Sep 27, 2023 By: Matthew Anderson In 2022, Americans lost an estimated $5.9 Billion to crypto currency scams alone. It is safe to assume that 2023 will not be any better. One of the newest digital scams taking hold with Crypto Currency users is referred to as “Pig Butchering.” You may be wondering – How does this apply to me? As all investors lives and social communities expand online the opportunities for fraud also expand. Pig Butchering is not limited to Crypto Currency investing. In fact, it is estimated that 12% of Americans who have used a dating app in the past five years have had an experience with this type of cyber crime. This article is intended to educate you before one of your customers falls victim. As a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) registrant and National Futures Association (“NFA”) member you have an obligation to remain vigilant with regard to your firm’s overall cybersecurity policies. What is Cyber Pig Butchering? Pig butchering does not literally mean the butchering of pigs. Rather, this term is meant to reflect the similarities of the scam to the process of fattening and slaughtering a hog. The scam consists of several primary components: 1) Fattening Up: The “fattening up” of the pig (or the mark) represents the first part of the crime. During this stage cyber criminals work to gain the victim’s trust. The scammer will often pose as a potential new friend or romantic interest. 2) Dependency and Commitment: After gaining the victims trust, the scammer will work to get the mark to develop a dependency or higher level of commitment in the relationship. This is similar to an animal learning to assume or trust when a farmer brings its next meal. In the financial services industry, pig butchering typically moves toward the scammer casually mentioning a great investment opportunity. The opportunity is very often something trendy, complex for the average person, or intriguing. For many investors cryptocurrency is the perfect asset class in 2023 however it may apply to commodity futures and options, foreign currency, spot precious metals, or anything else the mark may show interest in. 3) Show Me: Once the scammer has the pig’s commitment, they will often times begin touting investment returns and how the asset class has helped them. The victim will then be directed to place their money with a seemingly legitimate investment platform. This is like taking the animal to a feedlot just before the kill. It seems great but its only another opportunity to fatten the investor up. At this stage the investment platform provided to the mark is fake. The money sent to or through the platform is 100% controlled by the scammer. 4) Slaughter: In the parlance of these scam artists, the victim has essentially been “slaughtered” once they have been brought into the fake platform. The fake platform allows the perpetrator to manipulate results and even return “winnings” back to the mark. In the end however the pig suffers significant financial and emotional harm as a result. Once all or enough money has been stolen, the scammer cancels any social media accounts associated with the fake relationship persona and is never heard from again. Fake platforms online also disappear. Highly Sophisticated It is important to note that many of these scammers are incredibly sophisticated. It has been reported that some of these phony investment platforms have even been approved in the Apple Store or Google Play! It is thought by industry cybercrime professionals that many of the scammers are operate in organized criminal teams across Southeast Asia. These teams use tools such as Google Translate, Chat GPT, and other AI programs to even make their speech more realistic if the mark demands oral or video dialog. They have also been known to send voice messages using AI voice programs to make the relationship seem more authentic. Another thing to understand is that the stakes are incredibly high for many of the scammers. It is thought that the so-called front men of these scams are poor workers tricked into participating in a career they know is wrong. In Myanmar, as an example, such workers are known to work 14-hour days and are physically punished if they do not meet their “quota”. CFTC and FINCEN Regulatory Response In June of this year, the CFTC filed a civil enforcement action against California resident Cunwen Zhu and his company Justby International Auctions (“Justby”) for the misappropriation of $1.3 million in customer funds using a “pig butchering” scam . The scheme was apparently very well organized. The individuals working with Zhu cultivated romantic relationships online as made-up avatars and even provided bogus performance returns to victims to encourage their participation in whatever phony investment strategy they were pitching. Pig Butchering is also on FINCEN’s radar. On September 8, 2023 NFA distributed a notice to members under I-23-17 regarding this topic. The notice has information about a FINCEN alert on the topic that should be read by all CFTC registrants. To assist consumers in recognizing warning signs and safeguarding themselves against fraudulent schemes, the CFTC has released the following ten valuable tips aimed at identifying red flags for fraud and preventing online scams: Keep conversations on the dating or social media platforms. Many platforms utilize harmful language filters that can detect fraud. Fraudsters want to quickly move conversations to private messaging apps to avoid detection. Screen capture the love interest’s profile picture or other pictures and use reverse image searches to see if they have been used in other scams or by other people. If contacts refuse to meet or video chat, that should be a red flag. Try other ways to verify their identities in real-time. For example, ask the person to send a selfie holding a piece of paper with your name and date next to his or her face. Check to be sure the people or firms you trade with are registered with federal or state authorities. Relying on registration alone won’t protect you from fraud, but most scams involve unregistered entities, people, and products. Learn more, visit gov/check. For forex trading, check with the National Futures Association, futures.org/basicnet. For virtual currency, see if the platform is registered as a money service business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (gov/msb-registrant-search) or with your state using the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (csbs.org/nationwide-multistate-licensing-system). Never make payments or give sensitive information to anyone you’ve only met online. Before making any investment, get a second opinion. Talk it over with a financial advisor, trusted friend, or family member. Don’t trade in markets or products you don’t fully understand. Never pay more money to get your money back. If you suspect fraud, report it immediately to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, gov, or cftc.gov/complaint. Learn more about romance scams at ftc.gov or other reliable websites. Learn more about spotting and avoiding forex, precious metals, or digital asset frauds, and stay current on developing trends, visit gov/LearnAndProtect. Training and Vigilance The rise of “Pig Butchering” scams in the digital age serves as a stark reminder of the constant vigilance required to protect ourselves from online fraudsters. With the alarming statistics of crypto currency scams in recent years and the evolving tactics employed by scammers, it is imperative that we arm ourselves with knowledge and caution. The actions taken by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission against perpetrators like Justby International Auctions demonstrate a commitment to combating these scams. To safeguard yourself, remember the valuable tips provided by the CFTC, from keeping conversations on secure platforms to conducting due diligence on investment opportunities. You should also continue to stay up to date on cyber security training and work with a vendor like Turnkey Trading Partners in this area. By staying informed and vigilant, we can collectively work towards a safer online environment and protect ourselves from falling victim to such deceptive schemes.