Pig Butchering

If you have HBO and if you watched John Oliver recently, you may have seen a startling piece entitled Pig Butchering. (You can view the episode here.) This is one of the latest scams bilking lots of very smart people, including the large and lucrative senior citizen market, of hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in many cases, entire life savings.

I’m shining a light on this here because of its power to succeed in robbing elderly people, among others, of all the money they have in the world. Lonely seniors often respond to someone who is seemingly interested in them and their lives. It’s flattering and often fills a void. Whether it’s a financial scam or a love/friendship come-on, the threat to us is real.

First of all, Pig Butchering has nothing to do with the slaughter of farm animals and is so named because victims are likened to hogs, fattened up for slaughter. Second, why is this scam so much more enticing and therefore dangerous than any others? The reason is because most of these attempts to connect with individuals are very personal. It can begin as innocently as a question like, “Were you in law enforcement in (your community) back in 1963?” or “Did you go to Madison High School in the 1970’s; you look familiar?” Both examples use information taken quite easily from your social media accounts.

The hook or ‘come on’ is personal and relates to something you have experienced in your life. The perpetrators have gotten very sophisticated and now spend time pouring over our social media accounts to learn about us – what our interests are, where we worked or went to school, and who our friends are. These contacts are much more than just an unfamiliar face “following” or “liking” one of your social media posts. Scammers can interact with their targets for months and sometimes years, developing trust, before the ‘gottcha’ happens.

Scammers who used to employ a more shotgun approach to their markets, now work to cultivate a relationship before anything nefarious develops. They also spend a lot of time creating a solid backstory that many who have been duped investigated thoroughly, feeling reassured their contact was on the up and up. Or, in investment scams, the scammer can even let a target receive some of the “profits” of the scam so the target feels a further indication of its validity.

As reported in Oliver’s piece, even a bank president was sucked into a crypto scam that drained every asset the bank had in its vaults. Yes, millions was taken from the bank with the support of a senior bank manager who felt thoroughly convinced his investment was solid. These scammer guys are good.

I’m sure I’d respond to someone who approached me online and said something like, “I too have a black, three-legged cat like you do.” That’s the beginning; all very innocent. A friend who retired from a law enforcement career years ago has been contacted by people he didn’t know who asked him apparently innocent questions about his experience. Before we might have responded to these friendly people. Now, however, probably not. Even if the scammer offered, “Oh, and I know another of your friends, so-and-so.” making things look even more legitimate.

Scammers are always one step ahead of their targets, and we are their targets. So, please be careful. It takes more than research and double-checking these days to be safe. Better to not respond than get duped.

While this blog post only skims the surface of what this horrible scam is and how damaging it can be, I encourage you to check out the John Oliver piece to see how it works in more detail and how devastating it can be.