The Rise of Romance Crypto-Scamming

The Rise of Romance Crypto-Scamming

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Malicious romance cybercriminal steals close to a quarter million dollars from a victim in a months-long online scam.

This type of online scam is also referred to as “pig butchering,” because the victims are like “hogs fattened up by fraudsters with feigned love and affection before the proverbial slaughter—which is tricking them into a fake crypto investment,” as described by Techxplore.

In a recent case reported by AFP, the attacker spent months wooing the victim until he made her spend $450,000 on cryptocurrency, draining her savings and retirement funds. The attacker used digitally altered deepfake videos and a script so sophisticated the victim has said she felt as if her “brain was hacked.”

According to Techxplore, this type of fraud is rapidly growing and has resulted in losses worth billions of dollars. The scam usually begins on a dating app, where in this case the victim met the attacker who introduced himself as a French wine trader based in Philadelphia. He proceeded to speak to her on WhatsApp, “charisma-bombing” her, sending selfies and even having brief video calls that were all done using deepfake technology.

This scammer even sent the victim physical flowers on Valentine’s Day, slowly convincing her of his lie- that he’s made a lot of money from investing and plans an early retirement, saying “I’ve made all this money investing. Do you really want to work till you’re 65?” He then sent the victim a link to download a seemingly legitimate crypto trading app (complete with two-factor authentication). The victim converted some of her savings into cryptocurrency and the fake app initially allowed her to withdraw some early gains, which gave her confidence to invest more.

The scammer pushed her to invest more savings, take out loans and even liquidate her retirement fund. She became suspicious when the app demanded a personal “tax” upon trying to withdraw the money.

A reverse image search then revealed that the selfies the scammer sent her were of a German fitness influencer.

Although scams on dating sites are nothing new, the use of romance as a hook to commit financial fraud is provoking new alarm. According to AFP, just in 2023 over 40,000 people reported losses of well over $3.5 billion from cryptocurrency fraud. This estimation is likely even lower than the actual numbers, since many victims tend not to report the crime out of shame.