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Meta and Coinbase link up with Match to fight pig-butchering, romance scams

Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Bad people who prey on those looking for love, or hoping to make a quick buck, have been around since biblical times. But in recent years, the rise of three newer technologies—social media, online dating platforms, and crypto—has supplied these predators with powerful new tools to expand their reach. The result has been a recent flood of heartbreaking stories about online romance scams and "pig butchering," a term used by Chinese crooks to describe slowly gaining the trust of someone before fleecing them in an investment swindle.

The good news is that some of the biggest companies whose platforms are exploited for these scams are fighting back. On Tuesday, an unusual coalition of tech and crypto companies joined with Match—the online-dating giant that runs apps like Tinder—to announce Tech Against Scams, an initiative to share information and resources in order to combat romance scams and pig butchering. The coalition includes Meta, the parent company of Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as the crypto firms Coinbase, Kraken, Ripple, and Gemini.

“We hope that this coalition will serve as a force multiplier for security teams at tech companies to share threat insights and trends to enable more impactful disruptions of scam networks around the world," Meta Chief Information Security Officer Guy Rosen said in a statement.

The new coalition comes at a time when pig butchering has become a growing problem in the U.S. Last week, the Justice Department arrested two Chinese nationals in California who allegedly managed an international pig-butchering syndicate that had taken in at least $73 million. An earlier FBI report, meanwhile, stated that Americans lost $700 million to romance scams in 2022 and $2.5 billion overall to crypto-related scams.

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In an interview with Fortune, Match VP of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth explained that the current wave of scams is primarily being run by criminal gangs in Southeast Asia. These gangs often rely on victims of human trafficking to reach out to potential marks in other countries, and entice them into text-message exchanges. These conversations involve the scammer posing as a love interest or a friendly source of investment advice with the goal of persuading the recipient to send cryptocurrency to the criminal gang. After extracting as much money as they can, the sender vanishes.

According to Roth, who occupied a similar trust-and-safety role at Twitter, the scammer gangs have become adept at migrating to other online platforms—be it a social media site or a dating app—if they are detected and kicked off a site. He says that by forming a coalition, the companies will no longer be operating in silos. Instead, they will be able to swap information that expedites the discovery of scammers, and to share the tools they have each built to fight them. Roth's hope is that by combining resources, the group will be able to quickly boot the criminals no matter "where in the kill chain" they are discovered.

Philip Martin, chief security officer at Coinbase, says Tech Against Scams was inspired in part by similar initiatives launched in an earlier era when Facebook and Google worked together to detect bad actors on their sites. He added that even though the new coalition includes Coinbase's rivals in the crypto industry, "there are no competitive concerns" when it comes to sharing information that could identify and thwart scammers.

Tech Against Scams is the first coalition of its kind to span a diverse group of tech and crypto companies, and it intends to get bigger. Martin and Roth said the group is already talking to several other firms, including some very familiar to consumers, that are used by crooks for romance and pig-butchering scams.

Currently, there are notable names missing from the coalition—the giant crypto exchange Binance and the stablecoin issuer Tether, whose tokens are a big part of the illicit pig-butchering economy. Martin would not say if he or other members of Tech Against Scams have been in talks with the two companies, but did say the coalition is open to any that shares its goals.

Both Martin and Roth sought to present a realistic view of their attempts to combat romance scams and pig butchering, as each noted that the improvements they make will be incremental and not solve the problem entirely. "The reality is these scams have been around since the beginning of time," said Martin.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com