Inside pig butchering, the new online romance scam sweeping the UK – Screen Shot
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Inside pig butchering, the new online romance scam sweeping the UK

Have you been receiving a lot of dodgy phone calls recently? An influx of weird WhatsApp messages? Or maybe even a match on Hinge who just seems a little off but you can’t quite put your finger on why?

As we’ve become increasingly infatuated with the world of con artists over the past few years, scams which pull at our heartstrings—and often our purses—only seem to be becoming more ubiquitous. And while those annoying messages in your inbox or your DMs may not seem as exciting as those in a four-part Netflix series, the planning behind them probably is.

You may not have heard of it (yet), but “pig butchering” is the newest iteration in a long line of online romance scams. According to The Guardian, the name is derived from the Chinese term “sha zhu pan,” which refers to fattening up a pig to get it ready for butchering. As its name implies, the scam slowly draws victims in and gains their trust over time, resulting in a large, devastating payout at the end of the relationship.

So, how does pig butchering differ from other online romance scams out there? At first glance, it may seem formulaic—a person meets another on the internet, they build a connection, they get scammed. But, according to the Global Anti-Scam Organization (GASO), this simply isn’t the case.

The four ways this highly unfortunately-named con deviates from the norm are its psychological and technical sophistication, its quickness to evolve, the involved element of grooming, and the massive sums of money lost by victims.

The GASO notes that pig butchering victims who have approached them for help “have an average financial loss of $169,000.” What’s more, while other scams are confined to a single digital medium (we’re talking emails or phone calls), those carrying out pig butchering “can literally be everywhere you are,” the GASO has previously stated.

They may be a mutual connection who’s started chatting to you on LinkedIn, a wrong number text on WhatsApp that keeps the conversation going, a new love interest on Hinge who subtly brings up crypto, or even a Redditor from your favourite sub that you’ve started DMing. You simply never know.

And, just because you’ve watched all of Inventing Anna and The Tinder Swindler, or have loyally listened to podcasts The Dropout and Sweet Bobby, doesn’t mean that you’re immune to becoming a victim of this con.

This sophisticated scam is highly calculated and can affect any demographic. Scammers tend to target individuals who have college and graduate degrees, as well as those who live in expensive areas, like Los Angeles or New York City, the GASO stated, but victims ultimately come from a diverse variety of backgrounds. Plus, thanks to neural machine translation services like Google Translate and DeepL Translate, scammers can communicate in almost any language.

Perhaps the most nuanced aspect of pig butchering scams is the fact that a crypto investment angle is normally heavily involved. After building a victim’s trust, scammers begin slowly working cryptocurrency into the conversation—which wouldn’t seem too out of place for your average 20- or 30-something today, although in this case, the results are far more sinister.

Over time, the swindler encourages their victim to invest small increments into their so-called “preferred” crypto platform or wallet. Once the money goes through, the scammer tends to add money to the wallet to make it seem like they’ve earned on their investment, encouraging the victim to invest more and buy into the scheme (quite literally). Then, once a significant amount is sent over, or the relationship shows signs of heading south, the pig butcher drains the account and disappears.

A key element underpinning the workings of pig butchering scams is convincing tech-savvy victims that the crypto wallet or platform that they’re being introduced to is legitimate. To achieve this, “criminal groups set up real companies that they can then refer to on their scam websites, creating a veneer of legitimacy,” as stated in The Guardian investigation.

Over three months, the reporters “identified 168 such companies registered via Companies House—the UK’s official business registry—which were used to defraud victims” out of millions of pounds. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, these syndicates use the UK as a “virtual base” for operations while exploiting lax regulations to conduct fraud on an industrial scale.”

Another important detail propping up pig butchering scams is that those sending the messages and building relationships with victims are often victims of online scams themselves. Cezary Podkul and Cindy Liu of ProPublica reported in September 2022 that tens of thousands of people throughout Southeast Asia have been lured to countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar by the promise of better job opportunities via online ads.

But, once these victims arrive, they’re unable to leave and are forced to work “where Chinese criminal syndicates have set up cyber fraud operations,” explained Podkul and Liu. One former victim coerced into carrying out pig butchering schemes revealed to the nonprofit organisation that he worked on a team of eight under a manager, and was given ten phones to keep multiple conversations going.

The GASO added that most of these human trafficking victims are “required to start conversations with anywhere from two to eight people per day depending on the scam company.” The level of criminal organisation behind pig butchering makes it easy to see why so many in the UK and elsewhere are becoming victims on a daily basis.

Many who have fallen prey to this scam often feel ashamed, and since the network behind the fraudulent activity is so vast and global, it makes it extremely difficult to prosecute those who’ve committed the crime.

Introducing scam rap, a music subgenre where artists teach you how to scam

“The government tried to ban me from the dark web. I downloaded TOR Browser and got back in. Went and got a VPN, just bought another BIN,” raps away Teejayx6, a 19-year-old from the east side of Detroit. Decked in a black ski mask, the young rapper illustrates the process of accessing the dark web in great detail—down to the bank identification numbers he uses to make fraudulent transactions. Welcome to the fringe world of scam rap, a viral subgenre glorifying and breaking down fraudulent activity step-by-step for listeners.

