Monday, August 01, 2022

Please stop calling all Crypto Scams "Pig Butchering!"

 Lately there has been a media-driven craze in the fraud community to call every crypto-investment scam "Pig Butchering."  I hope you will join me in canceling that term after you read this article.

The term "Pig Butchering" comes from the Chinese term 杀猪盘 (Shā zhū pán or "butchering plate.") While the term has been used in Chinese media since at least 2018, it really became famous after the courageous actions of a human trafficking victim who was caught up in the game.

Hao Zhendong (郝振东) was recently divorced and had lost custody of his daughter as he was facing personal financial challenges and could not care for her.  During his time of desperation, he received a message from his uncle.  The uncle told him that he should come to Myanmar and join him at his work.  He claimed that Zhendong would be able to easily earn 60,000 to 70,000 yuan per month. 

Image from "Talking to Strangers" interview 

Late in 2020, Zhendong traveled to the Yunnan province of China where he paid smugglers to help him cross in to Myanmar.  After traveling with them for several days, he was forced to march through the jungle and up a steep hill for six hours.  When he arrived, he found he was in a work camp.  In his words, he says he realized he had "fallen into a wolf pit." The work camp was an industrial park where various call center employees worked scams. 

The northern region of Myanmar has four special zones, including "Wa State." So many Chinese people have moved to Wa State that Chinese is actually one of the official languages.  The corrupt local government, having no natural resources, opened their arms wide and welcomed criminal enterprises, which they call "foreign investors" to set up call centers. Under local law in Wa State, Myanmar, telecommunications fraud is not a crime. So many scammers have moved to the region that the government has even "rented" entire schools to be used as scam call centers.  The Myanmar government estimates that there are 140,000 Chinese living in the region, and that most of them are engaged in telecommunications fraud.  Similar to other forms of human trafficking, the men are only allowed to leave if they pay back the "investment" that their controllers have made in them.  The fee to leave ranges from 50,000 to 120,000 depending on how long you have worked. If you can't pay the fee after three months, you have six months added to your stay, with armed guards preventing you from leaving the work camp.  Many do go back to China, and enough go back with money for houses, cars, and a wife, that others are tempted into following in their footsteps.

Zhendong says that he often considered attempting to flee, but northern Myanmar is an "extrajudicial land" and Chinese people are regularly kidnapped and killed there with no consequence to their attackers.  One man who attempted to flee was forcibly returned to the camp, with the fingers on one hand amputated. 

In the work camp where Zhendong was enslaved, there were three buildings.  Two were dormitories and the call center was housed in the "Science and Technology Building." Each team was assigned to different topics.  Some worked lottery scams, others foreign currency exchange scams, naked chat / extortion scams, pornography scams, etc.  But Zhengdong was assigned to a "pig-killing gang." 

He was provided a manual which described his role.  His job was to target victims on the Internet and use emotions to convince them to invest their entire net worth in illegal online gambling.  His job as a "recruiter" for these scams was referred to in the manual as a "dog pusher" (“狗推” Gǒu tuī.)

He was provided three mobile phones and three "love story" script books.  His job was to find wealthy single or divorced women on social networks, and add at least two to his chat each day and build a romantic relationship with them online.  Once they were suitably "hooked" into his romance, he was supposed to turn them over to his team leader, who had 30-40 "dog pushers" under him to "kill." If the victim provided more than a million dollars, there was a celebration and the dog pusher was rewarded extravagantly. 

While he was learning the role, "the company" became very excited about a successful scam that one of the other dog pushers had accomplished.  He had convinced a young woman in Shanghai to invest her entire life savings - 2.92 million yuan - and when she realized she had been scammed, she committed suicide by jumping off a roof.  Another woman was convinced to sell her car and her house in order to invest more.  While the company thought these were great examples to emulate, Zhendong's spirit died.  He realized that he had to try to do something about this. 

On one point, his uncle had been telling the truth.  The company used cash bonuses as incentives, and each month they would spread millions of yuan on the table and pay out bonuses.  Some made the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses.  But Zhendong couldn't do it. 

He began sneaking up on the roof, using a stolen phone, and messaging his victims - explaining to them that he was enslaved and being forced to scam them.  Because he was failing to earn, his controllers were becoming very angry with him and his life was actually in danger. 

A potential victim, Yang Yu, changed things for him.  When he called Yang Yu to warn him, Yang Yu asked him "How can I help you get home?" In order to protect Zhendong, Yang Yu passed him money that he could give to his controllers as proof that he was working. Then Zhendong stole a list of victims from the company and urged Yang Yu to take it to the police. 

In February 2021, she took a list of 18 victims to the Anti-Fraud Center of Nanchang Public Security Bureau. 

Tao Jiangjiang, the leader of an Electronic Fraud task force who helped Zhendong get home

Tao Jiangjiang began to communicate with Zhendong and a rescue mission was arranged through the Yunnan police, working with an informant in Myanmar.  Despite being advised not to take any risks by Tao Jiangjiang, Zhendong felt that he could not leave empty-handed.  He worked to observe the password his Pig Killer boss used to log in to the company server and late one night logged in and wrote down as many names as he could.  When he arrived back in China, he had a list of 105 additional victims with him who were contacted and assisted by the Chinese police. 

There was a dramatic event at the China-Myanmar Nansha Port when Zhendong recognized a man from the company chasing after him.  When armed Chinese police took custody of Zhendong, the company man backed off. After this, Zhendong did many media interviews, some alongside the Electronic Fraud police, which helped to popularize the term "Pig Butchering." 

While there are definitely "Dog Pushers" and "Pig Killers" who are targeting the Chinese ex-patriat community, unless your scammer is speaking Chinese from a call center in Myanmar, you may be a fraud victim, but you are not a victim of "Pig Butchering." 

The main sources for this story were the Chinese versions of Zhendong's misadventure, especially these two: 

荐见 | 反水、救赎、卧底:逃出缅北“杀猪盘”

(Rebellion, redemption, and undercover work: escape from the "pig killing" center in northern Myanmar - an article by “荐见美学” ) 



("After accidentally entering the pig killing gang, he stole a list of 105 victims" in the TenCent column, "Talking to Strangers" - if you speak Chinese there is a great interview here!) 

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