The latest catfish victims are falling into “pig butchering” scams

Scammers have taken “catfishing” to a whole new level.

The latest catfish victims are falling into “pig butchering” scams
 The dating app Tinder is shown on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/Illustration/File Photo

Scammers have taken “catfishing” to a whole new level. The most recent victims of scammers are being found through online dating platforms like Bumble, Hinge and Tinder or simply through social media. Satnam Narang, a senior staff engineer at the cyber firm Tenable, shared his findings after conducting research into a new scam known as “pig butchering.”

In this scheme, victims are the “pig” and the “butchering” refers to the scammer, who usually starts with a fake profile and plays the long game (or in this case, the long con) with a victim to eventually financially “slaughter” them by persuading them to hand over large sums of money or cryptocurrency.

It’s all quite deviant, and one of the worst things is that it’s working. In 2022, romance scam victims in the US reported US$1.3 billion in losses, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The scammers have also been taking advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT or Google’s Gemini to produce AI-generated images of fake people for their profiles. From there, they contact victims from the fake accounts (which often have the blue verification tick) with the aim of building a personal relationship with them and earning their trust.

“They’re very, very good at keeping up with you and staying on top of the information,” Narang told Bloomberg. “They know your time zone, they’re wishing you good morning, they’re sending you photos of themselves. They’re also asking you often about food.” 

By asking a victim if they’ve eaten yet and sending photos of their own meals, they show that they “care” and make them seem even more real. 

They then try to move the chats over to WhatsApp, Telegram or SMS as soon as possible to avoid being flagged as a fake profile. Next, the butchers talk about their legitimate-sounding work and use fake investment scams to persuade victims to invest in different things, like cryptocurrency. Finally, they leave their victims with empty accounts.

Thankfully, some popular dating apps are rolling out verification measures that require users to share a video selfie and photo ID in order to get the blue tick, with Tinder introducing it just recently. This system is already used on Tinder in Australia and New Zealand and will apply to users in the US, the UK, Mexico and Brazil soon to prevent catfishing.  

Although this is an ongoing problem, authorities are also beginning to crack down on scammers to protect victims. Still, be careful who you talk to out there.