Random messages from people with unknown numbers acting as an old friend or apologizing for a wrong number may not be as innocuous as they seem, according to the Michigan Attorney General.
Scammers have been luring in potential victims with the promise of being a long-forgotten friend, a new friend, a wrong number or lover via text messages and social media apps, according to the attorney general’s office.
The new scam is rising in popularity on sites like Tinder and WhatsApp.
It is called “pig butchering” and combines a romance scam with an investment spin. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the term “pig butchering” refers to a time-tested, heavily scripted, and contact-intensive process to “fatten up the prey before slaughter.”
In these cases, the scammer has convinced the fraud victim to invest on a bogus cryptocurrency website. The long con allows the victim to make small gains on the fake investment and even withdraw these gains a couple times to prove the legitimacy.
The scammer persuades the victim to invest larger sums, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, into the fake website. Then the scammer vanishes along with the money.
Related: Cryptocurrency scams on the rise. Michiganders have lost thousands.
Cryptocurrency scams jumped from the seventh riskiest scam in 2020 to second riskiest in 2021, according to the 2021 Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker Risk Report. More than 66% of people who reported falling victim to a cryptocurrency scam also reported losing money.
So far this year there have been 1,116 scams filed through the scam tracker. Among them, 20 have been categorized as cryptocurrency scams.
In Royal Oak, one victim reported messaging a girl through WhatsApp. Over the course of their conversation, the victim made four crypto transactions totaling $37,244. The complaint said the victim is struggling to find legal help to regain the losses.
Another complainant in Allen Park reported an attempted scam. The potential victim developed a relationship with a woman on WhatsApp. The woman made 27 requests for the potential victim to send money via cryptocurrency before the potential victim blocked the number and reported it.
The Attorney General’s office notes scammers know consumers are getting savvy about online scams, and this is why developing a friendship or romantic relationship has become common place in fraud.
The “pig butchering” technique is successful because the “new friend” creates reasons to continue a conversation, which leads to multiple calls. The scammer slowly develops a relationship so they can insert themselves into their victim’s daily life, according to the attorney general’s warning.
While building trust with victims, the scammer slowly introduces the idea of making a business investment using cryptocurrency. Victims are gradually drawn into what appears to be benign talk about cryptocurrency investments and earnings, but they are really being manipulated to make an investment, according to the attorney general.
The scam has been dubbed a “super scam” as funds ramp up quickly and are rarely recovered.
Look for these red flags when developing relationships online:
- Strangers sending seemingly innocuous text messages out of the blue.
- Strangers who quickly try to move the conversation to WhatsApp or another social media site.
- People who avoid video-calling with multiple excuses or flatly refuse to initiate any kind of video-calling.
- People chit-chatting about their insider investment knowledge.
- The URL of the investment platform doesn’t match the official website of a popular cryptocurrency market or exchange but may be very similar.
- The investment app generates warnings of being “untrusted” when launched, or the computer’s antivirus software marks it as potentially dangerous.
- The investment opportunity sounds too good to be true.
The Attorney General offers these tips to ward off scams:
- Don’t send money, trade, or invest with a person you have only met online.
- Don’t speak of your financial position or investments.
- Don’t share personal information or current financial status with strangers.
- Don’t provide banking information, Social Security number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site that you cannot verify is authentic.
- If an online investment or trading site promotes unbelievable profits, it is most likely just that — unbelievable.
- Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.
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