Investigations | January 31, 2023

Crypto Romance Scams

by the Crystal Intelligence Team


Crypto romance scams, or pig-butchering as it is also known, happen when a criminal assumes a fake identity to gain victim’s affection and confidence. The swindler then uses the fantasy of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and ultimately steal from the victim. 

Con artists are proficient at carrying out these crypto romance scams, for they are experts at what they do and will appear genuine, loving, and credible. These criminals are present on most dating and social media sites and intend to establish relationships as quickly as possible, endear themselves to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may even suggest marriage and make plans to meet their victims in person, but that rarely happens. What they will most certainly do, is ask for money at one point or another. 

If someone you meet online asks for your crypto wallet address or bank account details to “deposit” funds, they will most likely use your account to carry out theft or fraudulent activities.

What is a crypto romance scam?  

Confidence or romance frauds occur when scammers deceive a victim into believing they have a trustful relationship. Whether posing as a family member, friend, or a romantic partner, the criminals leverage the relationship to persuade the victims to send crypto funds or deposit money and provide personal or financial information.  

In many cases, the victims are persuaded to launder money on behalf of the criminal and act as money mules. In 2020, authorities identified over 100,000 money mules in the U.K. and U.S. alone. Bad actors frequently use online dating platforms to recruit their money mules.

Most common internet dating scams:     

  • Fake dating websites: Scam dating sites claim to be legitimate but are loaded with scammers. These websites are designed to collect your information.      
  • Photo cons: Scammers will convince you to send your personal information in exchange for intimate pictures.      
  • Military romance scams: The con artist will pose as an army member, most likely deployed, build trust using military terminology, and finally ask for money to cover expenses. 
  • Intimate blackmail: The scammer and the victim become closer; the scammer persuades the victim to send intimate recordings of themselves and then resorts to blackmail. 
  • Code verification hoax: Fake dating apps or websites will send out phony verification codes through email or text. When clicked on, harvest personal information like Social Security numbers and credit cards.      
  • Inheritance scams: The targets are scammed into believing they must marry the scammer to get their inheritance. 
  • Malware scams: The recipient will interact with a scammer who sends them to a website that appears legitimate; however, it’s a page that includes malware.   
  • Pig butchering schemes often involve soliciting small investments to bolster your confidence. They usually involve fake dashboards showing exponentially growing assets, intending to encourage more significant investments. 

How do crypto romance scams work?  

Even though dating apps and websites have been around for more than a decade, they have exploded in popularity only in recent years. In 2016 240.9 million users were found on dating apps globally; in 2021, that number leaped to 323.9 million users.

Crypto romance scams start when the scammer baits a target. This is most common on dating sites, but they also use social media, messaging apps, or any platform where they can send messages. They often catch victims’ interest by pretending to be successful businesspeople. They talk about how they have attained financial freedom. Or they will explain how they’re on track to retire at age 40 and travel the world. FBI reports that online scams have increased by 25% since 2019, with those affected by romance scams losing $547 million in 2021. 

For perspective, in 2020, there were more than 35,000 victims of romance scams alone. Here’s how the online scam works.

  1. The fraudster usually targets their victim on an online dating site, and they begin an online relationship.  
  2. The cybercriminal gains the victim’s trust but always comes up with reasons they can’t meet in person. 
  3. The cyberthief asks for money or details about the victim’s financial life.

Romance scam warning signs: 

  • Their dating profile is too good to be true 
  • They live in a remote location, you’re unable to reach them 
  • The relationship moves fast  
  • Scammers break promises to show face. 
  • They ask for money and personal information 
  • They ask for specific payment methods: 

Online scam prevention tip: If you start an online relationship with someone, protect yourself by asking many questions, take it slow and never give out your personal information. 

How to spot a romance con artist: 

1. They are far away, in a remote location where you’re unable to reach them 

Fakers often pose as someone stationed abroad to protect themselves against meeting in person. Some of the common romance scam stories include:      

  • Working on an oil rig.       
  • Military members deployed overseas. 
  • Medical doctors working in an international organization. 

Since they tend to tell a fascinating story, keep a close eye on inconsistencies. 

In the transcript downloaded from below, the scammer tries to lure their victim into believing they’re a deployed navy officer searching for love while “sadly” unable to access their funds due to offshore deployment. This conversation displays the social dynamic behind the ill intentions of the scammer and the approach they have taken to lure the victim into landing them cash. The scammer tells an amazing story about wanting to build an amusement park and an ammunition warehouse on the same lot, close to Disneyland, after retirement – if only “he” could pay the expenses for the administration behind “the leave of duty.”

