Romance scams and pig butchering

by John Bandler

Here is a quick explainer of romance scams, with some cybersecurity and cybercrime prevention and investigation best practices.

Romance scams and pig butchering are a type of cybercrime

Romance scams (also known as "pig butchering") are a form of cybercrime and are confidence schemes that also involve social engineering.

The cybercriminal develops trust and emotion in the victim before completing the scam and stealing funds. On occasion, they might use the victim to facilitate other crimes.

"Pig butchering" is an unfortunate term but it comes from the concept of a cybercriminal developing trust and emotions over time (e.g., raising and fattening the pig) before ultimately stealing the money and the scam becomes known (butchering the pig). Here we will use the term romance scam, and also put it in the context of other cybercrime scams.

Romance scams are a form of social engineering in that it is trickery, or con artistry. Whereas many social engineering scams might have a duration of seconds, minutes, hours, or days, romance scams are long term cons that take weeks and months to develop using the illusion of romance, love, and preying on the victim's emotions.

Romance scams may take the form of an investment scam. Investment scams trick people into putting their money into a dubious or entirely fraudulent location.

Romance scams are a form of cybercrime, and like most other cybercrime it is really about theft and stealing. Cybercrime is an industry of individuals and groups looking to steal and victimize, and their techniques are varied.

Prevention of this cybercrime (for individuals)

To prevent romance scams, be wary of emotion and apply facts and logic. Follow Bandler’s Four Pillars of Cybersecurity, starting with the first pillar, improve knowledge and awareness.Bandlers Four Pillars of Cybersecurity

People who have never heard of this scam are more likely to fall victim. Same goes for other cybercrime scams, so learn about the scams to better spot them.

  • Know who you are dealing with online, whether in business or personal relationship.
  • Take steps to confirm identity (see my article on Attribution, coming someday)
  • Be aware of your emotions. Make decisions based on facts and logic, especially where money is involved.
  • Realize that many manipulate to influence human thought and decision based on emotion. Cybercriminals do this, but so do many others (fear, anger, and love are powerful motivators and a variety of advertisers, marketers, media organizations and politicians often play upon emotion at the expense of facts and logic).
  • Try to assess facts, try to apply logic, notwithstanding emotional appeals.
  • Be careful investing.
    • Be cautious even of professional, licensed financial advisors who you might meet in person.
    • Be especially cautious of people you meet online, especially if they are unlicensed, unreputable, and their identity not confirmed
  • Be careful whenever you think of parting with your money.
  • Be careful with your heart. Especially online.
  • Avoid cryptocurrency investments (see my article on virtual currency and cryptocurrency).
  • Be careful what information you post online.
  • Be careful what information you share with others.
  • Evaluate inconsistencies, discrepancies, errors, changes
  • Get to know anyone you met online
    • Have verbal conversations.
    • Have video conversations.
    • Meet in person (in a safe location).
    • Verify who they really are.
  • Don't rush, and be suspicious if someone is trying to rush you.
  • Know what action you are really taking and why.
  • Emotions can be powerful. But look to facts and logic.
  • Ask a trusted person that you know in real life.

Response to this cybercrime (for individuals)

These crimes are devastating financially and emotionally.

  • Protect your personal information, identity, accounts. What information have you provided to the criminal? Take steps to protect your identity (see my article on identify theft linked at bottom)
  • Report to your bank
  • Report to law enforcement (local, state, federal, FBI’s IC3, FTC)
  • Try to recover funds
  • Take care of your mental health.

Government and law enforcement response

Quick thoughts here for government:

  • Investigate all cybercrime cases.
  • Successful cybercriminals don’t just do one scam, they attempt thousands and are successful for many.
  • Indict and arrest the perpetrators.
  • Follow the money
  • Indict and arrest the money launderers
  • Without investigation there is no arrest
  • Without arrests there is no justice
  • Without justice there is no deterrence, and this crime will remain rampant.

Rest assured, romance scams are a crime, they violate criminal laws. It is larceny and theft, pure and simple.

[Side note: every now and then a defense attorney--or even some in law enforcement who might not be eager to open an investigation--might suggest that this is not larceny because the victim voluntarily sent the money. But it is theft, it is larceny, it is stealing, it is against the law. It might be a type of theft called "larceny by trick" or "larceny by false pretenses", or something else, but it's still stealing and against the law.


Banks should:

  • Warn customers about these frauds.
  • Investigate scams and file appropriate reports, try to recover funds (as if it was your own money).


Cybercrime, including romance scams, are pernicious and pervasive.

If you are a cybercrime victim, see the resources on this site and see my page on identity theft, contact your financial institution and law enforcement.

If your organization needs help to protect from cybercrime, improve cybersecurity, create or improve policies, or comply with cybersecurity related laws and regulations, please contact me.

This is not legal advice nor consulting advice, and is not tailored to your circumstances.

Additional reading

This article is hosted at, copyright John Bandler, all rights reserved.

This article is also available on at NOT YET (though not kept as up to date).

Originally posted 6/28/2023, updated 6/28/2023.