Americans are committing suicide because of scammers who left them penniless - ForumDaily
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Americans are committing suicide because of scammers who left them penniless

Sitting at the kitchen table on his sister Adrianna's farm, Matt recalls the events of recent months with a heavy heart. “As soon as I found out that my father committed suicide, I was completely convinced that fraud was the cause,” he says. “He was always a positive and happy person. But six months ago he completely changed, and now we know why,” the man told reporters CNN, The family of the late Dennis Jones has been gathering frequently in the last three months since he took his own life as a victim of so-called "hog feeding."

Photo: Shutterstock

This type of scam, primarily carried out by criminal gangs in Southeast Asia, is so named because victims are "fattened up" before everything is taken from them. Fraudsters create false online personas, gain the trust of victims and manipulate them for months, convincing them to invest money on fake cryptocurrency exchanges.

82-year-old Dennis Jones led an active life, devoting much time to working with refugees and participating in political debates. He ran in the morning, was interested in photography, and loved children and grandchildren. Jones had been divorced for a long time, but in the last year of his life he met a woman named Jessie through Facebook.

They communicated online for months and became close. Eventually, Jessie convinced Dennis to invest his savings in cryptocurrency. He agreed. Having never met Jessie in person, he invested all his money on her advice, and when it ran out, Jessie continued to demand more and more. In the end, Dennis Jones was left penniless.

The children did not leave him in trouble. They agreed that Dennis would move to the farm to live with his daughter Adrianna and her family. “We wanted him to know that we will take care of him,” Matt said. The children set a day when they would come for their father. But on the morning of that day, Dennis stopped answering his calls. Son Matt went to see him, but there was no one in the apartment. The man decided that his father had gone for his usual jog and calmly waited for him. But an hour later the police knocked on the door with terrible news. Dennis committed suicide.

Billions of dollars from victims of "pork fattening"

Dennis Jones is one of countless victims of criminal gangs, mostly from China, who have created a multibillion-dollar fraud industry in Southeast Asia. Bandits lead an entire army of ordinary swindlers. Many of these workhorses are held against their will in guarded camps and forced to deceive people around the world.

On the subject: The 6 most common scam schemes in the US: how to protect yourself

The thefts have become so widespread that investigators are calling it a "massive flow of wealth from the American middle class to criminal gangs." Last year, the FBI estimated that pig-finishers stole nearly $4 billion from tens of thousands of American victims. This is half as much as in 2022.

Law enforcement sources predict that losses will continue to rise next year. As long as criminals remain out of reach, they will not only swindle money, but also ruin lives.

Santa Clara County (California) District Attorney Erin West has spent the last several years fighting fraud. “I have been working as a prosecutor for more than 25 years, dealing with different types of crimes. I spent nine years investigating, among other things, sexual assaults. But I have never seen such devastating consequences for the psyche of victims as as a result of “pork fattening,” she says.

Operation Trefoil

Erin and her team were among the first to investigate such scams. “We have victims cheating victims, and the only winners here are Chinese gangsters,” she says.

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Sean Bradstreet told CNN that some of the money stolen from American victims is being used to expand fraud operations and build huge camps where ordinary fraudsters are held.

West and Bradstreet are among a small group of American law enforcement officers working to find ways to combat crimes that happen online while the perpetrators are abroad. Social media is filled with scammers preying on victims on WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and, increasingly, dating sites such as Bumble and Tinder.

“Unfortunately, scammers can play on the feelings of those looking for love or connection,” said a spokesman for Match Group, owner of Tinder.

Match, Bumble, Facebook and WhatsApp parent company Meta told CNN they are working to prevent scammers from using their platforms by monitoring for suspicious language and educating their users. Bumble said in a statement that it uses AI to detect spam, scams and fake profiles "with the goal of taking action before suspicious profiles have a chance to contact users."

In May, a group of technology companies, including cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase, Meta, Match Group and charity GASO, announced the formation of the "Coalition Against Tech Fraud." But West believes this is not enough. She recently launched a task force called Operation Trefoil to bring together law enforcement, social media, cryptocurrency exchanges and traditional banks to combat cryptocurrency scams.

Sweatshops for fraudulent slaves

Many of the scammers are themselves victims of human trafficking. Lured to Southeast Asia by the promise of office jobs, they end up enslaved in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and other countries. Since the military coup in 2021, Myanmar has become the scam capital of Asia. There, criminals can operate freely. A bloody civil war continues in the country, and no one cares about fraud.

On the border between Myanmar and Thailand along the bed of a dry river, there are entire cities - factories of fraud. These are offices filled with hundreds of slaves working 16 hours a day. Their goal is to gain the trust of victims and convince them to invest money in cryptocurrency on fake platforms that only imitate real crypto exchanges.

Conveniently located on the border, these complexes use telecommunications services from the Thai side. In November 2023, Thai Justice Minister Thawi Sodsong announced that they were working to disable these complexes. Pachara Nariptapan of Thailand's National Broadcasting Commission told CNN that in May they instructed all telecom operators to cut off wireless services near any areas bordering Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia. Despite this, criminal activity continues as criminals use other methods of connecting to the Internet, such as Starlink.

