Beware of the “pig-killing” encryption scam sweeping the United States

New York

The FBI says America has a “pig killing” problem. This cost victims millions of dollars.

“We’re not talking about what happened on the farm,” said Frank Fisher, a public affairs specialist with the bureau’s Albuquerque division. “We’re talking about a cryptocurrency investment scam sweeping the country.”

The term hog-killing refers to an unsuspecting victim – a “pig” – being tricked by a scammer into paying money for a promised high rate of return.

Scammers “fat the hogs by making victims think they’re investing in something and getting them to move the money into cryptocurrencies,” said Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara County, California, District Attorney. His office manages a multi-agency task force to combat technology-related crime.

Once criminals have “fattened” a victim’s digital wallet, they steal the money, Rosen said.

Rosen told CNN that pig-slaughter operations often start with a basic method: Scammers send millions of unsolicited messages a day via text message and social media to unsuspecting victims, often with Innocuous messages like “Hi, how are you?”

Scammers establish relationships with victims under false identities, sometimes for only a few weeks, before suggesting that they “invest” in cryptocurrencies.

One technique involves assuring victims that scammers have made handsome profits from cryptocurrencies, convincing victims that they should not miss out on the benefits of investing in cryptocurrencies.

Those who fall for the scam are tricked into sending ever-increasing amounts of money, even providing false financial statements to make it appear that their investments are earning handsome returns.

“That’s where ‘pig farming’ comes in,” Rosen said. Eventually, “you become a little skeptical. You try to contact the person who contacted you online and ask for a refund. [But] That person took you for a ghost. ”

Rosen said the holidays are an especially lucrative time for scammers because they often target people who may be feeling lonely.

While the original methods were unsophisticated, Rosen said the actual scams his team investigated — often overseas such as in Cambodia and China — involved highly sophisticated methods.

“They’ve been trained as psychologists trying to figure out the best way to manipulate people,” he said. “You’re dealing with people who will use different psychological tricks to make you vulnerable and interested in spending your money.”

Basic awareness and diligence are key to guarding against online predators, experts say.

“When you’re using social media and dating apps and someone starts a relationship with you and wants you to start investing, be very careful,” the FBI’s Fisher said. “Don’t get ripped off.”

As shoppers spend billions of dollars online this holiday season, the FBI said it also saw an increase in scams involving the big box retailer Amazon. “Cybercriminals’ scams are only limited by their imaginations, and their timing is impeccable,” Fisher said.

In one type of scam, “someone calls you and claims to be from Amazon or another wholesaler distributor and they say there’s a problem with your credit card,” Fisher added. The scammers then demand a new credit card number.

Another variation of the Amazon scam involves criminals calling potential victims and saying a suspicious purchase has been flagged on the user’s account, which leads to the suspension of the purchase. Victims are asked to pay by credit card immediately to restore the account.

“Sometimes, they’ll even threaten to report your purchase to law enforcement,” Fisher said. “Another dead man. Don’t be fooled.”

Amazon’s security team advises consumers that the company never asks customers for personal information, and users should not respond to emails asking for account data or personally identifiable information.

In a statement, the company said it worked to remove thousands of online phishing sites and phone numbers associated with the impersonation scam and referred suspected scammers to law enforcement agencies around the world.

“Scammers trying to impersonate Amazon put consumers at risk,” said Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s vice president of selling partner services. “While these scams take place outside of our stores, we continue to invest in protecting consumers and educating the public on how to avoid being scammed.”

Other types of scams are on the rise this holiday season, the FBI said, primarily targeting seniors. “Scammers tend to focus on older people because they know older people trust them, and they know older Americans generally have more money,” Fisher said.

In so-called sweepstakes scams, victims are contacted to be congratulated on winning a sweepstakes prize, but told they must first wire money to cover potentially prohibitive taxes and fees.

Legal “sweepstakes don’t do that,” Fisher said. “They won’t make you pay upfront to collect money.”

Last year in New Mexico alone there were about 60 victims of fake sweepstakes whose collective losses totaled $1 million, he said.

The FBI is advising people to ask older relatives and friends about their online habits and whether they might be targeted by cybercriminals.

“If someone approaches them and wants to be their friend and develop a relationship,” Fisher says, “ask questions.”

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