Pig Butchering: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

Main segment: Pig butchering scams. Other segments: LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, discussion of the Comstock laws and modern day book burning

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 11 Episode 2
Aired on February 25, 2024

Main segment: Pig butchering scams
Other segments: LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, discussion of the Comstock laws and modern day book burning

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver, thanks for joining us. It’s been a busy week, from the U.S. vetoing a cease-fire in Gaza yet again, to the revelation that Joe Biden’s dog bit Secret Service agents at least 24 different times. But we’re going to start in West Virginia, which has spent the past several weeks debating a bill to impose criminal penalties for exposing children to “obscene” literature in schools and libraries. The debate’s featured some spectacular testimony from concerned citizens, reading out material they objected to.

Are you gonna eat her pussy? Yeah, earl, I’m gonna eat her pussy. Hey, yeah. Do you even know how to eat pussy? Papa Gaines never sat you down, said Son, one day, you’re going to have to eat the pussy? No. But he did teach me how to eat a butthole.

John: Look, I admit, I don’t remember that scene from “The Giving Tree.” But it’s been a while, and in retrospect, it does make sense for the tree to sit the boy down and explain how to rock the box. It’s an important lesson. But while that hearing was ridiculous, the law itself is serious. Violating it could carry a felony charge, with a penalty of $25,000 and a sentence of up to 5 years. Many have called it a “book ban” although the bill’s backers pushed back on that, with one of the speakers who supported it saying, “we are not banning or burning, we are protecting.” Although I’ll tell you what you’re definitely not protecting, and that’s my ears from hearing “eat the pussy” four times out of this woman’s mouth. But while West Virginia may not be burning books, obscenity bills and similar moral panics are spreading around the country, in places like Missouri, where a candidate for office released this video.

This is what I will do to the grooming books when I become secretary of state.
♪ ♪
These books come from a Missouri public library. When I’m in office, they will burn.

John: Okay. There’s a lot to not like there, including that her flamethrower is apparently fueled by liberal tears. Which… What? I’m not saying the Gop’s messaging is in disarray, but… Are liberal tears the thing you love to drink because your enemies’ sadness tastes so sweet? Or, is it the deadly fuel for your very cool shark-themed flamethrower? You’ve got to pick a fucking lane there! But for now, let’s turn to Alabama, which has been reeling after a major decision from its highest court.

This morning, a first of its kind decision by the Alabama Supreme Court that could put families’ access to fertility treatments in the post-roe era at risk. The court, determining frozen embryos qualify as people under its state law, ruling unborn children are children without exception based on developmental stage.

John: Yeah. They ruled frozen embryos are the same as people, which is wrong for a bunch of reasons– mainly, if you freeze an embryo, it’s fine. If you freeze a person, you have some explaining to do. That ruling could have massive implications for anyone who needs IVF to conceive– and that’s a lot of people. Around 2% of babies born in the US are from IVF. Already, multiple fertility clinics have paused treatment in the wake of the decision– which, as anyone who’s ever undergone IVF will tell you, isn’t something you can just do. IVF cycles take weeks of careful monitoring and expensive treatments. You can’t just hit pause and wait out a court case. This is a seismic decision, and the reason the court was hearing this case to begin with was pretty wild.

The case in question involved a patient who managed to access the freezer storing frozen embryos at an Alabama fertility clinic. The patient picked up multiple embryos and mistakenly dropped and destroyed them.

John: Yeah– the court ruled that the clinic could be sued for wrongful death. And while that accident’s genuinely horrible, someone wandering into a lab and dropping frozen embryos just isn’t murder. If anything, it sounds like the script for a pretty tasteless “Mr. Bean” sequel. And look: the reason clinics are pausing treatment right now is that nobody quite knows what it could mean for an embryo to be legally equivalent to a person, going forward. What happens if an embryo is stored improperly? What if they’re– as inevitably happens– leftover or destroyed in the implantation process? What about genetic testing, which can reduce the risk of miscarriage, but does carry a slight risk of damaging embryos? Would that now be considered a wrongful death? It’s chaos, and experts say courts in other states could try and issue similar rulings. But none of this should be surprising. This ruling is a natural outgrowth of the concept of “fetal personhood,” long pushed by hardline anti-abortion groups, which Republicans have spent decades courting. And some politicians suddenly seem alarmed to have to deal with the consequences of a movement they empowered. Nikki Haley, for instance, spent the week trying to reconcile her position that “when you’re talking about an embryo, you’re talking about a life,” with what that actually means in legal terms. Meanwhile, watch as Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville seemed to realize the problems with his position in real-time.

