Undercover video exposes massive "Pig Butchering" romance scam center in Dubai

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2024/03/08/undercover-video-exposes-massive-pig-butchering-romance-scam-center-in-dubai.html


I’ve gotten weird, random WhatsApp texts before. Wonder if this was the source? Doesn’t matter, never respond. Would love to find a way to block them. Oh well.


The centers in Cabodia sound like hell on Earth too. The side investigation into that part of the crypto industry was by far the darkest part of the 2023 book Number Go Up by investigative journalist Zeke Faux. And John Oliver did a recent segment on these operations too.

Cryptocurrency has enabled a lot of truly horrific human rights abuses over the last decade or so, but few leaders in wealthy countries seem willing or able to do anything to hold anyone accountable unless some jackass like SBF rips off a lot of wealthy investors.

Our lawmakers really need to wake up to this kind of stuff instead of pandering to cryptobros for votes and contributions.


There were scam centres in Laukkaing in eastern Myanmar run by Chinese gangsters who had friendly relations with the Myanmar junta. The Chinese government also has friendly relations with the junta, but it was getting angry because the scam centres targeted Chinese victims and the junta wasn’t doing anything to shut them down. The last straw came last October, when gangsters killed scam centre workers who were trying to escape. Then an alliance of three rebel groups seized the area and handed over the gang bosses to China.

@Brainspore IIRC after Cambodia shut down the scam centres the operators moved to Myanmar.


I’ve never gotten a random WhatsApp message, but I literally only use it for one group I’m a member of. So it’s a single use app for me.


Me too. I know how to block an individual account if they text me, but I only use WhatsApp to communicate with my wife. I would like to be able to presumptively block anyone who is not her. I don’t see a way to do that, sadly.


Beyond that and the environmental damage they do, cryptocurrencies themselves are fundamentally pyramid schemes: if you don’t get in very early, you’ll end up losing money. No wonder grifters and Libertarians love them.

As you say, they also pander to the crappy regimes in places like Dubai and UAE that obviously turn a blind eye to these massive operations staffed by enslaved people.

I see a lot of these scammers on the dating apps. Most of them are obvious: professional-grade photos of one (or, to add racism to the mix, more than one) attractive young Asian woman claiming to be a financial executive. It’s an annoyance, one which the dating platforms can’t (or won’t ) get a handle on.

When someone asks me to move a conversation from the dating app chat to Whatsapp or Telegram, that’s a clear sign it’s a scammer.


I’m a bit surprised by Dubai. Not that I’d expect them to object to someone siting their slave pens there; just that I would have assumed that there’s somewhere cheaper and as willing to look the other way.

Are there less glamorous areas that are actually pretty reasonable? Does the local reliance on migrant labor mean that the scam operation gets the first half of its recruitment done for free by others, and just scoops up people attempting to leave other employers or overstay visas or the like?


The cost of labor in Dubai is only high if you’re treating your workforce like actual human beings, not when you’re running a literal slave operation. The world has already been turning a blind eye to Dubai’s horrific treatment of its imported workforce for years and the human trafficking infrastructure was already in place, so why not branch out into crypto-schemes?


Here’s the John Oliver piece on it…


I was thinking real estate, utilities, and cost-of-living type stuff; Slave labor certainly keeps payroll to a minimum; but a boiler room operation still needs to rent a boiler room and you need some suitably grim housing and meagre food and so on.

For labor that has to be done onsite, construction, domestic servants, etc. there’s obviously not much choice; but for an explicitly remote operation it seemed a little curious to have it located in the (I think, number may have changed a bit recently) 31st most expensive city worldwide; rather than somewhere cheaper.

Since they actually went and set this up I assume that the numbers make sense(or at least aren’t prohibitive; if the difference isn’t too dramatic the fact that the slavedrivers probably don’t want to live in one of the cheaper impunity zones might be enough to tip the balance); I’m just wondering what the benefits are that offset relatively high infrastructure costs.

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Might be as simple as good internet and easily bribable officials?


