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.
Ms K.P. writes: I fell for a sales pitch from Easytrade.biz, and now I am unable to withdraw any money.
I have filled in several withdrawal forms and received acknowledgements saying I will hear from them in two to four working days, but it never happens.
Last September, the Financial Conduct Authority warned on its website that Instafx24 was illegally offering financial services in the UK without a licence
You will have seen my warning last Sunday that Easytrade.biz is an international scam.
And when I checked last Monday to see if there had been any reaction from the crooks, guess what – the website had disappeared.
Easytrade.biz was supposed to be a professional firm that offered trading in shares, commodities and currencies, with expert advisers on hand to help.
In fact, the website was run by a company called Grau International, based in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
And authorities there warned it was trading illegally as it had no investment licence.
By then though, you had already parted with £250 from your bank account, followed by £1,000 from your Nationwide Visa card. You would have thought that this meant that Easytrade.biz had been vetted and approved as a Visa merchant.
Your £1,000 went to a firm you had never heard of – Fxplace, based in Nicosia in Cyprus.
Fxplace is an authorised Visa merchant, but you had never done business with it and had never authorised payment to it. If you had known your £1,000 was going to anywhere other than Easytrade.biz in Estonia, you might well have smelled a rat and cancelled the deal.
And this was not a one-off transaction. Fxplace has also been collecting cash from credit cards used by investors with Instafx24, an investment firm registered in the Marshall Islands, a tiny group of atolls in the Pacific, once used for nuclear bomb tests and now home – appropriately – to the world’s biggest shark sanctuary.
Last September, the Financial Conduct Authority warned on its website that Instafx24 was illegally offering financial services in the UK without a licence.
And then there is Trade Capital Investments, based in Geneva in Switzerland. The Swiss financial watchdog sounded the alarm last year, warning that it had no permission to offer investments to the public. The FCA followed this up with its own warning that the unlicensed firm was operating in the UK. Investment funds sent to Trade Capital Investments also ended up with Fxplace in Nicosia.
So, there are at least three crooked investment firms, from different parts of the world, all channelling cash through the same Visa merchant in Cyprus.
The whole arrangement amounts to nothing less than money laundering by these three scam investment firms.
I asked Easytrade.biz to comment on your withdrawal requests, but not surprisingly it failed to respond. I placed all the evidence before Nationwide, and it launched a chargeback claim on your behalf, to snatch back the £1,000 from Fxplace. However, Nationwide rejected a suggestion from me that it block further payments to Fxplace. The society told me: ‘There is nothing to suggest the merchant is doing anything wrong, and no other customers have complained. The problem in this case is what Easytrade has promised.’
Several weeks ago, Nationwide credited the £1,000 back to your card. You were delighted. But then Fxplace appealed. I asked Nationwide for a copy of the appeal so we could see Fxplace’s evidence and submit counter-evidence. This was refused, with Nationwide telling me that under Visa rules, chargeback disputes are ‘a bank-to-bank process’. Fxplace could not be contacted for comment.
We may know the results of the dispute as early as Tuesday, in which case I shall report the outcome next Sunday.
Meanwhile, let me repeat what I said last weekend, when I wondered why all the massed resources of governments, law enforcement and financial regulation seem unable to protect the public. Home Secretary Priti Patel announced recently that she wants crooks to feel ‘terror’, but I can tell her today that all fraudsters feel is amusement.
Energy firm overcharged AND won’t let me switch
A reader wrote to say Utilita switched their readings around so the bill was £200 too much
M.B. writes: I switched to Utilita, giving them my meter readings. I am on Economy 7, with a day rate of about 17p per unit and a night rate of about 4p. But when I got my first bill, Utilita switched the readings around so the bill was £200 too much. They refuse to change the bill, and I now want to switch away, but Utilita has blocked this.
It was not easy to get an answer from Utilita. It asked for press enquiries to be submitted through its website, but a week later all I had received was an acknowledgement so I telephoned and waded through the usual options. Eventually, I pressed the button to say I was thinking of leaving Utilita, hoping this would connect me to a human being. It did, and when I explained what I wanted, I was given an email address to contact, but all this yielded was an auto-response saying the email address was no longer in use.
Finally, I did make contact. The company blamed your previous supplier for incorrect meter readings, though this does not explain why your complaint was ignored, or why Utilita ignored meter readings you supplied.
Utilita has apologised, offered a goodwill payment of £50, and waived its final bill. And you have now switched supplier.
I can’t cancel my mother’s insurance
Ms J.M. writes: I arranged and paid for home and contents insurance for my mother via the internet, using my email address and credit card. This year’s increased quote from Privilege Insurance was ridiculous and I attempted to cancel. However, as I am not the insured party, they would not speak to me, saying I could be a disgruntled family member cancelling the policy without my mother’s knowledge.
Privilege Insurance allowed you to take out the policy and pay for it, but was unwilling to let you cancel it. You had to get your mother to phone the company to cancel, even though Privilege had never spoken to her before, and you could easily have rung up and impersonated her.
I asked Privilege what you should have done. The insurer told me: ‘Unless advised otherwise by the policyholder, we are legally bound to act only on the policyholder’s instructions.’ Apparently, when you took out the policy online, you should have told Privilege that you were completing the application on your mother’s behalf. Privilege says it would then have told you what would be needed if you ever decided to amend or cancel cover.