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Case Study of a Chinese Pig Butchering Scam
Wherein we find out how successful romance scammers can be by enraging them.
I did a bad thing and installed Tinder and Hinge a week ago.
Meet Effie, one of six different fully verified online dating accounts I matched with over the past week, each of which was running some variant of the Pig Butchering scam.
Effie: Hello, I'm Effie.
BJ: Hi! Are you travelling today?
Effie: Yes, I've reached New Jersey, but you haven't responded to my messages. How are you today?
BJ: I'm fine. When will you next be in Atlanta?
Effie: 3-4 weeks.
BJ: Sounds good. Hit me up when you get back!
Effie: Okay, if we're still in touch, I'll let you know.
Effie: Why didn't you reply to my message yesterday?
BJ: I did, at 10:06 am
Effie: OK, you can briefly introduce yourself.
BJ: I'm a civil engineering consultant, widower, parent of two elementary school age kids, writer, musician, and hobbyist farmer. I've also been hit five times in the past week from two different dating sites by the "pig butchering" dating scam from asian women's profiles, so I'll be happy to share more when you get back in town. ;)
BTW Tinder still says you're in Atlanta.
Effie: Okay, I'm from Hong Kong and just moved to New Jersey for a few months. Single for 5 years, no kids.
5 female asian ladies who are scamming you? I don't think you have any losses.
BJ: Oh yes. Same scam. Probably run out of a data center in Shenzhen or something.
Effie: How they lie to you, I'd like to hear about the scam, I'll pay attention to it in the future.
BJ: Well it starts on tinder or hinge, then pivots over to whatsapp. Then it continues with the lady saying she owns one or more businesses and is no longer in the town you're in so she can't meet you for lunch. Then it proceeds to what an amazing investment opportunity she has for you because her uncle/father/etc has a team of analysts who do margins trading for her, and it ends with her trying to get you to log in to some financial software on a website or with her asking for your coinbase password.
So that's why I meet people for lunch. ;)
LMK when you're back in Atlanta and we can have lunch!
Effie: Okay, I do some cryptocurrency investments outside of work. Cryptocurrencies have become mainstream, but they also require blockchain technology, and blind investment is very risky.
At this point it’s worth pausing to discuss the full structure of the modern Chinese pig butchering scam. There’s always a beautiful Asian lady. Always old enough to be well into her career but not so old that her not having kids would be suspicious. She never lives in your town, or she’s just passing through, or she has some circumstance that keeps her from meeting you for lunch, and always a reason she can’t video chat. Sometimes she will video chat via Skype instead of WhatsApp or similar, and then claim that her mic doesn’t work and she has to type, whereupon she sends you a stock video of an Asian lady typing.
She usually has a profession of “nail salon” or “restaurant” or similar on her profile but then she starts talking about how her father or uncle has a team of investment analysists that do margins trading, either in stocks, currency, or crypto. The scam ends when she tries to either get you to go to a website that has a kind of trading interface, and she can “coach you how to do it” to become fabulously wealthy yourself if you put money into an account she controls, or she asks you for your Coinbase password.
The chance any one dating connection makes “her” any money is very small, but if she’s making a hundred twenty five connections a day swiping on desperate horny dudes on Tinder, that’s a thousand connections a week. And if one of those connections is a sucker, she might be able to steal tens of thousands of dollars from the guy. And as we’ll see below, these people make a tremendous amount of money.
The really funny thing about stringing the scammers along like this is, as you have already seen above, they are so incredibly blind to the fact that they’re being strung along. I already put this one on notice that I knew about the scam, and “she” is still trying to run it. Like a bad telemarketer.
Let’s continue. In the next phase of the conversation, we try to provoke the scammer into yielding information about the actual scam. I tried carrots, but the stick is what worked in the end.
Effie: I can't eat because it's not the time to meet each other, and it won't be embarrassing to know each other and meet each other.BJ: Ok, well let me know if you change your mind.
Sorry, I didn't understand what you meant. What did I change my mind about?
BJ: About having lunch the next time you're in Atlanta
Effie: Of course, if we keep in touch, we can do it.
Effie: You seem to have disappeared.
BJ: I'm still here. Lmk when you're in Atlanta next. 😘
Effie: You mean we don't communicate now until I get to Atlanta?
BJ: I can't know you're not yet another scammer until I buy you lunch.
Effie: Do you think we can meet without knowing each other?
