New ‘Pig Butchering’ Crypto Scams From A Law Enforcement Viewpoint

Pig butchering is a fast-growing scam involving online romance, fake crypto returns, and human trafficking that is stealing millions of dollars from U.S. citizens. As victims in the U.S. find themselves humiliated and bankrupt, their families fail to benefit from generational wealth transfer. What makes this worse, this money is transferred overseas to transnational criminal organizations located in Myanmar and Cambodia using trafficked victims as modern-day slaves to execute the pig butchering scams online.

According to TRM Labs, a leading blockchain intelligence company, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 4,300 complaints related to pig butchering, with cumulative losses of over $400 Million. Reports from FBI field offices suggest that the crime wave of pig butchering is not slowing down either.

In an interview with Erin West, Deputy District Attorney in Santa Clara, California, I learned how she both discovered the pig butchering scam herself a couple of years ago. West used the discovery to pioneer a blueprint of how to prosecute this kind of case in the U.S. As a member of the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) Task Force, West was involved in examining high tech crimes. When she came across her first pig butchering scam, West realized she would need the help of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, to uncover the circumstances of how this all worked. West said, “We sent a search warrant to Binance and they gave the information we requested. This helped us create a blueprint which we used to help 26 victims recover money. We taught that blueprint nationwide and victims are getting some help.”

West explained pig butchering is, “…another romance scam, which is a calculated systemic long con against the rest of the world resulting in massive wealth transfer to bad guys on the other side of the world.” According to West, “There needs to be a ‘whole of government’ solution to pig butchering.”

The problem is only getting worse. While there are no specific numbers as to how many people are victims, West stated, “We are receiving 5-6 emails a day from people who are victims of pig butchering. The most recent victim lost $5 million dollars and that’s not even the biggest amount one victim has lost to this scam.”

West has been devoting her energies to help raise awareness of this scam and the broader consequences to the rest of the nation. She pointed to how U.K. recently decided to sanction individuals and entities involved in pig butchering. West suggested the U.S. might want to take similar measures to help put more pressure on these criminal organizations overseas. “Fighting transnational crime feels like throwing eggs at a skyscraper…the U.S. could join in on the UK sanctions as well.”

The U.S. will likely need to determine what kind of ‘whole of government’ effort needs to be established to push back on pig butchering scams, as a Deputy District Attorney in Santa Clara, California can only do so much. But West is off to a great start in raising awareness about pig butchering and her insights for this story are greatly appreciated.

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