Do you have a reaction to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on the fact that embryos are children?

Yeah, I was all for it. We need to have more kids. We need to have the opportunity to do that. I thought that this was the right thing to do.

But IVF is used to have more children, and right now IVF services are paused at some of the clinics in Alabama. Aren’t you concerned that this could impact people who are trying to have kids?

Well, that’s for– that’s for another conversation.

Senator, what do you say to women right now in Alabama who can no longer access IVF and will not as a result of this ruling? What do you say to them?

Well, that’s a hard one. It really is. It’s really hard. ‘Cause again, you want people to have that opportunity. And that’s what I was telling her, we need more kids.

John: Well, guess what, Tommy? I’ve got great news! Since your political philosophy seems to begin and end with “we need more kids,” you’ll be thrilled to know that thanks to a judge in Alabama, there’s now whole freezers full of them! Go play with all those frosty kids, senator! Or maybe, that’s not what you had in mind when you think of children, which is exactly the fucking point here! Republicans are in a tough spot right now, trying to hold onto hardline anti-abortion forces, while not alienating the majority of Americans. And maybe, the best example of that right now has to do with and may become of the best example of this is Donald Trump. He issued a statement this week that he strongly supports the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious baby– something he referred to as “the ultimate joy in life,” all caps, exclamation mark. And it’s incredible how even objectively wholesome sentences take on an air of creepiness when passed through the chaotic Trump punctuation filter. Meanwhile, he’s also been privately floating a federal ban on abortion at the 16-week mark, reportedly saying, “know what I like about 16?” “It’s even. It’s four months.” And I will say– starting any sentence with “you know what I like about 16,” should be off limits for anyone who has this many photos with Jeffrey Epstein. But while Trump might think 16 weeks is the reasonable option which it isn’t– antiabortion forces are hoping to use a second Trump term to go much, much further. One tool they’re apparently eager to use is the Comstock Act, an 1873 law that criminalizes the shipping of any materials used in an abortion, including abortion pills, with one of Trump’s lawyers saying, “we don’t need a federal ban when we have Comstock on the books.” It was one of the key pretexts in last year’s mifepristone ruling, and Lindsey Graham actually cited Comstock when defending it.

The idea of mailing the drug-sending the drug through the mail runs into a statute called the Comstock Act.

It’s a very old statute on the books. Do you believe that the Supreme Court should use that as a way to ban this abortion pill?

Well, I think it’s a law on the books.

John: Look, I guess it’s not that surprising that Graham’s endorsement of a law boils down to “it’s on the books,” given that “it’s old and it’s there” basically sums up Lindsey Graham at this point. He seems determined to stay in the senate until he can complete transformation into beaker. And, he’s getting close. He’s only a couple of steps away. But he’s right: the Comstock Act is technically there, meaning a Trump administration– or the judges he appoints– could try using it to restrict abortion without going through Congress. Which is both alarming, and something many pro-life figures are anxious to keep quiet for now. That Trump lawyer I mentioned even said of him, “I hope he doesn’t know about the existence of Comstock, because I just don’t want him to shoot off his mouth.” “I think the pro-life groups should keep their mouths shut as much as possible until the election.” But whenever they don’t want to talk about something, it’s probably worth you knowing about. So, for the record, the Comstock Act is named after Anthony Comstock, a 19th-century anti-sex crusader and postal inspector who was, and I quote, “a chronic masturbator who believed it was physically harmful, so launched a crusade to stamp out the transmission and transportation of all obscene material.” And imagine jerking off so much you make it a matter of national security. The Comstock Act forbade sending by mail “every obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance,” as well as “every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion.” That’s the clause abortion opponents have used on mifepristone, and they hope to expand it to cover the shipping of literally anything an abortion requires. So, the comstock act is a wild law, pushed for by a deeply weird, dangerously horny man, that may soon be determining all our reproductive freedoms. And it’s worth noting that Comstock was also a leader in “the New York Society for the suppression of Vice,” whose seal fun fact– depicted someone burning books. Which, to be fair, conservatives don’t do anymore. As we all know, they use flame throwers now. And that’s the thing that ties everything I’ve talked about here together– there are politicians currently desperately trying to distance themselves from extreme policies they’ve enabled. You can say “we’re not trying to ban or burn books,” but that’s what’s happening. You can say “we just want more kids,” but you’re making life incredibly hard for people, including those who desperately want them. Burning books and ending IVF is the natural endpoint of the extreme policies they’ve held hands with, and if they’re not at least willing to own those consequences, then they can, in the words of what I believe to be this country’s greatest public speaker–