I have been planning on going into business after my retirement, i want to build an ammunition warehouse, i have a lot close to Disneyland, i am thinking of building a cinema, or mall where people can come chill, watch movies and have a great time, then also i was thinking of building an ammunition warehouse,.one of the biggest America has ever had,, The dream is to be the No 1 supplier of ammunitions and weapons to all the branches of military 

 The money in my account was able to accumulate to that sum because I was once deployed with one of the four aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, I was on the water for about 14 all my paychecks were being sent to my Wellsfargo account which I didn’t have access to…Cos I was on the sea,so most times I can’t even access the funds in my account, plus nothing to spend money on,My Basic allowances,Compensations,bonuses,off terrestrial habitat allowance, hostile fire/imminent danger pay are all being sent to my Wellsfargo bank account… I’d go tomorrow to the chief petty officer’s office tomorrow to collect my leave use designation and affix to my MOS leaflet. 

I love you with my whole heart honey, i have never trusted anyone the way i trust you. Sometimes I even doubt myself but I know I’d never doubt you cos you are my true love. I know deep down inside of me that you will never break my heart or never let me down in any way 

I’m glad that we found each other. I guess we came into each other’s life at a time that we needed each other’s companionship 

I love you beyond the moon. You are the best baby! 

You are so perfect baby. You got such an awesome and charming personality that makes me fall over and over again in love with you each day 

You complete me baby 

2. Their profile is too good to be true

A fake dating profile usually doesn’t list any details about the holder or their interests and hobbies exactly match yours

3. Fast-moving relationship 

Scammers like to gain your trust right away and some of the common tactics are:       

  • Professing love instantly        
  • Proposing marriage        
  • Making empty promises 
  • Proposing to move communication to other online messengers 
  • Numerous online dating sites offer safety features; however, you lose those features if you move to text messaging or other chat options. You’ll be at risk by revealing your phone number, which makes it hard to cut communication with the con artist.   

4. Scammers break promises to show face 

Remember, romance scammers, want to keep their identities a secret. They’ll promise to visit; they might even have you pay for the plane tickets, but they’ll cancel at the last minute. 

 5. They will most certainly claim they need money. 

Beware if your online crush asks you for money, and you still need to meet them. Con artists might ask you to cover their:     

  • Travel expenses.        
  • Medical expenses.        
  • Gambling debts.         
  • Debts due to family or personal emergencies.  

An alternate cash scam to watch for: They may send you money! This could lead you into a “money mule” scheme. The scammer may ask you to allow them to deposit money into your bank account and then distribute the funds to other individuals or accounts or even deliver packages for them. These types of requests could be tied to money laundering.  

6. If they ask for specific payment methods: 

Be on the lookout if your cyber crush asks you to credit them via wire transfer, gift cards, or newly opened bank accounts. These are usually the ways to get cash quickly while remaining anonymous, and the transactions take time to reverse. Once they get you to send a little bit of money, they will ask for more. If you say no, they may get desperate and aggressive.  

What can online dating platforms do to support victims?  

It can be hard to distinguish genuine users from scammers. Some profile bios contain red flags, so keep your eye on those inconsistencies. Dating sites can introduce user verification, which isn’t a regulatory requirement but can help filter out unwanted users. Here’s how verification can help dating platforms:

  • Promote trust on the platform. Dating services will attract more customers if they’re known to be free of bots and scammers. 
  • Prevent account takeovers. Users won’t have their accounts and sensitive data stolen. 
  • Boost user engagement. A well-moderated space keeps toxicity and trolling to a minimum, yielding more customers.

Since users of dating platforms are only sometimes familiar with verification, the process should be as smooth as possible to avoid scaring them away. Also, users might have concerns about the safety of the data they submit during the procedure, which is why modern verification solutions store data on secure servers and protect it from unauthorized usage.

Recovering stolen crypto assets  

As laws continue to develop, the chances of stolen crypto funds’ recovery improve. Tracing assets is highly possible, but recovering the stolen funds is nevertheless expensive, and the amount stolen usually needs to be more significant to grab the attention of the police.  

Crypto romance scammers do not target only those who are actively dating through apps like Tinder or Bumble. Scammers may reach out to you on Instagram or even WhatsApp while pretending it was a mistake.  

The Global Anti-Scam Organization keeps track of many fraudulent websites commonly used in pig butchering involving crypto. The scammer will most likely try to convince their victims to set up an account with one of these sites. 

We understand that most victims dealing with this type of fraud are too embarrassed or ashamed to report being scammed; however, rest assured that with the current technology, it is highly possible to trace the stolen funds and bring the perpetrators to justice using blockchain analytics and investigation services. 

To learn how we help investigators and law enforcement agencies trace illicit funds, book a call with us today.

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