Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Claim: The firm purported to be 13 floors above the highest occupied level of The Shard
K.M. writes: Following a cold call, I received an email from the London Option Exchange about investing in fixed return options.
It claimed to offer ‘a fully managed and automated trading account that generates an average of 5 per cent per month, tax free.’ The company stated it was registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, but gave me a false registration number.
One employee added that he personally was registered, but I checked the register of authorised persons and this was not true. I phoned the regulator but it said it could do nothing, and I should phone the police. I contacted Action Fraud, but worry that it will either do nothing or be too slow, by which time people will have been defrauded.
You have done brilliantly in taking your investigation this far. You even caught out the so-called London Option Exchange by recording its lies over the phone.
Its ‘fixed return options’ are just a posh new way of describing binary options, the notorious spin-of-a-coin deals that involve betting on whether a share, a commodity or a currency will go up or down in price within a set period of time that might be as little as a few seconds.
It claims: ‘With close to 100 years of experience, our team has built up connections that span the global market place, which ensures we are fully abreast of the global geopolitical and economic landscape.’
But who actually runs this business? Also where is it based? Until very recently, its terms and conditions explained that the London Option Exchange is owned by Trident Group Limited, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, a tiny group of atolls in the Pacific. Customers were obliged to settle any dispute under Marshall Islands law, in Marshall Islands courts.
These details have just vanished from its website, and now there is nothing to say who runs the firm, or how disputes are settled.
But what about the claim to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority? London Option Exchange gave its registration number as 900555. But this belonged to a small company called Moorwand Limited, which handled money transfers but was not an investment business. In any event, its authorisation was cancelled last March.
As for the location of London Option Exchange, it gave its address as Level 85 at 32 London Bridge Street – the building better known as The Shard. But a spokeswoman for the building told me: ‘I can confirm there is not a company of that name based at The Shard. The highest floor for occupation is Level 72, which is The View from The Shard’s open air viewing platform.’
Despite all this, it does seem the bogus business really is somewhere in London, as it offers to meet potential investors in its own offices. Since it claims to offer a pooled fund, this brings it under the jurisdiction of the regulator, even though binary options are normally regarded as bets that fall under the Gambling Commission.
The Gambling Commission told me it has not licensed the London Option Exchange, while the Financial Conduct Authority stated: ‘We’re not able to confirm or deny whether we’re investigating a particular firm.’
Action Fraud – an offshoot of the City of London Police – told me: ‘The report is currently being assessed by our websites disruption team.’ This is a group that investigates phone lines, bank accounts and websites that appear to be part of a scam, and then does its best to shut them down.
Well, the London Option Exchange website is still there. Its phone line is still there. Although its address is false, it does seem to be based in this country and not offshore, beyond the reach of our own authorities. Is it too much to expect that they get their act together, particularly with the wealth of detail you have provided? Let us see. The London Option Exchange was made fully aware of this report. It did not respond to repeated invitations to comment.
My AA refund was a rip-off
Mrs S.S. writes: I took out full breakdown cover with the AA for £358 per year, renewed automatically through my debit card each January.
But in April I sold my car and informed the AA. I was advised the most I would be refunded would be £83. I consider this to be a rip-off.
Driving force: The AA agreed to send Mrs S.S. a cheque for £275
The AA now has two types of membership. There is personal membership, which covers you for any vehicle, even if you are a passenger rather than the driver, and there is car-based membership, which is cheaper but only covers your own vehicle.
You had car-based membership, and unlike monthly personal membership, when you dispose of a car the cover is suspended. I believe you now have a company car, with no need of AA cover in the foreseeable future.
The AA told me: ‘We do have room for pragmatism, and that perhaps should have been exercised.’
By the time you read this you should have received a cheque for £275. You told me: ‘This is wonderful news.’
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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