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Feds Seize $9 Million in Crypto ‘Pig Butchering’ Scam Probe


Federal authorities have seized almost $9 million in cryptocurrency tied to a scam ring.

The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) announced Tuesday (Nov. 21) the seizure of Tether — a crypto pegged to the American dollar — tied to a group that scammed more than 70 people.

“Through this significant seizure, we disrupted the financial infrastructure of an organized network of scammers who stole millions from victims across the United States,” Nicole M. Argentieri, acting assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s criminal division, said in a news release.

“These scammers prey on ordinary investors by creating websites that tell victims their investments are working to make them money. The truth is that these international criminal actors are simply stealing cryptocurrency and leaving victims with nothing,” Argentieri said.

The release describes this sort of cryptocurrency confidence scam as “pig butchering,” a method that is growing as a favored approach by criminals, as Chainalysis research director Kim Grauer told PYMNTS earlier this year. 

“Those scams blend elements of romance scams and investment scams, where fraudsters create social profiles and personas that manipulate victims to invest in/send crypto,” PYMNTS wrote. “Instead of waiting for victims to come to them, the scammers are prodding and prying and being proactive as they reach out across apps and text messages to find new targets.” 

In this latest case, the DOJ alleges the scammers worked together to target victims and convince them to make crypto deposits by falsely claiming that the victims were making investments with trusted firms and cryptocurrency exchanges. 

In fact, the DOJ said, victims were investing in trading platforms that didn’t exist. Investigators from the Secret Service were able to track deposits and found that the money was quickly laundered through dozens of cryptocurrency addresses and exchanged for several different cryptocurrencies, a money laundering practice often called “chain hopping.” 

The charges follow a year in which crypto-related crime hit a record $20 billion, in spite of a downturn in the crypto market.

And PYMNTS earlier this month looked at the role credit unions can play in helping combat these scams in a conversation with Lou Grilli, senior innovation strategist at PSCU.

“Scams are on the rise,” he said, “and credit unions need to provide ongoing education that is updated with the latest news. Member-facing staff is one of the most important channels when it comes to providing members with the education they need to stay safe and take advantage of crypto responsibly.”

For all PYMNTS crypto coverage, subscribe to the daily Crypto Newsletter.