Tenable Exposes Pig Butchering Scam Cryptocurrency and Spot Gold Investments Used to Swindle Nearly $13 Million

Asia Pacific, 15 May 2024 – Tenable, the Exposure Management company, has uncovered the intricate workings of the pig butchering scam, shedding light on how fraudsters exploit investments in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and spot gold (Ticker symbol: XAUUSD) to defraud unsuspecting victims of hundreds of millions of dollars collectively.

At its core, the pig butchering scam leverages a sophisticated blend of emotional manipulation and financial deception. Perpetrators craft personas used to establish trust through online dating platforms or social media before transitioning to the financial fraud. Promises of lucrative investments in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and spot gold (XAUUSD) serve as bait, ultimately leading to devastating financial losses.

Satnam Narang, senior research engineer at Tenable, conducted extensive firsthand research spanning from the end of 2022 into early 2024. His work has provided invaluable insights into the deceptive tactics employed by pig butchers, whose schemes blur the lines between romance and investment scams.

“Pig butchering scams, while operating under the guise of romance and friendship, have proven to be vastly lucrative enterprises for fraudsters, enabling them to steal significant sums of money from victims worldwide,” said Narang.

Central to the scam is the utilisation of falsified cryptocurrency investments. Victims are persuaded to invest substantial sums of money, only to discover that their funds have vanished into the hands of fraudsters. Narang estimates that losses associated with scams observed in his firsthand research totalled nearly $13 million dollars, though he believes this figure to be a conservative estimate.

The complex network of cryptocurrency addresses involved suggests that the actual losses incurred could be substantially higher, underscoring the pervasive nature of these fraudulent activities. The anonymity and decentralised nature of cryptocurrencies compound the challenges in tracking and recovering stolen funds, exacerbating the complexities of this fraudulent scheme.

“Despite the staggering financial toll inflicted by these scams, the true extent of the losses remains difficult to quantify, hampered by the blurred delineation between romance and investment fraud, the clandestine nature of transactions on attacker-controlled platforms, and the underreporting by victims due to feelings of shame and embarrassment,” said Narang.

Recent reports across Southeast Asia have underscored the growing threat of romance scams. For instance, Indonesian authorities recently detained 88 Chinese nationals linked to a transnational phone and online romance scam syndicate. Similarly, within the first half of 2023 alone, Singapore reported losses amounting to S$25.9 million due to such scams. In Thailand, these fraudulent activities also pose a significant concern; romance scams ranked 10th in crime cases, with 1,435 reported instances and total losses surpassing S$17.5 million within just a nine-month period.

To empower individuals in identifying and thwarting pig butchering scams, Narang offers a comprehensive guide on recognising the warning signs. From random, unsolicited messages on messaging platforms to requests to move conversations off dating apps, users are urged to exercise vigilance and caution in their interactions.

Moreover, Narang advises against engaging with individuals who boast about successful investments in cryptocurrencies and other financial instruments or who solicit cryptocurrency purchases from legitimate exchanges for dubious purposes.

Narang’s research serves as a clarion call to action in the fight against pig butchering scams. By raising awareness of the deceptive tactics employed by fraudsters and equipping the public with the knowledge to identify and combat these schemes, we can collectively safeguard ourselves and others from falling victim to financial exploitation.

About Tenable

Tenable® is the Exposure Management company. Approximately 43,000 organizations around the globe rely on Tenable to understand and reduce cyber risk. As the creator of Nessus®, Tenable extended its expertise in vulnerabilities to deliver the world’s first platform to see and secure any digital asset on any computing platform. Tenable customers include approximately 60 percent of the Fortune 500, approximately 40 percent of the Global 2000, and large government agencies. Learn more at tenable.com.

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