Skip to content

Fraudsters use ‘chameleon-like’ behaviour in ‘pig-butchering’ scam: Saanich police

Saanich police recorded 36 files relating to online scams in 2023
Brandon Laur of The White Hatter said that scammers will often cast a wide net to see if they can ensnare unsuspecting people in their traps. (News Staff/ Thomas Eley)

The Saanich Police Department recorded 36 files relating to online scams in 2023, but the department estimates it’s probably much higher.

“Our investigators try to classify them as best they can, but they often can be classified using multiple methods,” says Det. Const. Berle Zwaan of the Saanich Police Department.

The largest amount of money – $1.2 million – was taken through a type of scam called “pig butchering,” according to Zwaan. These fraudsters will target anyone of all ages and demographics who can fall victim to fraud like this.

“The scammer often will use chameleon-like behaviour to become whatever the victim needs or wants,” Zwaan said.

Brandon Laur, the CEO of digital literacy company White Hatter, said the scammer will try to establish a rapport and get you to invest in a fake stock exchange app.

Pig butchering and romance scams differ in that while the latter involves building a personal relationship to ask for money, the former invests money in fake platforms.

Pig-butchering gets its name from farmers fattening up their pigs before the slaughter.

Laur said there is a human-trafficking element to these scams, as the people who are on the other end of the fraud will often be tricked into crossing international borders to secure a fake job

“They alert potential coders, seize their passports, and then force them to work for the scam.”

Hacking and scamming companies will extract metadata such as email and phone numbers and store that information on spreadsheets, where data can be bought and sold between these organizations.

“Either hackers sell the data they have, or they just release it publicly.”

Unlike typical scams, online pig-butchering can target the young and tech-savvy, as AI tools have allowed these ruses to become more sophisticated, said Laur.

“The scammers throw out a wide net because it’s a money and numbers game. With low effort, they’re probably going to get some bites.”

In the old days of the internet, scams were easier to catch, with poor spelling and bad grammar, said Laur, but programs like ChatGpt and AI voice software have changed all of this.

“You were limited. You had to be an expert. You went to university and learned about user interface and coding. Those tools are accessible to everyone today.”

Scammers will try to keep the amount of money they target below $5,000 as more significant amounts of money can attract unwanted attention, according to Laur.

“As long as your scam is under $5,000, there are not enough investigators worldwide to investigate every cybercrime. But the big heist? Police are all over that.”

Laur said scammers can get caught out, usually when their greed causes them to go off their script. The scammer will release information they should, “and that’s usually how you catch them.” Most scam operators will be outside Canada and operate in regions where law enforcement might be persuaded to look the other way.

Once the money leaves North America, it can become challenging to trace, Zwaan said.

Zwaan said it is essential for anyone to do their independent research and consult at least two different, trusted sources. There is good cooperation between national and international law enforcement, including the BC Securities Commission, RCMP, FBI, Homeland Security and Europol.

The Saanich Police Department was also granted access to Chainalysis by the RCMP’s National Cybercrimes Coordination Centre. This service allows investigators to trace cryptocurrency.

There will be a workshop on April 19 at the G. R Pearkes Recreation Centre in Saanich called “Beat the Fraudster.”

About the Author: Thomas Eley

Read more