Tag Archives: cryptocurrency

Is this Investment Call a Scam?

You’ve just received a phone call on your mobile (a.k.a. cell) phone. The nice person on the end of the line is lovely, polite, smart and caring. They care deeply about you and they have amazing investment opportunities for their clients.

It’s very rude to assume this nice person is a fraud, thief or scammer. So push that thought right out of you mind. But, a nagging thought made you look things up on the internet, “just in case”.

How can you tell if that call is from a fraud, cheat, thief or scammer? Here are 12 ways to tell that the nice person on the phone is a scammer. Note this is a list of red flags, answering Yes to any one question implies it’s a scam.

  1. Have you heard of the company before?
    If you didn’t and you did not talk someone in the previous 24 hours who mentioned that company name explicitly to you and asked to call you back, it’s a scam.
    It’s that simple, if the call is not from your bank, insurance company or stockbroker and you are not an active trader attending networking events, what makes them think you’re a prospect for their marketing call?
  2. Can you fund your initial position with a credit card?
    Real brokers will not accept credit cards, because the fees are too high and customers can charge back deposits in most jurisdictions.
  3. Can you fund the account with as little as $250 US Dollars?
    Even the largest and cheapest US stock brokers charge about $10 per trade so that represents 4% of your capital. Factor the cost of the call, plus time and infrastructure to make these marketing calls, $10 does not represent a decent return on investment for the call centre. Not all Dealer-Brokers charge brokerage. Forex and CFD charge a spread between buying and selling. The fundamental financial equation does not change, it takes thousands of dollars in fees to justify a broker’s one-on-one time and attention.
  4. Is the caller from outside your national jurisdiction (i.e. overseas)?
    Calling across borders has been the basis of investment scams since the invention of the telephone. If your local Securities Law enforcement organisation can’t touch the dealer-broker, you can’t be protected by them.
  5. Does the caller speak with an accent different from your own?
    If the person calling speaks English, French, Russian or your local language but not with your local accent and you can’t visit their local office today, it’s a scam. I’ve had brokers in Sydney, Australia who had a foreign accept, but I can walk into their offices during business hours. I can’t do that with the broker-dealers who’ve called claiming to be in London, Hong Kong or Tokyo.
  6. Is the caller pitching something you’ve never heard of?
    If you are not a sophisticated investor who regularly reviews private placements, and the call is pitching something you’ve never heard of, it’s a scam. Even if you’ve only heard of it in the news (like “bitcoin”) it’s a scam.
  7. Does the caller mention the words ICO (Initial Coin Offering), Bitcoin, Blockchain, Coin  or crypto? 
    If you’ve never invested in Bitcoin or other crypto-currency and those words come up, it’s a scam. If you want to buy bitcoin (or any of the alt-coins) for the first time, meet someone IRL (in real life( in a public place and exchange cash for the digital currency. People like that exist, they’re not all drug dealers.
  8. Is the phrase “Binary Options” used?
    Seriously Israel has banned Israelis from promoting Binary Options outside of Israel because it is that big a scam. It’s up there with the Nigerian Princes.
  9. Do they offer to remotely log into your computer to set you up on the trading platform?
    If they offer to use Team Viewer (or other remote desktop software)  to help set up your account, it’s a scam. If you can’t set up the trading platform without them taking over your computer you don’t have the IT and security skills to use their trading platform safely. It’s a scam to see how much money you have in your bank account. Normally by this time you’ve already sent them money. Cancel you credit cards and stop talking to them right now.
  10. Is this a cold call?
    If you receive a cold call, it’s a scam. Cold calling is dead in the internet era. Every legitimate marketing move is about attracting warm leads from customers who want to call the supplier. Insurance companies don’t cold call. Credit card companies don’t cold call. Car dealerships don’t cold call. Legitimate investment advisors do not cold call.
  11. Does the caller lack an active LinkedIn account?
    Note the existence of a LinkedIn profile is not any guarantee, if could be fake. Check if their connections are all in the finance game. If so, they’re fake. Brokers are sales people and they love having lots of connections. Thousands to tens-of-thousands of connections. Ask for all their social media accounts. Do a search for the firm name and the results should be a lot of people who work or have previously worked there.
  12. Bonus for the cautious – Is the caller speaking a recognisable language?
    This is a variation on “if their lips are moving, they are lying”.  If you want to invest in a new area, do your research and reach out to someone. Never accept a call from someone you don’t know who wants you to give them your money. Always ask for a recommendation from someone more experienced than you.

FTOCapital.com Scam

I received a call today from 03 9077 1873 claiming to be from  Financials Trading Online with a pitch exactly the same as HQ BrokersI’m not sure if H Q Brokers have pivoted to a new name or a different scammer driving this call. It’s a different scammer from H Q Brokers.

It was obviously a Filipino boiler shop, but they claimed to be located in London. The caller stuck to the script like glue. I could trade “forex, commodities, stocks like Apple and Coke and even bitcoin.” Every interruption saw him back up to the top of the paragraph and continue reading like nothing happened.

