From Instagram DMs to Losing USD$280,000 in Five Months
Amber, 29, NY, Tech Professional, has been making friends online since she was 12, some of whom she never met in real life. Her comfort level with this would change in April 2021, when she was manipulated by a succession of pig-butchering scammers who already knew of her dire situation.
In April of this year, I started to receive Instagram DMs from attractive Chinese guys who claimed they were looking for friends, as they were new to Instagram. Their feeds were new but looked convincing at a glance. Nice shots of food, skies, pets, and occasionally, selfies. I wasn’t looking for a significant other; in fact, I had a boyfriend (Note: Had. More on this later), but I’m friendly towards anyone who genuinely wants to make a connection. Being naive and oblivious, I befriended everyone who messaged me, a total of 8 different people. Three of them would eventually become the butchers who swindled a total of USD$280,000 from me.
Our Instagram chats moved onto WhatsApp within 1-2 days. From there on, we chatted every day about everything. Work, life, relationships, goals, etc. Chris (Guy #1) initially bonded with me over music, movies, and hobbies, and established a BFF relationship with me, stating that he cared about me and my future. I was very into the FIRE concept (Financially Independent Retire Early) and we chatted a lot about how great it would be to not worry about money anymore. (I really set myself up for a fat slaughter, didn’t I?) He convinced me to crypto trade with him on Sygnexc beginning in April. The site was janky as hell, but when someone you deem as your best friend recommends it, you still trust them. I had used shitty Chinese sites before that were legitimate, so was willing to look past these "visual bugs".
Chris foreshadowing the Pig Butchering Scam by calling me a "little dumb pig"（小笨猪）.
He walked me through step by step with screenshots on how to create an account, how to fund it, and how to execute trades. I remember asking him to teach me his buy/sell strategies (as shown in the above conversation), but he would always say to me, “Leave the hard work for me. You just reap the gains and be a happy princess.” I found it hard to believe that some stranger on the Internet would be so kind to me. Every other day, he would ping me to make trades. I started with a deposit of $10k, then $20k, then $30k, then $60k. This went on for three months. I remember seeing the account balance go up every time we traded and I would be so happy, as I started to plan all the things I would do with the extra money: pay off my mortgage, embark on lavish vacations, etc. We talked about taking a vacation together to see the beautiful landscapes in China. He said he would be my tour guide in his hometown of Sichuan and how we could enjoy the local delicious delicacies. I really thought I made a genuine friend and felt so loved.
Around July, I happened to speak about crypto trading with one of the other Instagram guys, Edward (Guy #2). Edward was sharing with me his gains on a platform called BitMEX and invited me to join him. I was like, “Oh, I’m trading on another platform with a friend right now.” He asked me for the name of the platform, which I told him was Sygnexc. He took one look and insisted that the platform was fake. He told me to try withdrawing money out because he was confident that I wouldn’t be able to, so I initiated a withdrawal on Sygnexc and got denied. I reached Sygnexc customer service via WhatsApp and was told to pay 30% of profit to the platform as a fee. I thought that was weird, like why couldn’t they deduct that amount from my balance? But I didn’t think too much of it. I just wanted to get the money out so I can prove to Edward that my platform wasn’t fake. I paid that 30% of profit (around USD$40k) by emptying out all of my retirement accounts (IRAs, 401ks). Then, Sygnexc customer service insisted that I also have to pay 30% of my principal balance to satisfy "international anti money laundering requirements". I was like, WTF?!? Where am I gonna find another $40k? And what if they hit me with yet another mysterious tax/fee after this $40k? I finally started to get suspicious. I asked Chris about all these rules that seemed to come out of nowhere, and he assured me that “It's normal ah, lots of people are trying to evade taxes and regulations in the world. I did the same thing and got my money out. Don’t worry.”
At this point, I was 50% convinced Sygnexc was a scam, but thought that maybe Chris was also being scammed without knowing; I still believed he was a genuine friend at this point.