I assume they probably aren’t running these operations out of any of those fancy skyscrapers that make up their famous skyline. Land isn’t an issue in the greater Dubai area, aside from the urban area along the waterfront it’s basically empty desert in all directions. They already have a bunch of no-frills, high-density housing units for the slave labor force that builds all their stuff, so all they’d need to do would be to lay some additional high-speed internet connections.


Or alternatively:

Victims are initially directed to sign up for one scam before being tricked into entering into another one.


Not the wages, but isn’t the rent on the office space expensive there?

Again, they have entire housing complexes for slave labor already.

Asking how they can afford to house those people in Dubai is kind of like asking how they afforded housing for the slaves at those fancy plantation properties people rent out for weddings. In both cases, the luxury accommodations are only possible because of the exploited labor forces used to maintain them.


Jada Pinkett Smith Periodt GIF by Red Table Talk

It must be just so very hard, one imagines, to let all that sweet sweet donor “money” (or whatever medium these bros donate) just languish there on the table (or digital realm)… or worse still have some political opponent grab what should really be your campaign contribution. /s

Ye gods.

Just as AI has made it possible to scale up various scammers’ operations and make their whole scheme run faster (and with better targeting), the cryptocurrency sphere has made human (and other) trafficking scalable and alarmingly fast.

Even if we are looking at some kind of Mad Magazine Spy vs Spy scenario where we end up using AI to fight AI scams, and detect all and sundry scams of any provenance, and defend us in a pre-crime way from upcoming scams and viruses and hacks and breaches and exploits and vulns, if we are doing anything digitally–and btw this is where all our money is right now, unless you’re keeping hard currency on hand–we’re on a treadmill now. An op-sec, info-sec, data-sec treadmill. And more.

This is not the cyberfuture I signed up for, even as a person who works in and still has some faith in the tech industry. The used-to-be-distant horror of a SkyNet from Terminator is closer every day, sure, but cold comfort to someone today whose been trafficked, or ID-thefted and then had frauds committed using that thefted identity, or had their finances stolen by digital criminals and stateless actors, and all the other mundane scammy bs we see now. I mean, apart from the well-known effective scams perpetrated in meatspace like pump and dump, insider trading, predatory lending by FDIC banks and the events leading up to TARP, and the steaming pile of “legacy” left by that :tangerine: :clown_face: administration including that $2T wealth transfer to the ultrawealthy.

These are bad but somehow maybe not hellish and can be sometimes entertaining to watch (NSFW):

Pierogi is very good at what he does, and his team blows my mind.



is a web site that let’s you know how often, where, and potentially how badly, your digital life may be compromised. I just had to use this yesterday for a client. If you are getting weird texts or messages, even on a WhatsApp or Signal account, this may be a possible reason why. The site provides next steps, not always perfectly effective or ideal now that the horses have left the barn but maybe you still want to close the barn door.

Please do not be alarmed if you have a long-used email address or phone number and then find out on the site you’ve been pwned. It’s just another situational awareness tool and a good reminder about how leaky the ostensible promises of data security we all have are illusory, sooner or later. Usually much much sooner.


Katie Porter was one of the few prominent voices calling for more regulation of crypto… which is why a bunch of cryptobros just spent $10 Million in attack ads to help ensure she wouldn’t get that California Senate seat.

The “people fucking with spammy call centers” videos stopped seeming as funny to me after I learned how many of the people working places like that aren’t doing so of their own free will.


It’s sad that this sort of crime continues. People need to inform themselves and wake up. Why do people not see through these scams? I still remember over 30 years ago, to my university email, I received my first message from a self-proclaimed Nigerian Prince who needed someone to give millions of dollars to. I was skeptical enough not to fall down that rabbit hole and reply. Then about 15 years ago, a friend of a friend, an isolated, lonely lady, succumbed to an on-line pig butchering scammer and lost just hundreds of dollars. And then, just last week, my dad’s computer was taken over by ransom-ware, and he, the most skeptical force in my life, actually dialed the number on the screen and stayed on the phone hours with an unknown gentleman, withdrew thousands of dollars from his personal bank account, and was about to use it to purchase cryptocurrency to pay a “ransom”. Thanks to the awareness of my mom and the bank teller, my dad FFS avoided losing money to the GDMFPOS scammer.