I asked how they got my details and he said:

Surfing the internet you get popups for bitcoin or forex. You’ve seen them right? Well you accidentally click on them and we have your name, email and phone number.

Now I don’t accidentally click on popups or pop-unders because my browser is locked up so tight that I never see that stuff anymore. So that’s a lie but I don’t doubt they actively remarket and retarget anyone with investing interests (hello Facebook and Google). I also think they’ve got the BitCoinTalk forum user database and other hacked forums’ user-lists and cross-referenced emails to phone numbers. Plus a bot could do Facebook phone number lookups until two weeks ago to match numbers to names.

FTO Capital’s script really focuses on confirming past trading experience. I think this is supposed to get me nodding in agreement with what they are saying as well as reinforce their expertise (?) as a trading platform. I could open an account with a deposit of $200USD. Aha! Now I see the reward the boiler-room is working for.

Their website is at FTOCapital[dot]com and they try to get you to create an account and make an opening deposit straight away.

Asking about regulatory compliance and licensing, I was quickly escalated to the Senior Account Manager Dale Davis. Dale promised me that my very own Senior Account Manager would teach me how to trade using their MetaTrader 4 platform to trade forex, commodities, stocks and even bitcoin.

But Dale is a Senior Account Manager right, why do I need another? It turns out Dale is only for onboarding new accounts. What sort of things will I learn at FTO Capital from my personal Senior Account Manager? I’d learn “How to read price and signals”.  Really?!?!

By now I was bored, but I persevered for you, dear reader.

I asked Dale, If I have a trading account why would I change to FTOCapital? He says I “May want to give it a shot”, which is the most low-pressure answer I’ve ever heard in a high-pressure sales call.

Back to basics. Are they regulated, and in what jurisdictions?  Dale says FTO Capital are physically located in London, operating in Australia & New Zealand for two years, South Africa longer, some Asian and some European countries too.

That didn’t answer my regulation question. Dale said Financials Trading Online are regulated in Canada, USA, France and Cyprus. And despite being located in London, FTO Capital is not regulated in the UK. In what jurisdictions is FTOCapital actually licensed? Dale said he’ll send all that info to my email address right now, put me on hold and 60 seconds later the call dropped out.

I didn’t believe any of that for a second but I wasn’t challenging anything FTO claimed on this call. Normally if I have the time to string these guys along I play hardball. Today I played coy for 19 minutes so they weren’t trying to scam someone else.

FTO Capital are listed on ASIC’s MoneySmart website. ASIC advises this company could be involved in a scam. Do not deal with this business as it is unlicensed in Australia.

The FTOCapital website mentions other company and brand names

  • Nona Marketing Ltd,
  • Financials Trading Online, and
  • Albius Ltd.

Red Flags from the website:

  • All references to companies and brands are pictures of text facilitating the easy swapping out of corporate entities and making it hard for search engines to link the context of the text.
  • The privacy policy does not name the company it applies to merely (“The Company”) hereafter the “Company”,
  • Terms & Conditions does not name the company or incorporation jurisdiction. It  merely states The Company is a brand owned and operated by(“The Company”) incorporated in the; and it peters out there.
  • Anti Money Laundering (AML) policy of for Nona Marketing Ltd with no reference to brands, subsidiaries or related entities. It is also a generic cut and paste AML that offers broad responsibilities of “the board” and “senior staff”

Addresses for this group are

  • Nona Marketing Ltd Ajeltake Road, Ajeltake Island, Majuro, Republic of  Marshall Islands
  • Albius Ltd, 53-55 Totlben Blvd. Sophia, Bulgaria
  • 4th Floor, Holden House, 57 Rathbone Place, WIT IJU, London UK
  • Lincoln House 296-302 High Holborn WC1V 7JH, UK

Phone numbers

+44 208 068 2565

Share your experiences in the comments below.

Update: 13 June 2018

As police raid Israeli-operated boiler rooms in Asia and Eastern Europe, local law enforcement has yet to indict a single operative from an industry that has stolen billions.  – https://www.timesofisrael.com/israelis-nabbed-in-philippines-are-tip-of-iceberg-in-alleged-fraud-gone-global/

There are international news reports that Philippine Anti-Cybercrime Group raided the offices of IBD Marketing on 6 June 2018 arresting 8 Israeli citizens and 474 Filipinos. According to Philippine police, IBD Marketing operated as a call centre on behalf  FTOCapital.com. Hopefully that puts an end to this particular scam, but it seems the scourge of Israeli-citizen operated boiler rooms continues.

HQBroker.com scam

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): HQ Brokers is a scam. Even ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) thinks so.

I just got a cold call from +44 22 0296 9287 claiming to be from HQBroker. They claimed to allow trading in “international markets” including “the big four – Stocks, Currencies, Commodities and Indexes”. I asked on which exchanges can I trade and they seemed to be confused by that question. NYSE, ASX, NASDAQ, LSE who knows.

They claimed that 20% of their clients were in Australia. More on that later.

