Love, Loss, and Pig Butchering Scams | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

In all likelihood, Bruce Zhao does not exist. His persona, certainly, is a calculated fiction, devised to prey on the vulnerabilities of people in search of intimacy and dependent on digital services to find it. The “trading sessions” were an elaborate pantomime.

Romance scams predate the internet by centuries. In the 16th century, wealthy people were scammed by letter. But since the pandemic, which drove social isolation and forced more interactions online, fraud has reached epidemic levels. Scams have also evolved with the age of digital communication into a far more potent threat. Without the physical cues available in person, people have less information to help identify a threat, according to Gareth Norris, a lecturer in psychology at Aberystwyth University who published a paper in 2019 on the psychology of internet fraud. Behavior that might normally raise suspicion—sweating, say, or fidgeting—is concealed behind the screen.

The architects of these scams have made a profession of hijacking human psychology, says Norris, and are able to manipulate the way people make decisions for their own gain. For example, a natural tendency toward confirmation bias, focusing on cues that affirm an already formed perception, can be abused to squeeze more money out of a victim. “Human beings don’t tend to like ambiguity; they don’t like to hold two competing views in mind. When we’ve got a suspicion something isn’t right, it creates tension in our brains,” says Norris. “But confirmation bias helps avoid ambiguity by only focusing on information that supports our view and ignoring things that don’t.”

The likelihood that someone will fall for a scam has “no connection with intelligence,” says David Modic, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Ljubljana. Rather, it’s about the ability of the scammer to take advantage of personal context—like a recent breakup—and social engineering techniques to “erode someone’s self-control” and blind them to warning signs.

That’s what Evelyn found: “There were red flags,” she says, “but no smoking gun that outweighed my desire to stay in touch with [Bruce].”

Evelyn caught the first glimpses of reality when she asked Bruce to help her withdraw a substantial sum. He acted offended and implied that she was ungrateful: “Why are you always in doubt?” he asked. Evelyn tried to perform a withdrawal without his help but received an error on the CEG website. The online customer support was useless.

Beginning to suspect something, Evelyn did a reverse Google search of an image of Bruce’s office. It had been posted by someone else on Twitter, two years earlier. The owner of the account was using it to promote a separate trading operation, AstroFX, another alleged scam. A deep uneasiness began to swell in the pit of her stomach.

The last vestige of hope evaporated when Bruce told her that to withdraw her profits, she would have to deposit an additional 15 percent of the value of her account, supposedly to verify her identity. In a fit of absent-mindedness, he had forgotten all about the requirement. When she said she didn’t have the funds, he told her to borrow from friends. “What are you going to do, dear?” he wrote, pressing her.

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National Cyber Security