Old Cons Don’t Die, They Just Learn New Tech, Pig Butchering ring see billions in rackets from Hong Kong to Thailand
By Joe Pan
The recent unraveling of an alleged multi-million dollar cryptocurrency scam by Hong Kong-based trading platform JPEX has shone a spotlight on how old school scammer tactics are being repackaged to ensnare unsuspecting crypto investors.
Although the investment vehicles may be new, law enforcement officials say the manipulative tricks employed by fraudsters remain decidedly old-school.
From Fake Licenses to Phantom Offices, Old Tricks Power New Crypto Scams
Hong Kong authorities have arrested 26 people in connection with JPEX as of Friday and are investigating losses exceeding HK$1.522 billion ($195 million) amid allegations the Dubai-based platform was operating without a local trading license. Investors say they were drawn in by promises of high returns on crypto assets as high as 20%.
But beyond flashy crypto buzzwords, the con follows a familiar playbook, according to cybersecurity experts.
“These scammers are simply deploying old tricks of building trust and appearing legitimate to lure in victims,” said Tigran Gambaryan, Head of Binance’s Financial Crime Compliance unit.
JPEX advertised itself as a licensed platform and used blurry images of permits from various countries on its website. However, Hong Kong regulators said it had no license to operate locally. Its touted address in a Hong Kong co-working space was occupied by unrelated tenants, while its Taiwan office stood empty, according to local media.
“Displaying bogus documentation continues to be an effective way for scammers to con targets into thinking their business is above board,” Gambaryan said.
Sleek Ads and Influencers Lend Crypto Scams an Air of Credibility
In addition to depending on perceived legitimacy, JPEX also relied on glossy advertising campaigns and celebrity influencers to recruit unsuspecting investors.
The trading platform prominently advertised across Hong Kong’s subway system and tapped high-profile figures like insurance salesman Joseph Lam to endorse the brand on social media.
“Roping in influencers and saturated marketing creates the illusion of success,” noted Ryan Sung, a tech analyst with IDC Financial Insights. “Uninformed investors who see a business splashed across billboards or endorsed by celebrities are more likely to drop their guard.”
Cryptocurrency con artists are especially drawn to influencer marketing tactics because it enables them to expand their reach and feign credibility, according to Sung.
‘Pig Butchering’: Personal Touch Makes Crypto Scams Hard to Stop
While advertising and document forgeries provide the facade, experts say the personal attention woven into schemes like JPEX make them tough to dismantle.
Like the so-called “pig butchering” scams popular in China, Hong Kong fraudsters carefully built relationships and trust with individual targets through chat groups, said Eric Chan, a Hong Kong detective.
“Scammers lure investors in with the promise of huge returns, then employ personal pleas and excuses to string them along,” Chan said.
Early success with withdrawals and fake investment dashboards convince victims to keep funds in play. By the time they realize they’ve been duped, it’s too late.
“Personal manipulation remains an effective tactic to keep targets invested,” Chan added, noting that common psychological tricks continue fueling crypto crimes.
Asia Emerges as Hotbed for Revamped Crypto Cons
While scammers may be relying on timeworn tricks, law enforcement officials say cryptocurrency provides the ideal mask for age-old rackets.
“Asia has become a hotbed for reinvented crypto scams because the technology seems new and complex,” said Deputy Director Manoopinder Singh of the Thai CCIB, which recently busted a $277 million pig butchering ring in Bangkok.
Singh pointed to the 2017 Thore coin scam that siphoned $4 billion from thousands of Thai citizens through crypto subterfuge as an early example of old cons getting a digital makeover.
As novice Asian investors plunge into the crypto space, fraudsters will continue to recycle manipulative tactics behind the guise of blockchain innovation, Singh predicted.
“Cryptocurrency provides the perfect smokescreen for old scams,” he said. “Investors must be alert to age-old red flags despite the high-tech packaging.”
About the author
Joe Pan is producer and editor at NFTmetta.com.