…eat a butthole.

John: Well said.


John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns the internet. It can be a magical place, but also one where things aren’t always what they seem– as this woman learned the hard way.

Queen Shaydonna Haynesworth thought she bought this: the Instagram ad displaying a tree that fits in a living room, not the palm of her hand.

Yooooo! This is a rainbow Christmas tree? Like, seriously? Like, who is responsible for this?

John: Yeah, it must’ve been pretty disappointing, to order a full-size tree and get whatever that is. She must’ve felt like HBO did when they ordered a comedy show and got this instead. Unfortunately, not every mistake is that benign. It’s not news that there are scammers on the internet, but you may’ve noticed, one scam in particular is currently everywhere. A common way it starts is with a weird text from a number you don’t recognize, like, “Cheryl, can we move lunch to 5:00?” When you’re not Cheryl. Or “Dave, what time is our flight?” When you’re not Dave and you don’t have a flight booked. Even as we worked on this piece, members of our staff and their friends were getting these messages, from “hello is this the manager Jesse from the flower shop?” To this one, reading, “is this Dr. John? I’m Emily, is my horse recovering well?” And I’m glad that wasn’t sent to me, because it would have worked. You’re calling me Doctor John? Instantly on board. And you’re assuming I’m around a horse for medical reasons? That’s exactly what I’ve been saying! I’m allowed to touch it like that. I’m a doctor! And I know most people ignore messages like those. But some write back, get sucked into a conversation and eventually– through a process we’ll get into– can end up losing a lot of money. It’s a scam with a striking name that newscasters can’t seem to get over.

It’s called a pig butchering scam. And it might sound like a gruesome name, but that’s because the amount of money victims are losing is painful.

The scammers have a terrible term for what Wendy went through. They call it pig butchering.

The New Mexico securities division calls them “pig butchering scams.” I know, but listen, don’t worry, there are no pigs or any other animals involved.

John: Yes, don’t worry, there are no pigs harmed in “this” pig butchering scam. Although, if the words do make you squeamish, it’s worth noting that that there is a process through which pigs are harmed every day. It’s actually how we get bacon, pork and other products. It’s called pig butchering, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. But the name makes a little more sense, once you understand how the scam actually works.

In the world of cyber and counterterrorism threats. Special agent Hassani has seen it all. But in 2021, he began seeing a new scam: pig butchering.

But it just refers to raising little piglets, fattening them up, and butchering them. And they’re fattening up their victim with illusions of grandeur, of wealth, of love, before bleeding them dry.

John: That’s rough. Because imagine being a victim of this scam, turning on the news and suddenly learning the shorthand for people in your situation is “the pigs.” Although I will say– it could be worse. Pigs are awesome! They’re one of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They’re smarter than dogs, most 3-year-olds, and Tom Sandoval. To use a phrase the police never seem to appreciate: it’s actually an honor to be compared to a pig! And if you’re thinking, “this seems like the kind of scam that’s been around for decades.” That’s partially true, but the way this one works is fairly new. And in the short time it’s been around, it’s been massively successful. Just this month, it was at the center of a huge local news story in Kansas, where it brought down a financial institution.

I was surprised. I was shocked. I was disappointed.

Kansas State Bank Commissioner David Herndon is talking about the massive cryptocurrency scam at the Heartland tri-state bank in Elkhart.

