What is pig butchering? The four most 'devious' new scams worrying experts

As online scams become increasingly convincing, ITV News correspondent Rachel Younger advises how you can stay safe

A wave of romance scams and fake missing persons appeals has sparked a warning about the latest 'convincing' bag of tricks scammers are using to fleece people of their money.

One UK victim lost £107,000 in the course of a romance scam known as 'pig butchering', after being led to believe she was investing in retirement apartments overseas, Which? said.

The consumer group is shining a spotlight on the four most convincing scams it has seen so far in 2023, to warn consumers of the latest generation of "devious" sophisticated scams currently circulating.

Lisa Barber, Which? tech editor, said: “It’s appalling that 2023 has seen scammers continuing to thrive, as a new wave of convincing scams bombards consumers from every direction.”

Earlier this month, the government published a new fraud strategy, which includes banning cold calls on all financial products, such as those relating to insurance or sham cryptocurrency schemes.

The government also plans to work with Ofcom to use new technology to further clamp down on number “spoofing”, so fraudsters cannot impersonate legitimate UK phone numbers.

Under the plans, banks will be allowed to delay payments from being processed for longer to allow for suspect payments to be investigated.

Here is Which?’s list of the latest most convincing scams to watch out for:

Which? is warning people to watch out for sophisticated romance scams. Credit: PA

1. Pig butchering

These scams have been given their name by fraudsters because they “fatten up” the victim by forming a romantic connection before executing the investment part of the scam.

The scammer and victim typically meet on a dating site and the victim is “love-bombed” for some time by someone who appears to take a great interest in their life.

The scammer will often encourage their victim to move from the dating platform to a private messaging service, thus removing them from any protections the dating website might offer.

When the victim is sufficiently groomed, the scammer claims they have been having success investing – typically in property or cryptocurrency – and they offer to invest some of the victim’s money.

If the victim consents, they are sometimes shown a crypto trading platform controlled by the scammers, and encouraged to sign up and begin depositing funds.

One UK victim lost £107,000 to such a scam, believing she was investing in retirement apartments overseas, Which? said.

A fake missing persons appeal spotted in the US and the UK by consumer group Which? Credit: Which.co.uk

2. Fake missing person appeals

People are being asked to share fake social media posts about missing people more widely in order to bait and net victims, the experts said.

After the post has gained a large number of likes, the contents are edited into something completely different, such as a straightforward investment scam.

Comments are turned off on the posts to avoid people pointing out the inconsistencies, Which? said.

Which? said its experts know the posts were fake because there are near-identical posts in community pages across the world, simply with the location being changed.

The large number of likes and shares that stay on the post lends credibility to the fraud.

Which? said the “despicable” scam relies on responsible citizens liking and sharing posts in an attempt to help, which they do, in large numbers.

Some missing person posts are genuine but Which? said it can sometimes be difficult to tell.

To avoid perpetuating a scam or unwittingly participating in stalking or harassment, Which? suggests only sharing official posts, posted by organisations such as the police or the Missing People charity (missingpeople.org.uk).

PayPal is an online global payments system. Credit: PA

3. PayPal scams

People will receive a “money request” from what appears to be a genuine PayPal email address.

This might seem above board but scammers may send out fake payment requests, often for high-value items, or posing as HMRC to demand “overdue” tax payments, Which? said.

In some versions of the scam, the fake invoice states the victim’s PayPal account has been compromised and urges them to call a fake fraud hotline.

People should never pay PayPal invoices they do not recognise, or call phone numbers in those invoices, the consumer group said.

Credit: PA

4. Fake app alerts

Some apps can install malware on phones, steal data and perpetuate scams, Which? warned.

It said app stores do take steps to crack down on the problem but threats can remain.

When installing an app, click on the developer’s name and check what other apps it has made to see if these seem legitimate, Which? suggested.

It also said people should remember that app reviews can be faked. The app will likely ask users for permissions – to use the camera, for example. These need to be relevant and proportionate to the functions of the app, Which? said.

What should you do if you're worried you've been scammed?

People who believe they may have been scammed should contact their payment provider immediately and report it to Action Fraud.

Which? tech editor Lisa Barber added: “Consumers can help protect themselves from scams by accessing the wide range of free, expert advice on Which?’s website, from signing up to our scam alerts service to getting answers on how to get their money back if they do fall victim to fraud.”

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