Dating app scam "pig butchering" hits the Netherlands; One Rotterdammer lost €14,000
This article was updated.
A relatively new scam targeting dating app users has started to become more common in the Netherlands. Known as "pig butchering," the con takes place over an extended period of time where scammers luring lure people in on dating apps, before tricking them into investing real money in fake trading platforms. While fraud via online dating is far from new, the combination of dating and trading applications is a new development, according to the Dutch anti-fraud organization FraudeHelpDesk.
This form of scam was first introduced in China before it extended its reach to the United States and Europe. The term "pig butchering," which is a rough translation of its Chinese name "shāzhūpán", refers to the way victims are "fattened up" with affection by the scammer, before falling prey to the scam and effectively being slaughtered.
Marloes Kolthof from the online fraud hotline FraudeHelpDesk warned in February of scammers using dating apps to manipulate their victims into financial investments. ''They build a relationship with the victim very slowly. First, trust is gained,'' Kolthof said told NPO Radio 1. This process could span several weeks or even months. These scammers typically attempt to shift the conversation from the dating app to WhatsApp or other messaging platforms, where encryption makes tracking the messages more difficult for businesses and law enforcement.
At that point, the scammer usually steers the conversation toward trading investments. As Kolthof noted, “The scammer pretends to be a successful investor or a business owner.” He then asks the victim to log into fake bank websites or trading apps to invest their money. This can lead to victims losing thousands of euros.
This is what happened to Eva*, an expat residing in Rotterdam and working for a bank in the Netherlands. “It all started two months ago when I met this guy online via a Chinese dating app,” she told NL Times this week. The man said he was living in Los Angeles and working in a bank. Their interaction started with typical dating discussions, but he rapidly proposed transferring their conversation to WhatsApp. He also added her on Facebook, where "he regularly posted photos of himself." Their exchanges were conducted in Chinese.
After a month of ordinary online chats, he introduced her to an investment app called Nicaragua_Bitcloud, a free app still available on Apple's App Store with the appearance of being a legitimate service. "Why not give it a try?" she thought. He convinced her by telling her that he was an expert on cryptocurrency trading with several years of experience. “He showed me he could earn money very quickly.” The scammer shared a link to the application in the App Store and guided her on how to start investing and making profits. She initially invested a sum of 100 euros.
Her investments quickly added up to approximately 4,000 euros. Last Friday, she decided to stop. The lack of publicly available online information about the app arose her suspicion. She informed the scammer that she would pause her investments for the time being.
However, when she attempted to withdraw her money, her account was locked. A customer service chat within the app informed her that she needed to pay a tax of several thousand euros and a 20% fee within three days to access her money. After she complied, they demanded thousands of euros to prove that she was the owner of the wallet, threatening to freeze it within two days. Upon her payment, they requested more money so that the app could recover the money. She ended up roughly losing the equivalent of another 10,000 euros.
She reached out to FraudeHelpDesk, who advised her to contact the police. However, the police informed her that they were unable to assist her. “They told me there was no chance to get back the money,” she remarked. She also expressed the difficulties she faced in seeking support from public authorities, as she felt they did not provide the help she needed. The spokesperson for the police and FraudeHelpDesk were not available during the drafting of the article to answer our questions.
The episode left a significant impact on her. "I lost everything and now need to borrow money for my living costs," she said. She was informed that scammers might exploit her current vulnerable condition to entrap her in another scam promising to get back her losses.
She is still in contact with various organizations to assist in identifying the scammer. “We’re still texting, he doesn’t know I reported it to the police.”
She expressed her will to share her story because she wants to raise awareness about this new scam. “You don’t hear anything in the media.”
The FraudeHelpDesk said it has noted is noting an increase in the number of reports of investment fraud in online dating. Of the total number of reports of online dating fraud last year, fraudsters tried to trick their date into investing in 11% of cases. In 2021, this percentage was still just over 2%.
In total, online dating fraud led to total financial losses amounting to 4 million euros.
*The name of the victim was changed for privacy reasons