Around mid-July, I confided in Tyler (Guy #3), a friend I met on Instagram the month before, about my struggles on the Sygnexc platform. He, too, called it a scam platform without hesitation and shared with me the platform he was using, MagicCoin, and promised that it was legitimate. Coercing me into depositing $3,000 worth of funds into MagicCoin to trade crypto with him, we soon made gains, which allowed me to trust him enough to put in another $4,000 by late July. More on that to come.
Then came Alex (Guy #4), who I’d been chatting with frequently since June, along with Chris, Edward, and Tyler. Alex (who had messaged me, wanting to learn more about NYC, claiming that he had a business trip planned and wanted to know about local attractions and restaurants) had professed his love for me within a week of chatting. He said he had never met anyone like me and thought I was “the one”. He said he wanted to marry me and give me a nice luxurious life. He asked me about all my insecurities and issues in life and gave me advice for what I can do to solve them. He showed me a screenshot of an airfare ticket (which now I know is fake) from Kuala Lumpur to NY as proof that he is coming to see me in NY this fall. He called me his Little Wifey, 老婆仔. We shared lots of common interests from music to movies to fashion. We did voice calls almost every other night. As a result, my relationship with my boyfriend deteriorated as I became convinced that I found someone better. We broke up at the end of June.
One night, Alex and I had a chat about views on friendships. It was obvious he didn't have any friends.
I also ended up confiding in Alex about Chris and Sygnexc. Without listening to my full story, Alex immediately said, “Baby, you are so silly. You are obviously being fooled. I'm sorry for your loss. It will take you way too long to work regularly and save. Let me help you make all that money back with my strategies. I swear to God, 我對天發誓, I will help you earn at least $10k per trade.” I believed him. I believed him because I just lost $180k to Chris. And so, Alex convinced me to forex trade with him on JYJ Trade beginning in July. I had less than $5k to my name at this moment in time. To fund these trades, he convinced me to take out two personal loans worth $100k total. I wire transferred these funds to JYJ Trade and hooked it up to my MT4 account in a matter of five days. He carried me on trades 2-3X a week. We were supposedly making good profits and I was actually able to withdraw $11k after the first trade.
Alex promised that he would mail me this "money dress". He never did.
In August, due to some legal issues with Alex’s company in Malaysia, he ended up with a “market analysis error". I lost $70k of my account balance that night. I remember convincing myself that it’s not his fault, losses happen. He called me on WhatsApp to apologize and explain how it all happened and that he was sorry to have let me down.
And then he goes, “But baby, we cannot just sit here and cry. We have to be proactive and gain back the upper hand.” To recoup these losses, he insisted that I should take out another loan to fund the account because "to make money, you need money". I said no, I already have enough debt… the $100k loan that I just got. He said “Don’t worry lah, I can help you make it all back and you can pay all of them off in one go. Now is not the time to run away from your problems, baby.” I still said no. Then he goes, “Okay… since you are lazy and don’t want to solve this with me, I will take care of it for you.” I was like WHAT DO YOU MEAN?! He asked for my JYJ Trade account number, which I gave him. Within 1 hour, he deposited $250,000 into my JYJ Trade account. After the deposit, he called me to say “See how much I love you baby. I needed this money for my company but you are the most important person in my life right now.” I thought to myself, wow, he’s so sweet. Too good to be true? Too good to be true.
The very next day, I receive an email from JYJ Trade:
Dear valued customer of JYJ: Hi, our system tracked a suspicious fund amounted USD $249,850.00 deposited on 06 Aug 2021 and this fund has not been verified. It has been suspected as money laundering to secure your deposited fund. Your account has now been temporarily frozen. According to bank regulatory department, your account has to be verified. Please provide your ID, original photo of your ID, and 25% of your account balance as verification amount. Your account will be resumed to normal upon verification of the capital. The safety capital that you submitted will also be returned to your personal account. Kindly submit the safety capital by 17 Aug 2021 23:59. Your account will have the risk of being permanently frozen if you fail to submit the safety capital by the time specified. Kindly take your action ASAP to prevent a loss in your capital. Thanks for your co-operation!