In a cryptocurrency scheme that the FBI has now referred to as pig butchering.

In this case, Herndon says, the victim was Shan Hanes, the bank’s own CEO. And he’s now facing charges of embezzling nearly $50 million, a loss that caused the bank to fail last August.

John: It’s true. According to prosecutors, a bank CEO got pig-butchered, sent his scammer the bank’s holdings, and the bank went under. Which is alarming for several reasons, among them– is that how banks work? Because it feels like there should be at least one step between “CEO gets tricked” and “whoops, the bank’s empty.” It’s estimated that, as of 2022, this scam was taking people for more than $3 billion a year in the US alone. And that’s almost certainly a massive undercount, as it only includes people who reported their losses to the FBI. So given all that, tonight, let’s talk about pig butchering: why it’s easier to fall for than you might think, who’s behind it, and what we can do to protect ourselves and our liked ones from getting scammed in the future. And let’s start with where this began. And to do that, unfortunately, we need to go back to the place no one wants to go: the beginning of COVID. You remember COVID. It’s the Stephen Miller of diseases, in that we were all worried about it a few years ago and have since moved on, even though it is still very dangerous. But that’s when pig butchering took off. Basically, at the start of COVID, many of us were isolated and lonely, desperately looking for human contact online– which made us ripe targets. At the same time, organized crime groups in China, running casinos in southeast Asia, were in crisis, as– thanks to the pandemic– gamblers weren’t showing up. So, they turned those casinos into bases for online scam operations. And from there, their workers identified people and preyed on their vulnerabilities. And let me walk you through the basic steps. The first is to make contact, and lure your target in. Listen to this woman explain how her scammer, who called himself “Jimmy,” contacted her at a moment when she was dealing with cancer, the pandemic, and the end of her marriage.

First message, it came as a very innocent message. Is! I said, “wrong number.” He came back, “you look Chinese. Are you Chinese?” And I said yes. He had moved here just before COVID, and then COVID hit, and so he’s not able to go home. He was a lonely man in need of comfort. Jimmy would message me every day. I do remember receiving these emojis with hearts. ♪ ♪ [Heart beating] It’s quite flattering for a middle-aged woman to meet a young man who finds you attractive.

John: Yeah, of course, that’s flattering. Because scammers are telling their targets what they want to hear most in that moment. We might not “all” fall for a gif of a heart-pumping emoji, but if someone sent “me” “nerd with glasses” plus “football” plus “learning” plus “sad statistics” = “fire emoji,” me personally? Why, I would nut! And look: one way of making contact is through those “wrong number” texts. But experts we’ve talked to estimate they only make up about a quarter of the initial contacts for this scam. The rest can come through sites like LinkedIn, dating apps, Instagram or Facebook– places specifically designed for you to meet people you don’t know, either for love, a hookup or, in the case of LinkedIn, to find out what kind of person is “still” on fucking LinkedIn. And scammers often research their target using social media where there’s a lot of information on people– so they can pretend to have something in common. Take this woman, who met someone on a dating app, only to discover they shared an unexpected connection.

He started asking questions about my family and my past experiences.

It was a connection that felt even stronger, she says, when he told her he came from the same town in China from where Hutchinson was adopted.

We kind of bonded over that.

John: Yeah, I bet they did! And I’ve got to say, it says something about men on dating apps that they connected so well, simply because he did things like “ask her questions about herself” and “listen to her responses.” I don’t want to say the bar for men is low, but that story started with him asking her questions about her life and ends with her “giving him all of her money.” But regardless of how they start, sooner or later, we move on to step two: turning the conversation toward money. But even then, there’s a smart twist. Because you won’t be suddenly asked to wire money to a Nigerian prince with an obviously fake email like “real prince spelled with a one instead of an I at scum dot farts.” With pig butchering, there’s no direct ask for money at all. Instead, an opportunity gets presented. Watch as this man explains the moment when a guy he met on a dating site started to reel him in.

He spent at least a month daily talking to me and cultivating my friendship.

Initially, the only talk about money was how much his new online friend had made in crypto. After all, Scott thought he knew how to protect himself from scams.

