While Tan says he never successfully cheated anyone, the mechanics of the scam he describes match the experiences of scammed victims VICE World News interviewed. Justin Maile, investigation partner manager at Chainalysis, a leading blockchain data firm, described pig butchering criminal operations as akin to legitimate businesses with “separate departments for training, HR, operations, [and] laundering.” “They use extensive playbooks with detailed strategies to relate to and win over victims of all demographics,” he told VICE World News. “They often have fake websites built to demo with fake data showing huge profits… Before the ‘butchering', these groups will allow small withdrawals or send the victim small profits to make them believe the platform is legitimate.”
“The scammers will try to get any last payments out of the victims by exploiting the sunk cost fallacy and dangling huge profits in front of them.”
George is in that million-plus band. In his 60s and from Rhode Island, he asked for a pseudonym as he hasn’t gone public about his losses. He met his scammer in October on Instagram, and what started as a romantic relationship with a woman he believed was in Singapore evolved as crypto was introduced a few weeks in. George initially deposited $2,000 into a wallet on Coinbase, a legitimate platform, and connected it to a fraudulent crypto platform she recommended. He enjoyed initial success, as all victims do, and watched earnings steadily trickle through on elaborately designed charts, all while being able to withdraw his earnings. By Dec. 23, he was in for $100,000—this is when his scammers flipped the switch. “All of a sudden, at the end of that day, I went to go check my balance [on Coinbase], and I was like: ‘Where did my money go?’” he told VICE World News. Unbeknownst to George, his scammers had tricked him into giving them total access to his Coinbase wallet. “I went over to the mining app and saw the balance had increased over there.” With his money now stored on this fraudulent website, he was made to traverse the same never-ending series of taxes, audits, and fees that had ensnared Tsai. Over the next six weeks, George would throw good money after bad into the fraudulent website. By early February, he had cleared out his retirement fund, remortgaged his home, and taken out substantial personal loans.
“I’m a widower; I lost my wife in 2020… I was getting ready to get back into the field, dip my foot in the dating pool. Then [the scammer] came along, and she seemed interesting and caught my attention.”