Detroit and the rise of scam rap

Mentions of fraudulent activity in music is nothing new. Future, Meek Mill, City Girls and Kodak Black are all on the long list of rappers with scamming-related lyrics. You are most likely to have already been introduced to this subgenre even if you don’t follow any of the artists mentioned.

In The Secret Life Of Pets 2, Kevin Hart voiced a bunny named Snowball—a former anti-human revolutionary who has come to believe that he is a superhero. The movie ended with Snowball rapping away Desiigner’s 2015 smash ‘Panda. “Credit cards and the scammers!” bellowed Snowball in a snapback as scam rap quickly infiltrated the kid movie pantheon.

Scam rap has been associated with Detroit-based artists where the subgenre is deeply rooted in credit card frauds, identity thefts and other illicit ways of splitting people from their money. Credited with its own rap scene, scam rap in particular seems to be flooding out of Motor City with many upcoming rappers mentioning scamming in their lyrics.

Though not exclusive to Detroit, the city’s scam rap can be differentiated from the rest with its off-beat flow and rap style. Artists like Kasher Quon and 10kkev leverage bouncy beats filled with high synths to produce sounds similar to “a loading screen on a low-budget video game.” Their rap style lies somewhere between frenzy and monotone to create feverish energy that eventually matches the anxiety-ridden sentiments of the scamming lifestyle they allegedly live in.

The 19-year-old face of scam rap

Scam rap surfaced in 2017 when Bossman Rich dropped his single ‘Jugging Ain’t Real. The track featured the rapper flashing stacks of cash while rhyming off-beat about BINs, Bitcoins and credit card frauds. Interest in the subgenre along with true scam cases peaked post that.

Scam rap went mainstream in 2019 with the rise of GuapDad 4000, an Oakland-based rapper. Styling himself as a charming conman, the artist is credited with scamming celebrities like Drake into performing at his afterparty for free—later boasting about it on Instagram. However, it wasn’t until Teejayx6 (real name unknown) came onto the scene that the subgenre really took off.

Incriminating himself to insane degrees in just about every song, Teejayx6 shot to fame with his breakout single Dark Web where he coaches listeners by giving them step-by-step instructions on how to access the dark web using the TOR browser. Immersed in pop-culture references and terminologies, most of Teejayx6’s songs are dramatic scam stories that play out like heist movies.

In Swipe Story, the 19-year-old artist breaks down the process of stealing PS4s from Walmart, outlining everything from embossing fake credit cards to lying to the cashier about why he needs $3,500 worth of gaming equipment. He later raps about scamming different Walmarts in a sum total of 50 times. In Violin he raps about buying social security numbers, and in Blackmail he goes as far as scamming his own grandmother.

During his first-ever show in Los Angeles, Teejayx6 was arrested on-stage by US Marshals. But internet nerds were quick to theorise that the arrest was staged with a bunch of actors and that the whole thing was a publicity stunt—yet another scam. So why hasn’t the real police caught on yet? Is scam rap legal in the first place?

Robin Hoods for the age of cryptocurrency

Scam rap’s existence highlights a cultural shift to psychological, data-driven crimes where rappers involved aren’t afraid to delve into the details regardless of the authenticity of their claims. Given that many of Teejayx6’s ‘alleged’ crimes involved swindling some of the wealthiest companies on Earth, artists like him are considered “Robin Hoods for the age of cryptocurrency.”

Acknowledging the fact that “scamming celebrities is easier than normal people because they fall for it quicker,” Teejayx6 has allegedly scammed Blac Chyna and Dave East. The young rapper further separates himself from the ruthless types of frauds with a positive motive backing him up. “I’m really helping people in the long run,” he admitted in an interview with Genius. Upon purchase of his mixtape The Fraud Bible, Teejayx6 stated that his fans get an actual fraud bible—a guide which includes “actual methods, BINs and everything required” to carry out scams.

“People want to label me a scammer,” he mentioned in an interview with Pitchfork. “But I’m really helping fans out, giving them advice and even money if they need it.”

Popular, but not too popular

“Scam rap is going to be a thing for a while because it’s money,” admitted Teejayx6. “Anybody would like to make money. So it’s just a matter of time before the whole world catches on.” The artist, however, warns against the repercussions that entail the subgenre’s mainstream popularity.

“It might bring problems like the police only if it gets too popular,” he said. In an interview with Complex about the future of scam rap, the young artist mentioned how scamming is increasingly becoming the “standard job for rappers” replacing what once was drug dealing. When asked if he was worried about the repercussions of his self-incriminating lyrics, Teejayx6 stated that he was only worried about seeing somebody he has scammed in real-life.

“If I ever get big, somebody that I scammed in the past might book me for a show just to rob me. In the life I live, I always have to be careful. I scammed so many people from different cities, different states. I don’t know who’s trying to book me. So I’m really terrified.” In his No Jumper interview, the 19-year-old perfectly sums up the doubts we currently harbour in the back of our minds, “Even if I was under investigation, there is no proof, there’s no video proof. I could be saying all this, it could be a lie, it could be entertainment.”

While scam rap’s influence is yet to ‘ill-favourably’ manifest itself in popular culture, you can either head to the comments section of these music videos for detailed how-to guides from other fans (in hopes of not being scammed yourself in the process) or bop your head to its anxious synths and off-beat rhymes. The so-far legal choice is yours.