BJ: That's literally how you get to know someone 🤣🤣🤣
BJ: You could be a smelly Nigerian dude with a VPN for all I know 🤣
Effie: If you don't communicate, I don't think I can get to know you.
Effie: What do you mean by saying this?
Effie: In Chinese, everything you say is stupid.
BJ: In China, restaurant owners will hire women to meet men on dating apps and convince them to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy dinner in their restaurant. 🤣
Ok ok. I may believe you're not a smelly Nigerian man if you send me a selfie photo holding up three fingers on your left hand. Outside of that I'm going to have to meet you for lunch to verify you're real.
Modern romance scams originate primarily from three areas of the world. Jamaica, Nigeria, and China. Finance scams primarily originate in Israel. There’s an amazing documentary episode on National Geographic about this stuff by Mariana Van Zeller. I cannot endorse this entire series enough, it’s worth paying for on streaming, but the first episode highlights the dating scam scene in Jamaica and the finance scam scene in Israel.
I chose Nigeria in this dialogue for a specific reason - Chinese mainlanders, whom this scammer obviously is, are incredibly racist people. They call black folks “monkeys,” and white folks “white monkeys,” and also carry a lot of disdain for all their neighboring countries as well. Asia is a very racist place. The idea that I think this person is black drove her over a rail. Let’s watch her fall over it.
Effie: Do you not understand Chinese?
BJ: No, but I'm slowly working through this on Google translate. Standby.
Effie: If you don't believe me, why are we adding?
Effie: No, I am translating for you.
Effie: Are you coming to New Jersey?
BJ: I translated it
Effie: Most importantly are you a catfish?
Effie: Not even using your photo, which is suspicious.
BJ: No I'm not coming to NJ. No I'm not a catfish. I'm happy to prove it, are you?
BJ: Let's video chat. 😉
Effie: You don't come to New Jersey, we can't meet, how do you prove it?
BJ: Let's video chat. 😉
Effie: I can't make a video because I have my troubles. I can't forget the car accident 5 years ago. And I don't like videos with strangers.
BJ: You can't make a video because you're actually a Nigerian dude running finance dating scams. 🤣
See, here's the deal. It's ok. I get it. It’s awful that the dollar is worth so much on the international exchange market that one good score can pay rent in a developing country for months. It's awful that there is such a wealth differential that creates this incentive for this business of scamming. I'd actually be very interested to speak honestly with whoever you actually are and find out your situation, whether you're a beautiful Asian lady or a 15 year old African dude trying to pay for his family's food. So we can end the game and start being honest if you want. It might be more fun.
BJ: 🤣🤣 “fuck my mother” ..??
Ok this is going to take a bit to translate. Standby.
Effie: Okay, translate slowly and let me know when you're done.
BJ: Done. I don't think Google did a great job with that one, but I think I get the gist.
Here's the deal.
Yeah I've got over a million dollars in the bank. I'm successful. I'm very uninterested in getting scammed, but curiously enough I'm fabulously interested in how dating scams work, and I'm also really interested in what's going on generally in China right now. So there might be some money in it for you if you came clean and told me who you really are. I'm totally fascinated by that.
Effie: Lol, it seems you like being cheated a lot?
Effie: First of all, you need to search for crypto.com in the mobile phone store and register with a personal account, so that I can teach you better.
Effie: This is not a scam, it is a transaction that takes you to invest in cryptocurrencies and let you know more about short-term contracts.
Effie: This is also a way to enhance friendship between each other, but if you understand it as a lie, you can only say that you are very narrow.
BJ: Oh boo, that's no fun. How much money do you want to send me an actual selfie photo of yourself wherever you're at right now. Computer terminal in Shenzhen with a couple dozen other folks running the scam script or whatever? What's a day's wage in a place like that? I could probably PayPal it to you.
Effie: Two photos.
BJ: Yeah those are stock photos. Send me one more with three fingers extended on your left hand.
Effie: I am in the crypto market and in the past 6 months I have made a profit of $260k.
BJ: Then you can obviously afford a cel phone with a video camera 😂😂😂😂
Effie: Can you finish the payment first?
Effie: Are you playing "mouth"?
Effie: Sorry, your phone is fine, my phone doesn't shoot well.
BJ: I'll pay you $10 for an actual photo of whoever you actually are.
Effie: I have not seen money?
Effie: Do you think $1 million is a lot?
BJ: How much do you actually make running this scam?
