This article was produced in collaboration with Court Watch, an independent outlet that unearths overlooked court records.
A pig butchering scam ring—where fraudsters often trick a target into funneling money into a fake cryptocurrency or other investment platform controlled by the criminals—may have made $40 million just by itself, according to recently unsealed court records and blockchain analysis.
The news puts the ongoing pig butchering epidemic into context and gives a sense of scale of the amount of money being lost, with single players in the space making tens of millions of dollars by themselves. The FBI’s own figures put the total for 2022 of investment fraud at $3.31 billion, and $2.57 billion specifically for cryptocurrency investment fraud; and that’s just cases that have been self-reported to the agency.
“Pig butchering schemes begin by criminals contacting potential victims through seemingly misdirected text messages, dating applications, or professional meetup groups,” Juan Muñoz, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), writes in a warrant application filed last month. “Next, using various means of manipulation, the criminal gains the victim’s affection and trust. Criminals refer to victims as ‘pigs’ at this stage because they concoct elaborate stories to ‘fatten up’ their victims.” The term pig butchering comes from the Chinese phrase “shāzhūpán.”