Let me tell you the true story of a victim of a pig-butchering scam.
A woman was defrauded of 2.92mill RMB (~$461K USD) in Shanghai.
The man she met on WeChat had promised to spend the rest of his life with her. She believed him, trusting his word. And so, she transferred her entire savings to him, down to the last penny, until she was left with nothing.
The man then flipped 180°, changing his attitude the moment she had nothing left for him to bleed.
She then jumped off a building. Her last moments, her final pain, were streamed for all to see on WeChat live broadcast.
The suspect showed no remorse. Actually, worse. His response was the following: "One woman died for me -- I'm gonna brag about this for the rest of my life!"
At GASO, our intelligence team has gone numb from the countless suicide cases around the world -- another one of which tragically occurred this week and was reported to our live chat by the victim's close friend -- resulting directly from these "dog pushers" (狗推, gǒu tuī) a nickname given by the scammers to refer to themselves. There are days when it feels like there is nothing we can do to help. We see the nasty, cruel comments people post in response to victims telling their stories. These people have never experienced the pain we victims have been through. They call us "dumb" and "greedy". Sometimes they say even worse things.
I used to be one of them, too, who would read articles on people getting scammed. I would judge. I would scoff.
I will always remember the pig-butchering scam I had read about. The woman lost 80K SGD (~$60K USD). The writing of the news article was such that I couldn't remember the steps of such an elaborate scam, or how the scammer managed to gain the woman's trust. The article didn't detail the salient features of the scam. It didn't tell its readers what they should look out for.
All I got out of the article was the feeling that this woman was stupid.
And then I got scammed. I became yet another pig that got butchered.
One scammer in particular left a profound impact on me that I cannot get out of my head. To me, it was the sentence of the century: "There is no one who cannot be deceived, only scripts that don't fit." (沒有騙不到的人, 只有不合適的劇本。Méiyǒu piàn bù dào de rén, zhǐyǒu bù héshì de jùběn.)
Another scammer told me on the phone, "We know we're scamming people. We aren't afraid that we'll ever get caught; it's not even possible to get caught."
Tears flowed down my cheek after I hung up the phone on him. But one thing was clear to me: he was right.
No one would ever pity us, and the laws have not caught up to this scam. We, the victims, won't see justice for our perpetrators. Our money is not coming back to us.
In the end, we lost everything. We lost someone who we thought we could trust and love, who betrayed, violated, and then spat on our trust as they left. We lost our personal wealth. We lost our pride. Our future.
We are left helpless.
Social media and telecommunications scams are only becoming more rampant. In fact, we have been saying all along that pig-butchering, shazhupan（殺豬盤), is by far the most dangerous and successful scam in modern history. In most scams, people only lose a portion of their savings. In contrast, many shazhupan victims, like myself, are steeped in debt.
Including myself, GASO has at least five victims who sold off their cars and apartments to help manage our debts. Two victims declared bankruptcy, and we have become aware of several victims who decided or attempted to end their life due to their heavy debts. So many times, we encounter victims who will need decades to pay off their loans. Some even have young children to care for.
I've been working on anti-scam education and advocacy for the last nine months and I will continue to do so. I know how difficult it is to track down and ultimately arrest the perpetrators; in fact, I need to be a realist.
But this doesn't prevent me from trying.
As volunteers of GASO, we have desperately sought help from various governmental agencies, financial institutions, law enforcement, and social media companies.
Government agencies and law enforcement have done little beyond recording our complaints. The international nature of the scam makes it particularly hard, as many of the perpetrators are in Southeast Asia and outside the jurisdiction of the scam victims.
The cryptocurrency exchanges, MetaTrader, and social media companies, have their own reputations to guard and have cloaked their culpability in verbose user agreements to strip us of our rights when we needed their back the most.
Our only hope -- the only tool in our armamentarium -- is to spread awareness faster than the scammers can operate. We will call the scam what it is and not mince words. We seek media partners who can spread our message.
We need to change the way people look at us.
The victims are not stupid; they're human, and that is their only flaw. They cared. They trusted. They loved. But the victims do not know that the persona they were dealing with is in fact a team of scamming wolves, posing as an individual. Every message that we victims received was carefully vetted before used in a reply. This is how the victim's psychology is broken. (We will write more about this at a future date.)
For victims: your life is precious. Let no one steal that your happiness from you. Don't expect your scammer to apologize for his wrongdoings. We cannot help you to recover your money, but we can ensure that you will have a space where you can feel safe and not be judged by anyone.
To casual observers: please do not pour salt into our wounds. Listen to our stories. Strive to hear. See the humanity behind it all. I've learned it the hard way. This is not just a romance scam, but a well-organized scam that doesn't even always follow a romance script.
For volunteers across the world, stationed at our social media platforms 24 hours a day: thank you for devoting and donating your time selflessly to help other victims as they go through the darkest times of their lives.
When we started, one of my colleagues would frequently say: "helping even one victim would have made all our efforts worthwhile." We have now helped thousands of potential victims worldwide who reached out to GASO before they became a victim, and that always brings a smile to our faces.
Founder of GASO