You can invest with me and I’ll make you all this money and I was like “I’m not giving you money, that’s not happening.” So that’s when he started, “no, you don’t give it to me. You establish your own account and I’ll guide you.”

John: Right. That’s the clever hook here– you’re not sending the scammer money. They’re helping you set up and control your own account. And everything seems more legitimate when there’s an app involved. You don’t think so? When’s the last time you took an Uber? Get in a nondescript car with someone I’ve never met? I’d never do that! But wait– what’s this? I can do it from my phone? In that case, here is my address, now you know where I live and that I won’t be home for the evening. My name is John, I don’t know your last name but that doesn’t matter, because I’m also not committing your face to memory. Everything’s safe, there’s an app involved. And the fact the investment is often in crypto can be persuasive for multiple reasons: first, who really knows how crypto works? I know your friend’s weird husband claims he does, but he sucks to talk to, so sadly, it must remain a mystery. But people have made money on crypto, so it’s not unreasonable to think you might meet one of them and they could give you some tips. On top of which, you may not be super-familiar with how a trading platform operates or even what one looks like. And scammers have created incredibly plausible-looking apps. We got this footage of one, which seems to have all the detail and functionality of a real app, and I’ll be honest, I could be fooled by that. Also, some scammers use legitimate apps that allow anyone to build a trading exchange. The problem is, there are tools scammers can use to simulate fake results on those apps, while taking your money. Watch this journalist explain how this gave one victim false confidence.

In Metatrader, it looks just like any kind of normal trading interface that one would use. It’s available in the Google Play Store. It’s available on the Apple app store. It’s an app that has a lot of good ratings, and that was one of the things that made him think that this whole operation was legitimate. He believed that his investment was making money. If you’re trading on a legitimate trading interface, right, you see the profits and losses over time. And this is exactly what he saw.

John: Right. If your friend told you to download an app, and you saw it in the app store with good reviews, you might assume everything on it was legitimate, even before you saw Metatrader’s logo, which looks like three men in suits jerking each other off under a table. An appropriate metaphor for cryptocurrency if I’ve ever seen one. Some scammers even set up additional features like two-factor authentication or customer-service lines. This woman tried her best to do due diligence on the site she was sent, and came away convinced it was real.

There was a legal secretary involved in another state, vouching association with a law firm where it was sending money to. She’s real. I could verify her, so it was very complex and well-rehearsed.

John: Right. She spoke with a legal secretary and a law firm before sending money. And that’s more vetting than I’ve done for my kids’ daycare. I love them, and they’re very precious to me, but they’re also loud, sticky, and one of them’s just getting stronger and stronger every day, so if you have a building with walls and a phone number I can call, I trust you, take them for the afternoon. And at this point of the process, things might look pretty good for the people getting scammed. You’ve sent a bit of money to a legitimate-looking site, through an account you control. And your new friend’s trading tips seem to be working, so maybe you send a little more. Pretty soon, you might have a fair amount of money tied up on this trading platform. But when you eventually go to withdraw it, that’s where we hit the final step of this process. Remember that woman you saw earlier, whose online friend claimed he was from the town where she was born? Well, she’d convinced her dad to invest as well. They’d seemingly made a bunch of money, and then this happened.

By December, their accounts showed a combined balance of $1.2 million, and Hutchinson decided it was time to cash out. That’s when the site told her, before she could withdraw her money, she’d have to pay a hefty tax bill of roughly $380,000. That’s when I was like “something’s not right.” It wasn’t. The cryptocurrency investments weren’t real. All her and her father’s funds had gone into the scammer’s pockets. In all, $390,000 stolen. I messed up my life. I messed up my dad’s life.

She told me that it was all a scam.

Hutchinson’s father, Melvin.

And all I could do was just hug her and tell her “it’s okay. It’s okay.” It was hard. It was hard, ’cause we lost everything.

