The pig-butchering scam: Con artists who come for your heart and wallet

Fraudsters spend months cultivating a relationship with the victims before urging them to invest in bogus investment schemes. PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - Victims in Singapore have lost more money to investment scams than any other ruse in the last three years.

It hit a record high last year, with $190.9 million stolen in such scams, more than five times the $36.9 million lost in 2019.

A recent variant that has appeared here is the pig-butchering scam.

Fraudsters spend months cultivating a relationship with the victims before urging them to invest in bogus investment schemes.

According to news reports, pig-butchering scams started in China in 2016. Back then, scammers groomed their victims to place bets on fake gambling websites.

The Chinese term "sha zhu pan" - it means to fatten a pig before slaughtering it - was coined by the perpetrators themselves to describe their scam.

The Chinese government cracked down on illegal betting in 2018. But fraudsters then targeted Chinese speakers in South-east Asia.

As the demographic expanded to include Europe and the United States, scam tactics evolved to keep abreast with the growing popularity of cryptocurrency investments.

In response to queries, the Singapore Police Force said victims here ended up transferring money to banks predominantly in China, including Hong Kong.

"They were asked to pay administrative fees, security fees or taxes in order to reap profits. In many cases, victims earned a profit in the initial stage, leading them to believe that the investment is legitimate and lucrative," the police told The Sunday Times.

"Once larger amounts of monies were deposited into the designated accounts, the scammers became uncontactable."

There is no official data on the number of pig-butchering scams busted in Singapore each year.

According to the Global Anti-Scam Organisation, a volunteer-driven advocacy group which includes Singaporean members, most victims of pig-butchering scams had emptied their savings account and many even ended up in debt.

Losses average US$134,940 ($182,000) per person, based on over 400 victims surveyed by the organisation from North America, Europe, Taiwan and South-east Asia.

About 70 per cent were women aged between 25 and 40 years old.

Victims were predominantly highly educated - nearly 90 per cent held a bachelor's degree or higher.

To combat investment scams, the Singapore authorities uses technology to identify and warn potential victims by sending them targeted SMS advisories.

The police said they also work with foreign law enforcement agencies on joint operations to cripple syndicates.

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