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April 24, 2023 Asked and Answered

Through overseas currency exchanges, California deputy DA helps online romance scam victims get their money back

By Stephanie Francis Ward

In the criminal justice world, pig butchering refers to bacon—but not literally. Instead, it’s a term used to describe scamming someone online out of all their money through promises of romance and cryptocurrency windfalls, says Erin West, a prosecutor in the Santa Clara County, California, district attorney’s office.

Because the crimes involve wire fraud and overseas transactions, most online romance scam prosecutions go to the federal government. Federal prosecutors are rarely interested in cases with damages under six figures, West says, and that’s where states can help—by pursuing matters that the U.S. attorney’s office doesn’t take.

Her work focuses on prosecuting cases that involve technology, and she’s had some success getting California scam victims’ money back by serving subpoenas on overseas currency exchanges. She also built and leads the Crypto Coalition, a group of law enforcement agents working locally at the state and federal levels and internationally.

Send ideas for future episodes to ABA Journal Senior Writer Stephanie Francis Ward.

In this Podcast

Erin West

Erin West, a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, California, focuses her practice on high-tech crimes. She works with California’s Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team, known as REACT, which is a high-tech investigative force led by the Santa Clara County, California, district attorney’s office. She also leads the Crypto Coalition, a group of nearly 1,000 local, state, federal and international law enforcement agents who specialize in cryptocurrency investigation.