New scam alert: What’s love got to do with it? Nothing, it’s all about the money.
by Edmund Yong
This article was first published by Smart Investor Magazine at the following link:
How to Avoid Being a Victim of a ‘Pig Butchering’ Love Scam?
The following is based on a true crime story. The names and certain facts have been altered to protect the identity of the victim and prevent any interference with police investigations.
Lina (not her real name) is in her mid-30s and has a successful career in a large professional services firm. She is well-regarded by her bosses and is on track to make partner. She graduated with first class honours from a prestigious university and is financially savvy. She can afford a house and car and enjoys the ‘savoir-vivre’ of fashionable urban living.
“It starts with easy love and easy money!”
Due to the long hours at work, she keeps connected through social media like many others. She met a man named Hans through a popular dating site and was immediately drawn to his athletic build and chiselled looks. They started messaging each other, with increasing regularity and intimate language soon after. One day, he introduced her to an online investment opportunity for a digital assets (cryptocurrency) fund through a mobile app.
Lina had her doubts at first. Nonetheless she placed a small amount of RM5K (in cryptocurrency equivalent) to appease Hans as he won’t stop talking about it. She opened an account in her own name. Within a week, she made 6% returns (or over 300% annualised). Hans egged her on to deposit larger amounts while the opportunity lasts, so that they can have a romantic getaway. “After that, I want you to meet my parents,” he’d say.
She invested more, and saw the returns reflected in her account balance. Delighted and emboldened by this, she eventually went all in with her life savings of RM200K. Hans didn’t pressure her to do so and didn’t have to. By this time, she was convinced by the proof of returns and made her decision independently.
Barely after a week passed, the app stopped showing her the returns she was supposed to get. Sensing something was amiss, she requested for a withdrawal. The app refused and stated that the minimum withdrawal amount was RM300K. She borrowed from her family members to top up to that amount. Hans offered to lend her some money for this purpose, but she didn’t want to trouble him.
“This investment is for our future together!”
Then the scam hit home. The app locked Lina out of the account and her funds along with it. She frantically tried to reach customer service which stopped replying to her. The website was taken down, with a 404-error message citing bugs and technical issues. She lodged a police report, but it was too late – the funds were frozen and inaccessible, or as good as gone. Hans feigned sympathy and ‘claimed’ to have lost a lot of money too. After a few days he ghosted her. His Instagram and dating profiles were deleted, and Lina’s number was blocked by him.
It didn’t occur to Lina that there were red flags during their relationship. She has watched the Tinder Swindler documentary before on Netflix. She knew the ‘modus operandi’ (mode of operations) of love scams but somehow this felt ‘different’. She wasn’t fêted with private jets and fancy dinners – she has never even met Hans in person as he was always overseas! She opened the investment account on her own at a third-party website, without Hans present. Unlike the Tinder Swinder, Hans never once asked her for money. There was no reason to suspect at all that Hans was involved in the ruse.
The typology of ‘pig butchering’ scams is as the name suggests. The scammer lures the victim to fatten up the piggy bank or investment amount before slaughtering them. They target women who are educated, of mature age, and with high disposable income. They talk about shared dreams to gain your trust. They invariably use cryptocurrencies, placed in obscure unlicensed platforms, because they can drain the funds out instantly and anonymously.
When Lina came to us for help, her options were limited. Recovery of losses is extremely rare even though these scams are all too common – literally thousands of cases each year in Malaysia alone! She used a foreign-based digital asset exchange to convert her Malaysian Ringgit into crypto and transfer to the scam app, but this exchange was not cooperative even when she showed them the police report. They wrote back with a terse one-liner: “Hello, all blockchain transactions are irreversible! Thank you.”
Through our forensics partner, we found that the scammers moved the funds across different blockchains or “chain-hopping” to avoid detection. There were also some leads with the scammer’s wallets which seem to connect to a larger syndicate. The photos of Hans were of a paid amateur model and his messages may have been written by a few people.
“If you’re not the butcher, you’re the pig!”
Love is not free in a fraud-ridden world. When a scammer offers promises of love, he wants something in return. Do not take financial advice from an online boyfriend, and do not assume that he is real. Always bear in mind that the pain or hurt is doubled in these relationships – you don’t just lose love or money, you lose both! For some victims, the shame of being scammed no matter how intelligent they are, would traumatise them for the rest of their lives.
Edmund Yong is the managing partner of Celebrus Advisory and appointed by MDEC as part of its Talent Expert Network (formerly known as Digital Expert Panel) for blockchain technology. Members of the public with similar experiences and who are looking for investigative and forensic services in digital assets from authorised representatives, or to support their litigation efforts, can contact the CEO of Imperium Universe at email@example.com.