John: Yeah– their money had already gone, and that “tax bill” was just an attempt to squeeze them one last time. And theirs isn’t the only brutal story here. This woman lost $350,000. This guy lost $300,000. And that woman who fell for “Jimmy” sent him $2.5 million, as she was dealing with terminal cancer. It’s traumatic and humiliating. It took courage for those people to come forward. And that’s partly why experts think the $3 billion figure we have is way too low: because most people who’ve been scammed like this simply don’t report their losses out of embarrassment. And at this point, you’re probably furious with the people on the other end of all these messages, and want to see them taken down– or, at the very least, fucked with. And that happens a lot. People post screengrabs messing with scammers all the time, like in this exchange, where someone replies to a “wrong number” text with “my name is Inigo with “my name is Inigo Montoya” and “you don’t by any chance have six fingers on your right hand, do you?” Or this one, where a scammer writes “I’m Sarah, nice to meet you” with a picture, and gets the reply “wee woo wee woo. Boner alert.” And look: that doesn’t seem like the right sound. I would’ve gone with “a-woo-ga, a-woo-ga. boner alert.” But, reasonable people can disagree. All bodies are different. There’s no one right sound for a boner alert. But here’s the thing: as cathartic as that might be, the person on the other end of that phone might not be the one you should be mad at. Because remember when I said this was being done in former casinos by organized crime syndicates? Turns out, they’re not great bosses.

This compound is where an Indian man named Rakesh says he was forced to work for more than 11 months without pay for a Chinese criminal gang. Rakesh, who doesn’t want to be identified, says he first flew to Thailand for what he thought was an IT job. Instead, he says he was tricked into crossing the border to Myanmar where a Chinese gangster told him to work, or else.

He threatened to kill you.

Yeah. He warned me like that.

And the job? Spend 16 hours a day on social media targeting Americans with a fake profile.

John: That’s awful. No one should be forced to spend 16 hours a day on social media. You should do it either because you love it, or because you’re 15 years old and the algorithm has addicted you to it. You know. Completely normal reasons. A lot of these organizations are using people who’ve been human trafficked, after being lured to the compounds under false pretenses. They’re actually the victims of a scam themselves. Basically, they might see job ads for skilled positions as translators, or it specialists, in another country. They then go through a whole application process– with some going through up to four seemingly legitimate online interviews– and fly to their new job. At which point, they suddenly learn their new bosses have their documents and they now can’t leave. Back in 2022, ProPublica estimated that tens of thousands of people had been tricked in this way. And a more recent UN report estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been forcibly engaged in this scheme. They also say “most victims are confined to the scam compound,” and their screens are always monitored by the members of the organized crime group. And once they’re in, they’re provided fake profiles to try and hook people in with. Here’s who Rakesh found himself being all day.

I got a Russian girl. With using a Russian girl fake profile, I need to scam people.

Posing as a Salt Lake City-based investor named Clara Simonov, Rakesh flirted online with potential targets.

70-80% Fall for fake love.

John: Yeah, Rakesh was Klara Semonov from Salt Lake City. So, before we go any further: anyone who thinks they’re dating Klara– I’m afraid you’re not. The relationship is over. It’s not you, but it’s also not her. It’s Rakesh. But also, it isn’t him. It’s Rakesh’s boss, who won’t let him leave. The whole operation is highly organized, and set up to get around the usual ways you might detect a scam. For instance, some organizations generate their own photos for the profiles, so they can’t be reverse-image-searched. And employees are given manuals like these that guide them through every step of the process. They’re told to target people who look wealthy and successful. One advises: on the first day, talk about things like your name, age, occupation and hobbies. Then, the next day, talk about your emotional experience, with a message divided into two paragraphs. And then, on the third day, talk about your entrepreneurial experience. They’re even given tips on how to break down people’s defenses.

We reviewed several of these manuals and they carefully explain how to build trust and exploit weaknesses in their so-called client, such as– be funny, make clients fall in love with you so deeply that they forget everything.

John: The chilling thing is, that’s kind of true. If you’re funny enough, you can make people forget a lot of things, whether it’s commonsense internet safeguards, lessons from previous relationships, or that they’ve been accidentally learning about financial fraud and human trafficking for the last twenty minutes. We are having fun, aren’t we? And if you’re thinking “why don’t authorities shut these compounds down?” Sometimes, they’re in on it. Here’s one man who was trafficked to a scam center in Cambodia, explaining what happened when he did the obvious thing.