Even here on the border, where physical distance is reduced to a narrow river, criminals remain beyond the reach of law enforcement, both local and international.

Beatings and torture with electricity

Those ordinary criminals who managed to escape from these “fraud camps” tell stories of torture and abuse. If a scammer doesn't bring his masters enough money, he may be beaten, electrocuted, or forced to do hundreds of sit-ups as punishment.

Rakesh, an Indian national, was sold to a camp called Gate 25 in Myanmar after applying for an IT job in Thailand in late 2022. There he signed a “contract” under threat of death, and was taught the techniques of deception.

For 11 months, he posed as “Klara Semenova,” a Russian investor from Salt Lake City. To avoid harsh punishments from his captors, he sent romantic messages to victims like Dennis to persuade them to invest money. “70-80% buy into pseudo-love messages,” he said.

Rakesh was released from the “fraud camp” in 2023 after the end of his contract. He believes that he was left alone because he simply turned out to be a mediocre fraudster. "They treated us like slaves," he told CNN a few days after his release.

Of the nearly $5 billion lost to cryptocurrency scams in 2023, $3,96 billion was stolen through pig-feeding schemes, according to the FBI. So far, no American law enforcement agency has been able to arrest a single alleged fraudster.

Blonde millionaire with blue eyes

Karina, who asked CNN to use only her first name, met "Evan" on Bumble in May 2023. The photo showed a blond man with piercing blue eyes. He introduced himself as a rich Dutchman, in the photo he showed expensive cars, watches... Karina, a candidate of science in chemistry and an athlete, was not very interested in his condition, but she liked the handsome blond man.

Their relationship developed rapidly. Evan immediately suggested deleting Bumble and moving the conversation to WhatsApp. After a few days, he started calling her “darling.” “Have we come that far yet?” Karina asked in a text message seen by CNN.

Evan claimed that he made his money by running a company with his uncle and investing in cryptocurrency. He told her she could pay off her student loans in a few months. Karina was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed to invest $1000 to start with.

He suggested that she not use the official application of the Kraken cryptocurrency platform and instead sent her a link to a parallel site. As their investments grew, so did their relationship. They were planning romantic weekend getaways and meeting families, although they had not yet met in person. “I've never met anyone like you. It’s hard to believe that I’m falling in love with a person I’ve never seen,” Karina wrote to him a few weeks later.

The first alarm bells rang when Evan pressured Karina to participate in an “event” where she had to invest $150 by the end of July in order to make an additional profit. If she doesn't reach the goal, her account and money will be frozen.

Fearful of losing the money she had already invested, Karina panicked. She took out a high-interest loan and borrowed money from friends and family to meet the deadline. Despite all his supposed wealth, Evan refused to help her, instead claiming that he himself had gone into debt to reach his $500 goal and needed her help. At one point, Karina consoled her cheater by telling him that money is not important as long as they love each other.

The main psychological trick

After Dennis committed suicide, his adult children began to piece together what happened by looking at his Facebook posts. This is how they learned what their father was facing.

“I have dark thoughts about my life and its end. Looks like my financial life is over,” Dennis wrote to his fake “Jessie” a few months before his death. “And the biggest pain is that I betrayed the trust of my family.” It is unbearable". “These messages are unbearable to read,” says Dennis’ daughter Adrianna. The children of the late Dennis Jones are tormented by the fact that their father continued to pour out his heart to scammers instead of trusting his family. According to prosecutor Erin West, this is the main psychological trick of criminals - to ingratiate themselves with the victim so much as to become closer than their relatives.

For several months, Karina hid from her family what was happening to her. She tried to withdraw some of her money from the platform, but was unable to do so. Finally, she opened up to her family, and they suggested that she contact the Kraken platform directly. She called Kraken customer service and was told there was no account under her name.

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“I realized that I had been deceived. And she burst into tears,” says Karina. - It was all fake. It was a fake profile. It was a fake story. He spent all this time getting to know me and deceiving me.” Reading her correspondence with the fake "Evan" a year later, Karina barely recognizes herself. “It hurts me to see the state I was in,” she says. The simultaneous bankruptcy and breakup of a relationship took a heavy emotional toll on her. Karina had to return to live with her mother. Now it will take her at least ten years to pay off her debts.

"He died with a broken heart"

Adrianna and Matt are only now beginning to understand what happened to their father.

“He wasn’t confronting one person. This is a huge criminal organization that has developed plans to play on emotions... You could say that this is massive brainwashing,” says Dennis’ daughter Adrianna.

This year, unfortunately, even more cases of fraud are predicted. This means there will be more people like Matt and Adrianna who suffer from mental injuries even more than from monetary losses.

“He died embarrassed, ashamed, financially ruined, heartbroken. And if our story helps someone else or another family, then it will be worth it,” says Adrianna.

If you believe you have been a victim of cyber fraud, the FBI recommends reporting it to Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

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