, indicates the “total use” of the pig. Within the scam, this is the final step of the process, where there is no turning back for the scammer. They strip their victim of everything they can use and disappear.

How the Pig Butchering Scam Works 

As with all social engineering scams, the details of a pig butchering scam may differ slightly as the goals of scammers differ. For most occurrences of these schemes, however, there are four recognizable steps every time it happens:

  • The scammer makes contact with the target and begins building rapport.
  • The scammer offers a “sure-thing” investment strategy, and the victim complies.
  • The scammer shows “proof” of the investment being beneficial and encourages the victim to share more.
  • The scammer drains the victim’s accounts and disappears.

Scammers Create a Fake Identity for Themselves

Scammers can begin their schemes in many ways, but most involve creating an online profile or obtaining stolen identity credentials. Some threats may hijack authentic consumer accounts, while others might purchase what they need from pre-made record packets on the dark web.

Sophisticated actors might create accounts months or years before their attack, so consumer profiles should have the maximum available privacy settings enabled, restricting who can interact with the account.

Finding a Victim

When it’s time for the scammer to pick a potential victim, they must scour their socials for the perfect individual. Where pig butchering scams are concerned, these are typically seniors and young adults looking for the benefits of a relationship or to obtain a quick solution for a stressful problem.

Scammers often narrow their potential victims down by considering if the consumer is vulnerable in a specific way they can manipulate or if they are less tech-savvy than typical users. Sometimes, they might launch phishing attacks, luring their victim into sharing confirming information with them (to “prove” that the victim is unsuspecting).

Winning the Target’s Trust

Upon choosing their target, the scammer begins building rapport with them. In many pig butchering scams, malicious actors build rapport through romantic conversations—pushing the potential victim’s boundaries as quickly as they realistically can.

In these situations, a conversation with a random stranger one night can become a constant stream of communication too quickly. The scammer always has excuses as to why they can constantly talk (“Oh, I don’t work today, let’s hang out, talk, or play a game”) or claim they “love” their new acquaintance. Rapport-building techniques come in many forms, so consumers must never answer the senders of random, unsolicited messages.

Steering the Conversation

When the scammer is lucky, the conversation with their potential victim will naturally lean into financials; if the scammer is unlucky, they may push the conversation in that direction anyway. This part of the scam is the first of many significant indicators that something is wrong. The scammer might push the topic in various ways:

  • Emotional manipulation: claiming the victim doesn’t “love them back,” and consequently using a victim’s empathy and falsified love to get what they want.
  • Opportunity manipulation: claiming the scammer’s option is the most efficient opportunity for the victim to obtain valuable stocks or quick money.
  • Investment manipulation: claiming the scammer’s option is a sure thing for guaranteed funds—usually targeting seniors and young adults.

Getting the Victim to Deposit Money Into the Fake Account

Next, in most pig butchering scams, the scammer persuades their potential victim into giving them funds or crypto. Functionally, the victim deposits crypto into a fraudulent account controlled by the scammer. These accounts are not usually created by the scammer but are stolen or puppeteered by the malicious actor or their affiliates. Some accounts may have had their credentials stolen years ago, with the actor waiting for the correct time to manipulate their illegal access.

Proving the Investment is “Legitimate” — Fattening Up the Pig

At this point, the scammer has already profited from their scam; however, pig butchering scams differ from other schemes in that they attempt to lie further to their victim. The malicious actor may create illusions of profit from the victim’s investments, offering legitimacy through their affiliates’ testimonials. During this scam phase, the target may be victimized multiple times, particularly if the scammers seek specific account information to misuse later.


Manipulating Their Target

If a scammer’s target becomes too combative or begins to show signs of distrust, the actors have tactics to reign them in; these are psychological tools employed to keep the victim in the scheme, prevent them from withdrawing their engagement, and reinforce the relationship between the scammer and the victim.

  • Emotion: the scammer might continue to lie about the romantic situation, convincing their “partner” to stay with them. Other times, these reasons may reflect a falsified emergency, such as arrest and kidnapping scenarios.
  • Sunk cost: the scammer may push the victim into giving more, with the promise of “the next one will work” mentality. Victims continue to give money in these cases because they believe they will recoup everything eventually.
  • Threats: although rarer, some scammers may completely lift the veil and begin harassing and physically threatening their victims, convincing them that terrible consequences may happen if the victim runs.

Slaughtering the “Pig”

When the scammer obtains all the information they need, they’ll either continue to slowly drain their victim’s account (which is rare due to the potential for the victim to figure out everything and call the authorities) or immediately “slaughter the pig.” For this class of scams, this consists of draining the accounts of their victim as quickly as possible.

Private crypto and financial accounts are often not limited, so scammers can freely move millions in a few minutes. Additionally, because the transactions are completed from within the accounts, the platform or institutions may not be able to seek retribution for the action.

Taunting the Victim Before They Depart

Successful scammers, who steal millions from their victims’ accounts, typically disappear without speaking to the target again. However, some scammers who fail their schemes may become belligerent at losing potential funds.

They’ll harass the victim they’ve been hounding for weeks or months and mock or taunt them, mainly if the scammer could obtain money from them. These interactions can exacerbate the trauma of the scam, significantly impacting the victim’s reaction to the entire situation—they may call the authorities or be too scared to make a report.

Protecting Yourself from Pig Butchering Scams

Preventative Measures

There are potential threats everywhere online, and unless the public learns how to recognize their signs, scammers could make millions of people victims of sophisticated cyber attacks like pig butchering. However, knowing the signs of a scammer is only part of the way consumers can protect themselves from falling victim to similar schemes. Preventative measures before the scam starts can be the difference between losing everything and blocking the scammer before they can manipulate their target.

  • Be skeptical of unsolicited investment opportunities and communications. Sophisticated scammers choose their targets based on what they know; if you’re a user who posts a lot about your life, you may be in the sights of a scammer.
  • Verify the legitimacy of financial ventures and the possible outcomes. Some scammers lure their victims by making insane promises about money growth—none of which they can back up. Authentic ventures will always be backed by corporate.

Digital Hygiene Practices 

Good digital hygiene practices are another necessity when exploring the online world. These behaviors reinforce the security of a profile or account, particularly regarding passwords and verification. Consumers will always have better consequences when facing online threats while maintaining secure and private online accounts. However, for these defenses to work, users must implement them wherever possible.

Use strong, secure passwords, preferably those generated by password managers.

Implement multi-factor authentications on all accounts, including face ID.

Use caution when sharing media, and limit the information in public posts.

Financial Education 

Consumers can also protect themselves from financial fraud  by continuing financial education. Educating oneself on the common signs of financial scams, consulting with financial advisors, and speaking with professionals before making significant investments can impact the consequences of financial-based scams. However, like the preventative methods and hygiene practices listed above, education about these schemes is only one part of how individuals protect themselves from cybercriminals.

Pig butchering scams are a unique classification of financial fraud. It occurs when a scammer uses aspects of romance scams to lure and trap their victim and eventually drain them of all funds, property, and assets when possible. However, these scams don’t have to end this way; vigilance, education, and protective measures help turn the tide of these schemes, making it harder for the criminal to defraud their target and others successfully. 

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