On his second day in captivity, Lu emailed the Chinese embassy. He was advised to call the Sihanoukville police. But the police never came.

The property management came instead. They knew that I’d called the police.

Lu says the managers then sold him to another scamming company.

He said because I called the police, they had to “take care” of the police with at least $4,000, and I had to pay for that too.

John: Yeah, the authorities weren’t going to help him. Which actually makes sense when you learn that, according to UN estimates, pig butchering in Cambodia brings in an amount equivalent to half the country’s GDP. Which is worrisome, because as everyone knows when something generates that much money, you don’t shut it down, you spin it off and pray the magic works a second time. Come on! And conditions in these compounds can be brutal. That man you saw earlier, Rakesh, took photos of abuse like this one, of a coworker who’d been beaten. And Lu, who managed to get out, now works to free others– and the stories of what he’s seen are, fair warning, hard to watch.

I saw a man get beaten up very badly. He had injuries all over his body.

Lu contends it was this man, who was reportedly found hanging just hours later.

I’m certain it was him. His phone is full of messages from Chinese citizens desperate to be free from scam companies. There’s videos of abuse. Lu says he receives them directly from victims inside the scam industry, or finds them posted in social media group chats.

“He’s got handcuffs.”

They’re shocking.

John: That’s horrifying. And when you know all this, it kind of starts to change who exactly you’re mad at here. Because suddenly, the individuals on the other end of the phone don’t seem quite so fun to send a message of “wee woo wee woo, boner alert” to. Not that it isn’t an excellent text. Who doesn’t love a boner alert? But there’s a time and a place, and this might not be it. Also, from now on, whenever you get a sexy text from a new stranger, good luck not thinking, “is this a man who was just beaten in a work camp in Myanmar?” And that, if anything, is the John Oliver effect. You’re welcome.

[Cheers and applause]

And look: I can’t say that every scammer is someone who was kidnapped, tortured and forced to do it. But even if not everyone who’s doing this is trapped or coerced, the very fact that many are, is still a huge problem. So, what can we do? Well, when it comes to those imprisoned in these compounds, that’s going to take collaboration between international law enforcement. So unless you’re the head of Interpol, which, I’m guessing, you’re not, there’s not much you, personally, can do. In this country, I’d argue platforms like these should be doing way more to prevent people from making fake accounts and targeting people, because it’s happening on their watch. But the truth is, perhaps the most effective way to stop this from happening, is to make it less lucrative by having fewer people fall for it. And that’s where awareness of this scam is key. This is one of those rare cases where raising awareness is, in itself, genuinely useful. Because hopefully, you’ve seen tonight– this could happen to someone you know. This hasn’t just sucked in old people, or those who aren’t tech-savvy. It managed to reel in a bank CEO. Everyone has an image of the type of person who’s susceptible to getting scammed in their heads, but unless that image is a mirror, you might be wrong. So: as a general rule, when a stranger on a dating app says either “I love you” or “crypto” within a month of talking to you: worry. Honestly, even if they don’t turn out to be scammers, those are pretty good red flags to be looking for, personality-wise. And it’s worth telling your friends and family about pig butchering, too. It doesn’t have to be a big lecture or anything. You can just send them a link to this show. And if they say, “I hate that guy,” say, “yeah, me too, he’s the worst, just skip past the jokes.” And if they say, “I’ll watch it, but he looks like a Lego accountant. Wait, no– he looks like ChatGPT’s answer to ‘show me a virgin.’ Wait, no. He looks like Harry Potter if he just stayed under the stairs.” Just leave them on read. You don’t have to completely sell me out. Maybe drop a thumbs-up emoji, but leave it at that. And look: if you know someone who’s been scammed like this, try to be kind. It’s human to want companionship. And it’s actually a nice quality to be trusting. And it sucks that the internet, which should be a way to alleviate loneliness, can be turned into a tool to exploit it. But maybe, if we all look out for one another, we can ensure that the worst mistake anyone ever makes on the internet is inadvertently buying an excellent Christmas tree for gay mice. Because it’s really not that bad a purchase. Believe me, I know.


John: That’s our show. Thanks so much for watching. We’ll see you next week, good night.

[Cheers and applause]

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