Shreya Datta spent months swiping through dating apps searching for a connection when she encountered “Ancel Mali,” a self-proclaimed wine trader from France, on Hinge.
Mali claimed he had recently relocated to West Philadelphia. Once they transitioned their conversation to WhatsApp, Mali swiftly deleted his Hinge profile, expressing a desire to prioritize their connection and focus solely on Datta.
After engaging in online conversations filled with flirtatious emojis and selfies for a couple of months, Mali managed to deceive her, swindling $450,000 from her. In a daze of vulnerability, Datta shared with The Philadelphia Inquirer, “I felt like I had found my soulmate.”
Datta, a 37-year-old director at a multinational tech company in Philadelphia, recounted how Mali convinced her to venture into crypto trading. He provided her with a download link to what seemed to be the legitimate app SoFi, complete with two-factor authentication and customer service.
SoFi, a reputable provider of loans and select banking services in the U.S. and Hong Kong, often becomes a target for impersonation by scammers.
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When Datta later attempted to withdraw her funds from the app, she received a message requiring her to pay a 10% personal tax first.
Seeking assistance, she reached out to her lawyer brother, who, together with a private investigator, determined that she had fallen victim to a crypto investment scam known as “pig butchering.”
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In April, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed the seizure of approximately $112 million linked to pig-butchering scams.
The DOJ shared an affidavit supporting the Los Angeles seizure warrant, explaining that victims in these schemes are referred to as “pigs” by scammers because of the elaborate storylines employed to deceive them into believing in a romantic or close personal relationship. Once the victim’s trust is sufficiently gained, the scammer involves them in a cryptocurrency investment scheme.
Initially, the fraudster establishes contact through dating apps, social media platforms or WhatsApp. They spend a significant amount of time charming the victim before persuading them to invest in fake crypto platforms.
Instead of being invested, the victim’s money is redirected to addresses and accounts controlled by the scammer and their collaborators. To further the illusion of authenticity, scammers often create counterfeit websites or apps that display substantial gains upon the victim’s initial investment. This deception aims to convince victims that the scam is genuine and that the fake cryptocurrency holds promising prospects. But when victims attempt to withdraw their substantial investments, they discover their funds are inaccessible.
In some cases, the scam continues, with fraudsters requesting additional investments, taxes or fees, assuring victims that the payments will grant them access to their accounts.
Datta, with her high-paying job and supportive family, managed to overcome her financial predicament. Nevertheless, she had to sell her car, find a more affordable apartment and endure the emotional aftermath of the experience.
While Datta was fortunate to have a safety net, many victims of romance scams find themselves burdened with substantial debt and devoid of savings. To avoid falling into a similar situation, consider the following precautions:
Conduct thorough research: Verify the other person’s identity by searching for them online, checking social media profiles or finding them on LinkedIn.
Be cautious of “love bombing”: Beware of suitors who manipulate emotions or declare strong feelings too early in the relationship, as this is a common red flag in romance scams.
Insist on video communication: Datta shared with The Philadelphia Inquirer that Mali provided excuses to avoid meeting in person, citing a business trip to San Francisco or his terminally ill uncle. He only briefly video chatted with her twice, ensuring his face remained hidden. Requesting video chats can help confirm the legitimacy of the person.
Safeguard personal information: Avoid discussing finances or sharing financial and confidential details too early in the relationship, as this can be a significant warning sign. Under no circumstances should you provide your information, as it could make you vulnerable to identity theft.
Stay vigilant against get-rich-quick schemes: Be skeptical of anyone promoting a trading app that promises high profits or shares stories of their own substantial returns. Refrain from clicking on any download links they send — even if they appear authentic.
As with any investment opportunity, it is crucial to conduct thorough research independently and avoid investing solely based on someone’s recommendation, regardless of trust.
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This article Tech Executive Falls Victim to $450K Scam on Dating Site: The Cruel ‘Pig-Butchering’ Scheme Going Around originally appeared on Benzinga.com
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