My account had USD$293,757 after Alex’s deposit. 25% of that = USD$73,439. Are you telling me I have to spin $74,000 out of thin air to get my money out? I was ready to jump off a bridge when I saw that email.
I sent a screenshot of that email to Alex and he was like “Huh? How come it’s like that? Baby, you have to get to the bottom of this. I just sent you all the money I have in my name for you to get rid of your troubles. Don’t be lazy.”
After a lot of back and forth with JYJ Trade customer service, they insisted that this “mysterious” deposit needs to be verified with additional deposits. There is no other way.
I felt so crushed, so defeated. There was no way I can raise that much money. Yet I tried.
I applied for another $50k loan from online lenders. All rejected. I have too much debt and too much recent credit applications lately.
In panic, I called up my ex-boyfriend, ex-boss, close friends, and fabricated stories about why I needed to borrow $74,000. Maybe one of them can apply for loans on my behalf and I can pay those loans back directly with my bank account? Nope, none of the options panned out. Though one of them offered to lend me $20,000 with no interest.
An argument with Alex over loans
After three days of scrambling and crunching numbers, I couldn’t figure it out. I decided to give up. I messaged Alex and told him that I’ve exhausted all my options and there’s nothing I can do. He started calling me a lazy pig, that I didn’t try hard enough. That I can take out a HELOC, that I can borrow from loan sharks. His persistence and suggestions got wilder and wilder.
At this point, I completely lost my patience and I blocked him on a whim. I actually still didn't know I was scammed yet. I simply was frustrated. Frustrated that he kept asking me to put money in without worrying about anything else. And then the fateful day came when I found the Pig Butchering threads on Reddit and learned the cold harsh truth... I saw JYJ Trade listed as a scam platform. I saw Sygnexc listed as a scam platform. My heart sank. My doubts and suspicions were valid this entire time.
Oh, and Tyler’s MagicCoin? In early August, I decided to initiate a withdrawal, just to be extra sure MagicCoin was legitimate. It wasn’t. I received an email from MagicCoin stating that I was suspected of illegal money laundering, and that I would need to pay “two times the amount of funds in advance to release the risk control", among other requirements. I didn’t reply to the email. I didn’t know who or what to trust anymore. I can’t believe I just got scammed three times.
I wallowed in depression for a few days with my phone completely turned off. I couldn’t face the shame. The thought of seeing a WhatsApp notification gave me anxiety. The thought of checking my email to see a message from one of the fake platforms gave me anxiety. The thought of seeing my almost empty bank accounts gave me anxiety. It was… dark.
When my wits came back, I mustered up the courage to turn on my phone again. I blocked ALL the guys I was talking to on WhatsApp and Instagram, including all the fake customer service agents from Sygnexc and JYJ Trade. I didn’t even say anything to any of them. I was simply over it. Alex ended up spam calling me on a different number and saying shit like, “Did you miss me?” Also blocked that. I didn’t want to give any of these people any more of my time or any chances for them to blackmail me or extort me further. The rest of the guys didn’t bother to contact me anymore after the block. I started reading every single thread related to the Pig Butchering Scam on Reddit. Reading victim stories helped me feel a little better, though nothing will change the fact that I am now missing $280,000 with the addition of a high interest $100,000 loan still waiting to be paid off.
Most of these guys are still active on Instagram as of today. Last night, I found that one of them has actually blocked ME on Instagram, changed his handle, and changed his persona and photos. I compared his new face to the one I was speaking to few months ago. Completely different people in the photos. I guess his swindle game is still on.
In retrospect, all eight of the guys I was speaking to were probably all scammers. In this memoir, I only mentioned four. Edward from BitMEX probably alerted me about Sygnexc so he could try to pull an "Alex” move on me, with promises to help me earn back everything I lost. I was <> this close to losing another $74,000 to JYJ Trade, if any of my desperate funding tactics actually panned out.
I am the sole breadwinner in my family, as my parents and siblings are currently unemployed due to COVID, and their unemployment assistance just ended. It is deeply unsettling to realize how much deeper of a grave I would’ve dug for myself, if I hadn’t found r/Scams.