When I first learned of this defense against Chinese scammers on a cybersecurity forum, I thought it was amusing but would probably have limited use. I was wrong. Many members of the forum commented on how useful this ploy was, so I thought I would give it a little more exposure in case someone gets caught up in some of the popular scams emanating from China.
To begin with, it is necessary to note that most of these scammers primarily target men, often using WhatsApp or other social media sites. Women have been scammed but often through dating sites and as an extension of the typical romance scams. Both scams will try to get the victim involved in cryptocurrency or the forex market. Having gained the victim’s trust, they will give them the ‘opportunity’ to make large amounts of money. The scammers, therefore, are leveraging two human weak points: love and greed. They combine the desire for romance and love with the desire to get rich and, for many, that’s a combo that’s hard to resist.
Men are most easily scammed because they are more ready to believe anything that someone with a pretty face tells them. Here is a picture of one scammer.
She used the ‘wrong number’ attack vector. This is a scenario in which the victim gets a message out of the blue from a woman like the one pictured above. She will often act as if she knows the victim and then is told she has the wrong number or address. The woman shown began the conversation in the following way.
She then apologizes and compliments the victim on how understanding he is. She then assumes they are friends and begins sending him random messages. Although the scammer above never made any romantic overtures, she did send a number of evocative photos. Of course, she eventually brought up the money making scam. However, as soon as the potential victim said he had no money, the messages stopped.
These scams have evolved to be more sophisticated over time and they have been surprisingly successful. The F.B.I. claimed in September that scammers using this technique netted over $133 million between January and July of this year. The scammers will generally target men between 35 and 50 years old. The women scammers will all have Facebook sites. It is likely that they get much of their information about the victim from Linkedin or at least try to target individuals who appear to have high paying jobs. If they get the right phish on the line, they will not balk at spending extra time to develop a trusting relationship. Although most scammers don’t want anything to do with live video chats, some victims reported that they really did have video chats with their scammers. It is assumed that the scammers may hire attractive young women, perhaps university students who need some extra money, to make these calls. In the not too distant future, scammers will be able to alter their own appearance through fake video techniques to appear as an attractive man or woman.
Many times, the victim will begin to believe the woman has a true interest in him. After all, she has never said a word about money. But, eventually, the day arrives and she casually mentions making a lot of money in one way or another and she would like to help the victim do the same. If you just invest…If you just download this app… It’s at this point that the more tech savvy victim gets angry because, in fact, he feels betrayed. Victims often resort to insulting the scammer. Oddly, this doesn’t always work and the scammer persists with the messaging. One guy simply knew what was coming and responded like this.
This scam has a name in the cybersecurity community. It is based on the Chinese phrase, sha zhu pan, which, in English, is loosely translated as the ‘pig-butchering scam’. Why? Because you fatten the pig before killing it. The scam began in China which is why the Chinese phrase is used.
What bothers these victims the most is their own stupidity. Some victims knew about these scams but were still victimized. They were in denial and simply found excuses to explain irregularities that arose. Many communicated with the scammer for months and, even now, miss the chats they had. Go figure.
Others want revenge but don’t know how to get it. No problem. Most people who get scammed will be the targets of a double tap scam. They will be approached by a scammer who has heard of their loss of money and, for a fee, will be able to get some of it back for them. Many fall for this even though this message is sent by the same scammer disguised as the refund service. Scammers can never get enough money. But if you know this trick, this is the time that you can turn the tables on the scammers. In this case, revenge will really be sweet.
Of course, you could use this technique as soon as you see a scam coming but it is more satisfying if you use it on someone who has just scammed you out of tens of thousands of dollars. Anyway, here how it is used at the beginning of a scam. First comes the usual contact.
In this case, the potential victim replied as follows.
As one member of the group replied, “I think you just stumbled onto Chinese scammer kryptonite that we can all use going forward.” True, the original message has some typo and grammar problems so another member polished it up.
“Hey, thank you so much for supporting my belief that Taiwan is a fully independent country despite Xi Jiping’s (who looks like Winnie the Pooh) claim that it is a Chinese nation state. I also agree with all the points you made about the communist regime needing to collapse under all of that metaphorical weight of all the dissidents who have died as a result of the tyranny that has overtaken China. I am so glad that you have opened my eyes about these points and will be spreading the word about how Taiwan should be recognized for its vital contributions to the world, inducted into the WHO, and recognized internationally as an independent country.”
Then, someone else added a simplified Chinese version, which I can’t vouch for.
嘿，非常感谢你支持我的信念，即台湾是完全独立于习近平（看起来像小熊维尼）声称它是一个中华民族国家的国家。 我也同意你关于共产主义政权需要在因席卷全国的暴政而死亡的所有持不同政见者的比喻性压力下崩溃的所有观点。 我很高兴你把这些观点带到了我的眼前，并将传播关于应该如何承认台湾对世界的重要贡献的信息。
And here it is in traditional Chinese.
Another person made this claim. “All you have to do is write ‘Tiananmen square massacre 1989’ and then they don’t have internet access anymore. Way easier.” Another suggested, “your point about the Tibetan freedom movement was really inspiring! I didn’t know so much about Tibet as an independent country until you explained it all!” Later, someone who tried this trick wrote, “well there was no reply after that, so either they went into hiding or they are being held awaiting trial by firing squad.” One person posted about the possibility that the scammers may really be put in danger. They were roundly attacked.
Other members said that you can tell a scam is coming if the scammer’s contact details list their location as Taiwan, province of China. And if you know a scam is coming, you can play along with it as long as you want. The theory is that as long as you keep them busy, the less they can hurt someone else. Scambaiters, those who intentionally go after scammers, will do all that they can to keep the scammer engaged. These people may be getting paid by the hour and, if they can’t show any progress or profit, it hurts the scammer gang financially.
I haven’t personally tried to use this technique, mainly because I’ve never been approached by Chinese scammers. If I am being bothered by particular scammers, I generally redirect them to a North Korean website where they are almost certain to pick up some nice malware. Any Chinese citizen who is suspected of pro-Taiwan, pro-Tibet, or pro-Uyghur views will almost certainly be arrested. If this scambaiting technique catches on, it may, in fact, be the best way to undermine such scams as the forex catfish scam. Maybe knowing this approach would have saved guys like the one below from being scammed out of a lot of money. As he wrote on the Better Business Bureau website.
If only he had read this post first