They claim they are “regulated” and “licensed” but when I challenged that claim they started naming large American financial institutions that provide “liquidity guarantees” to them. Their website states they are licensed in Poland [updated 4 June 2018]. Without an Australian Financial Services (AFS) Licence, I pointed out that they were making an illegal brokering solicitation in Australia. They said that opening an Australian office is difficult but that as soon as they have 1000 active traders they will do it.

Aside: If 20% of their clients is less than 1000 traders then they have less than 5000 clients, right?

The “securities manager” I was now talking to said they were a large “international company” trading in “international markets”, surely their IP address would be blocked if they were not regulated and licensed in Australia. I pointed out that Australia currently only blocks piracy sites.

While unlicensed, cold-call, broking solicitation is illegal in Australia, that wasn’t where it got really scary.

The zinger? HQBroker offered “software with 100% successful record that monitors the market 20 times a second, 5 days a week, 24 hours a day”. Even forex markets are closed once the New York market closes on Friday afternoon (local time) until Sydney opens on Monday morning (local time). In reality that means there is about a day and a half that we can’t trade retail forex. Interbank forex is manned 24/7 but retail investors can’t access that market.

I honed in on that 100% success claim. Nobody (and no AI) hits on every trade, some trades just don’t pay off. But they wouldn’t budge, they proudly said “risk free”, then “money back guarantee” if I tried their three day trial on a $250USD account opening deposit. After 3 days I could withdraw my original deposit and any gains-if there were any losses they’d refund the deposit in full.

This mysterious software not only gives trade signals but actually opens and closes trades on their international markets. It uses “mathematical models” to automatically trade for you.

Again, I expressed my skepticism at the 100% successful trade claim. “Impossible!” I exclaimed. The system has “automatic stop loss and take profit”. Stop loss? Aha! So losses are possible. “No,” he said, “because trading pairs move in sync like USD/Gold. When one is falling the other is rising.” So now HQBroker is back to pitching binary options trading as fool-proof, no-risk, guaranteed triple-digit-percentage returns.

At that point I’d finished my lunch and wanted to get back to working so I hung up, I’d wasted 48 minutes of their time while eating my lunch. A pleasant distraction.

A quick google search will show HQBroker is very poorly reviewed, with it’s corporate structure best described as “murky”.

Update: 4 April 2018 10:24 AEST: The comments section is getting some traction so I’ll leave it as a bit of a free-for-all for now. There is rudimentary anti-spam checking but that’s it. I cannot confirm identity of any or all commentators below.

Remember: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

Update: 10 May 2018 Got a call with the exact same MO today from 03 9077 1873 but this time promoting Financials Trading Online which is listed as a scam on ASIC’s MoneySmart website. Either H Q Brokers are moving on or it’s a variation on the same scam.

Big update: 4 June 2018

[1]  Capzone Ltd (and A.K.A Hokkaido Investments Sp) is now listed on ASIC’s MoneySmart website, with the Marshall Island’s address but HQBroker email and website. Those links open MoneySmart’s website.

[2] The company behind HQBroker is Capzone Ltd originally listed as in the Marshall Islands and/or Poland, now claiming to be in Hong Kong. So they’ve started the shell game of changing structures. They give Capzone Ltd  “operational address” as 7/F, Low Block, Grand Millennium Plaza, 181 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong. No registered office or other legal domicile.

[3] The digital marketing and spin doctoring has begun:

  1. They brag about a “3 star” review on FXEmpire with a self-created award wreath but don’t link to it. I’ve linked to it and add your review to let people know.
  2.  They brag about a “3 star Premium Quality” at Finance Magnates with a self-created seal. But Finance Magnates don’t provide reviews. They only have a “directory listing” called a review and the “contact us directly” form goes straight to HQBrokers. People could report the listing to Finance Magnates using the form on the home page.
  3. Digital Marketing Services are provided by Pure Marketing Corp Ltd (I can’t find them yet).
  4. Their website now has instant message chat.

[4] H Q Brokers now does not offer services in USA, France and Hong Kong. Further evidence of avoiding prosecution at “home” and in aggressive jurisdiction that will prosecute foreign companies without a presence in those jurisdictions.

Update 21 June 2018

We received an Official letter from HQBroker and an Official Letter from BSD Administration. Check them out and let me know what you think on those posts.

There are also 2 comments pending with glowing reviews but fake email addresses and fake IP addresses. I’m waiting for the authors to confirm their email addresses before approving the comments. They still haven’t confirmed.

Update 27 June 2018

BSD Trade Services is possibly reduced its work due to recent police raids on similar BPO’s, but their sibling organisation GWU Marketing Corp has picked up the slack and is operating out of Clark CFEZ Philippines. Specific commentary on GWU and BSD will be on their linked posts. Please post any news about GWU or BSD there.

Update 3 July 2018

After the BSD & GWU updates with photos of key staff on Thursday, the server was attacked with 108,954 visitors over 4 days. That’s 1000 viewers per hour! Not really that much traffic and the server hummed along. You can see the analytics of the attack here https://bitly.com/2lHeI0c+