BJ: I'm fascinated by this stuff. I'd pay you for information about it. I wouldn't report your dating profile either
Effie: If it's a client I bring, I'll be honest, I'll also earn some commission.
Effie: But most of it comes from my own investment. As a friend, I bring him to make money, and I have to take a 10% cut of some profit points.
Effie: Because you and I have an analysis team to support, there is no such thing as a pie in the sky, and I charge a small amount of funds, which is not excessive. But he also needs to be worthy of me taking him to make money.
Effie: Do you understand what I mean now?
BJ: No no no. Stop with the investment scam script and be honest about how much the dating scams actually make. I'm totally interested in that and I'd pay you to find out. Let's get real. Like, first off, what ratio of lonely dudes on Tinder actually fall for this? How long do you have to talk to them before they give you money? And how much do you make per mark?
Effie: I invest in cryptocurrency short-term trades, and each trade is completed within 10-20 minutes. I don't think it's cheating, if you are someone I think is trustworthy, I'm willing to share good things with you. But I saw what you said and I thought you were ignorant.
BJ: Stop. We're past that part of the conversation and I know the scam. I'm interested in finding out how successful the scam is in general.
Effie: Stop joking, okay, you want to be a clown, I'm telling you, you don't believe me, so what are you asking?
Effie: Lol, rubbish like you will think it's a scam.
BJ: I'm willing to pay you money to find out details about how the scam works. If you want my money you can earn it by telling me details about the scam.
Effie: First of all, you have to make up your own wisdom. When you are talking, do you understand cryptocurrency?
Effie: Stop it, fool, live in your own world.
BJ: I also understand dating scams.
Effie: Do what I said and you'll understand.
BJ: And I understand you want my money, and I'm giving you a way to get some of it.
Effie: I want your mother's money.
Effie: Do you consider yourself important?
BJ: You have fire!
Effie: Do you think you are qualified for me to take you to invest in cryptocurrencies?
Effie: I just think what you're saying is something a fool said.
Effie: The first time I was called a liar.
Effie: Should I compliment you?
Effie: Compliment you for being smart?
Effie: Stop replying, and before saying anything, think about whether it will be a joke.
Effie: Lowering your IQ doesn't do you any good.
BJ: You are a moderately successful dating scammer and I actually appreciate that. I want to know how the dating scam scene works, and I'm willing to pay actual money to find out. I think that would be a fascinating way to spend my time, and you'd get paid for it. Are you interested?
Effie: Fuck you, you use me as a pastime?
Effie: Don't reply, I don't need that little money from you.
BJ: Oh no. I'm a journalist and I'd write an article about it. I'd keep your identity anonymous so you don't get into trouble with your boss, you'd make some side money, and people could understand better why you're doing what you're doing instead of just hating you.
Effie: On the advice of my analytics team I was able to make a profit of $5000-$10000 per trade, which is not much, but I don't think I'm relying on men to feed.
BJ: Stop 🤣🤣
Effie: You can find the next woman to chat with you. For me, your situation is too small, and you think you are rich, and you are showing off your wealth with 1 million US dollars?
BJ: Consider my actual offer. It might be fun.
BJ: Sleep on it. I understand that this communication channel might be monitored by whatever mob boss is running the scam, but you seem resourceful enough to get another phone number and text me tomorrow when you're off work so we can open a dialogue about how these scams work, and why people like you participate in them. I'd pay for your time. It'd be a great human interest story and you could make some side cash.
Effie: Am I a money-hungry person?
Effie: Good night.
BJ: 🤣🤣🤣 you apparently have a cel phone capable of taking selfies 🤣
BJ: Those are impressive numbers!
BJ: Let's talk. Send me a text from a different number. I want to learn how these scams work.
Now it’s possible that those last two photos weren’t real either, and they were stock photos for the scam. But the way this conversation went, I don’t think so. I think this scammer’s got a half million dollars in the bank. I think she specifically targets men in the $5 million to $10 million net worth range, probably older dudes who don’t know any better, likely retirees. She’s obviously Chinese. But it’s not obvious at all that “she’s” a she. It’s clear that my carrot (“hey I’ll pay you for your real story”) wasn’t worth her time. She’s obviously proud of what she’s doing, and not at all embarrassed, and got incredibly offended that I thought she was poor, or when I insinuated she was African. So at least in this case, we have a truly narcissistic personality, arrogantly delighted in her behavior, sitting on a half million dollars duped from horny idiot dudes.
And the Sensemaking Crisis rolls on.