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'Pig-butchering' romance scams most common crypto scam tactic in 2023: Chainalysis

Nicole Lim
Nicole Lim • 2 min read
'Pig-butchering' romance scams most common crypto scam tactic in 2023: Chainalysis
The total amount of crypto stolen through scams fell to US$4.6 bil, but romance scams doubled in revenue in 2023. Photo: Bloomberg
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While the total amount of cryptocurrency stolen through scams fell 29.2% y-o-y to US$4.6 billion ($6.19 billion) in 2023, romance related crypto scams doubled in revenue y-o-y, according to crypto forensics firm Chainalysis. 

This finding is part of Chainalysis’ yearly crypto crime report, which details the data and research behind crypto crimes over a year. Earlier chapters of the 2024 report found that cybercriminals stole about US$1.1 billion worth of crypto through ransomware attacks in 2023, while North Korean-linked hacks of cryptocurrency platforms rose to a record high in 2023. 

According to Chainalysis, romance scam activity — also known as pig butchering — has grown 85 times since 2020. This is on the back of the growing global scam economy, which saw US$1.02 trillion being scammed globally between August 2022 and August 2023, with victims in Singapore losing the most money on average.

The average amount of money extorted through romance scams in 2023 came in at $4,593, far higher than other forms of scams such as charity scams or phishing scams. 

Chainalysis categorizes such romance scams based on information from victims, customers or partners, and other sources, indicating that the scammers are utilizing the tactics typical of a romance scam, meaning that they’re contacting individuals and attempting to build relationships in order to con them.

The firm notes that even though total scam amount dropped y-o-y, this is a lower-bound estimate based on value sent to addresses currently identified as scams. In reality, the figure could be higher.

See also: CSOP to launch Asia’s first inverse Bitcoin ETF in Hong Kong

Meanwhile, Chainalysis has also discovered that more than 60% of all illicit crypto transactions, or about US$14.9 billion in crypto transaction volume, went to sanctioned entities. 

This includes Iran, the most sanctioned country in the world before Russia invaded Ukraine, which is a major adopter and user of crypto. “In 2023, 73.3% inflows to Iranian exchanges came from international mainstream exchanges and could indicate that Iranian services are heavily used to facilitate transfer of value in and out of the country,” Chainalysis finds. 

Since Iran legalized cryptocurrency mining in 2019, experts have warned that the country could use crypto mining as a revenue generation tool to mitigate the impact of global sanctions, according to Chainalysis. 

“Considering this data, in the absence of access to traditional financial systems, Iranian exchange users may be leveraging licit services like the international mainstream exchange ecosystem to transfer and store value,” the firm notes.

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