The New Jersey Bureau of Securities has ordered three website operators to stop luring romance-seeking victims into their fraudulent cryptocurrency investment schemes.

The three firms hit with the cease and desist orders were Meta Capitals Limited, Cresttrademining Limited and Forex Market Trade, according to a Feb. 3 press release from New Jersey’s Attorney General Matthew Platkin.

All three firms claimed to be cryptocurrency trading platforms, where they would entice victims into copying the trades of their “expert traders” so that they could make big returns.

These firms bring in victims by reaching out to romance seekers on dating apps like Tinder through what is known as the “pig butchering” scam.

“Pig butchering” is a scam where cybercriminals use social media to contact victims, instigate a romantic relationship and then lure them into a fraudulent cryptocurrency investment scheme once they’ve gained their trust.

Platkin said they’re working hard to protect New Jersey residents getting lured into the investment scam:

“These scammers build up a sense of comradery between them and their victim—all to squeeze every cent they possibly can out of these people with promises of huge returns on investments.”

“We are working around the clock to protect the victims of these types of scams and to show these scammers our laws still apply in cyberspace,” Platkin added.

Acting director Cari Fais of the bureau’s consumer affairs division also hopes that the enforcement actions will make it clear that they will “pursue scammers who prey on people’s trust.”

The crackdown comes as the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation reported about 4,300 victims to have lost a combined $429 million from pig butcher scams alone in 2021. No statistics have been released yet for 2022.

Chief of the Bureau of Securities Amy Kopleton suggested that the pig butcher scam works well for fraudsters because their target audience is already in a position of vulnerability:

“Even the savviest of investors can have a hard time recognizing fraud when it’s being perpetrated by someone for whom they have a romantic interest.”

Related: Navigating the world of crypto: Tips for avoiding scams

The bureau said that the companies hit with the cease and desist orders were also found to have violated New Jersey securities laws by offering and selling unregistered securities.

On top of that, Meta Capitals Limited and Cresttrademining Limited were also found to operate as unregistered broker-dealers.

Pig butcher scams aren’t just running rampant in the United States.

A recent investigation by the United Kingdom Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that of the 168 forex companies it considered to be engaging in fraudulent activity, about half of them linked to pig butchering-like scams.

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