“Pig butchering” is an evolution of a social engineering tactic we’ve seen for years

Whether you want to call them “catfishing,” “pig butchering” or just good ‘old-fashioned “social engineering,” romance scams have been around forever.  

I was first introduced to them through the MTV show “Catfish,” but recently they seem to be making headlines as the term “pig butchering” enters the public lexicon. John Oliver recently covered it on “Last Week Tonight,” which means everyone my age with an HBO account heard about it a few weeks ago. And one of my favorite podcasts going, “Search Engine,” just covered it in an episode

The concept of “pig butchering” scams generally follows the same chain of events: 

An unknown phone number texts or messages a target with a generally harmless message, usually asking for a random name disguised as an “Oops, wrong number!” text. When the target responds, the actor tries to strike up a conversation with a friendly demeanor. If the conversation persists, they usually evolve into “love bombing,” including compliments, friendly advice, ego-boosting, and saying flattering things about any photos the target has sent. Sometimes, the relationship may turn romantic. The scammer eventually “butchers” the “pig” that has been “fattened up” to that point, scamming them into handing over money, usually in the form of a phony cryptocurrency app, or just straight up asking for the target to send the scammer money somehow. 

There are a few twists and turns along the way based on the exact scammer, but that’s generally how it works. What I think is important to remember is that this specific method of separating users from their money is not actually new.  

The FBI seems to butchering evolution social engineering tactic years