Public Statements & Remarks

Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson Regarding CFTC Charges in “Pig Butchering” Case

January 19, 2024


Today, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC or Commission) announced the filing of a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona at Phoenix against Debiex (Debiex) and Zhăng Chéng Yáng (Zhang) in its second case[1] in just seven months targeting a type of romance fraud known as “Sha Zhu Pan” or “Pig Butchering.” The romance fraud involves a scheme to defraud customers through digital asset solicitations.

The complaint alleges that from approximately March 2022 to the present, Debiex accepted and misappropriated over $2.3 million from at least five U.S. customers as part of this romance scheme, engaging in fraudulent acts and practices in violation of Section 6(c)(1) of the Commodity Exchange Act and Commission Regulation 180.1(a)(1) and (3).[2] It is also alleged that Zhang owned a digital asset wallet which was used by Debiex to accept and/or misappropriate customer digital assets, as a so-called “money mule.”

As the graphic name suggests, these schemes liken the practice of soliciting consumers to participate in a fraudulent investment opportunity to “fattening up” an unsuspecting pig prior to slaughtering it. 

Intended targets receive a seemingly innocuous message via social media platforms, dating apps or text messages, usually claiming to be an interested potential romantic partner. Once the target is actively engaged, the fraudster appears as a real person with a profile on a social media platform that showcases an attractive individual with a lavish and enviable lifestyle. The fraudster takes time to communicate with the victims, genuinely seeming to care about getting to know the victims and building an intimate relationship over an extended period of time. Eventually, the fraudster will mention having “inside information” about an investment opportunity in digital assets or cryptocurrencies that will yield significant benefits. Targeted individuals are initially encouraged to create an account on well-established digital asset trading platforms and to invest in a few well-known crypto assets. Later, targets are directed to “invest” the digital currencies they have just purchased on another “platform,” which has all the features and appearance of a legitimate website.

Once the victim sends the digital currency to the platform or account indicated, targets receive statements showing investment returns. The significant returns are intended to encourage the victim to invest even more money. Finally, once the victim tries to withdraw amounts or stops investing, the fraudster disappears and the line of communication goes dead. 

According to the Justice Department, in 2022, investment fraud caused the highest losses of any scam reported by the public to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crimes Complaint Center, totaling $3.31 billion.[3] Frauds involving cryptocurrency, including pig butchering, represented the majority of these scams, increasing a staggering 183% from $907 million in 2021 to $2.57 billion in reported losses by 2022.[4] In total across the U.S., by the end of 2022, more than 46,000 people had reported losing money in crypto-related frauds.[5] The vast majority of fraudulent schemes are not reported;[6] consequently, these figures represent only a fraction of the crimes being perpetrated.

Victims of these frauds can be found in all age groups. The Federal Trade Commission has reported that citizens ages 20 to 49 are more than three times as likely as older age groups to report losing cryptocurrency to a fraudster.[7] As the FBI’s investigations in this area demonstrate, victims of pig butchering frauds are targeted and primed by scammers in such a way that they may be particularly exposed. In the case of the romance scam, a victim is chosen specifically because that individual has declared himself or herself vulnerable by hoping to meet and develop a meaningful romantic relationship.

Throughout my time as a Commissioner, I have emphasized the role regulators must play in protecting consumers. As I outlined in a statement regarding a different affinity-based fraud matter:[8]

“I am deeply committed to raising alarms regarding fraud that targets vulnerable investors based on relationships, kinship, or other social network connections.  Affinity-based fraud schemes targeting vulnerable individuals within a specific community based on a shared characteristic seek to exploit the trust generated within the community.” 

I also noted that this type of misconduct is distinctly problematic because:

“[p]erpetrators target the identified communities because they are familiar with the fears and challenges that may deter investors from reporting or effectively communicating the details of the fraud to law enforcement or regulatory authorities.”

In the current case, the fraudsters used a shared native language and other similar evidence of shared identity to build trust—only to later exploit these intimate connections.


I strongly encourage all members of the public to stay informed about the potential fraud and abuses in digital assets markets by visiting our investor advisory page.[9]  Fraudsters offering guaranteed, or unusually high, returns—or both—should, in particular, prompt scrutiny and additional diligence before transferring any funds.

I thank the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement staff responsible for this matter: Dmitriy Vilenskiy, Jenny Chapin and Joan Manley.

[1] Kristin N. Johnson, Commissioner, CFTC, Time to Take Action Against Digital Asset and Forex Romance Scam (June 22, 2023),; CFTC Release No. 8726-23, CFTC Charges California Resident and His Corporation with Fraud and Misappropriation in a Popular Romance Scam Involving Digital Asset Commodities and Forex (June 22, 2023), In June of 2023, the CFTC filed a civil enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against California resident Cunwen Zhu and his California-based company Justby International Auctions (Justby). The complaint alleged that Zhu and Justby fraudulently misappropriated over $1.3 million in customer funds intended for digital asset commodity and forex trading. On December 7, 2023, a U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a default judgment granting a permanent injunction against Zhu and Justby. The order found Zhu and his company liable for fraudulently soliciting funds in connection with digital asset commodities and/or forex trading and misappropriating customers’ funds.

[2] 7 U.S.C. § 9(1); 17 C.F.R. § 180.1(a)(1), (3).

[3] Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Internet Crime Report 2022, 2022_IC3Report.pdf; See also Office of Public Affairs press release, Justice Department Seizes Over $112M in Funds Linked to Cryptocurrency Investment Schemes (April 3, 2023),

[4] FBI 2022 Internet Crime Report, supra.

[5] Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Data Spotlight |Reports show scammers cashing in on crypto craze (June 2022),

[6] See Anderson, K. B., To Whom Do Victims of Mass-Market Consumer Fraud Complain? at 1 (May 2021), (study showed only 4.8% of people who experienced mass-market consumer fraud complained to a Better Business Bureau or a government entity).

[7] FTC Data Spotlight June 2022, supra.

[8] Kristin N. Johnson, Commissioner, CFTC, Statement on Enforcement Action To Stop Bitcoin Fraud Targeting the Spanish-Speaking Community,

[9] See CFTC Customer Advisory: Avoid Forex, Precious Metals, and Digital Asset Romance Scams (issued Feb. 2, 2022),