by Dina-Perla Portnaar
The Ashton Whiteley Scam illustrates how financial crime really works. Not a lot of personal cases were shared with the public before in order to make financial crime tangible. Here is an outline of the events given by one of the many victims of the Ashton Whiteley Scam that took place a couple of years ago. The man shared his story with me, which we will share in a couple of articles. Here is part two.
Once a person is hooked by the scammers, it is their intent to suck the victim as dry as they can, like an insect in a cobweb. In order to assess the size of the prey, they will kindly show an interest in you as a person. When you ask them why they need specific details, the answer is that it is to safeguard you for overinvesting and for losing your investment and to protect you and your spouse, they dare to add. The questions asked are about your profession: what do you do in your spare time, what kind of hobbies you have? Do you collect art or perhaps own an exclusive car or a nice boat? Where do you go on vacation? Do you own a holiday home? Are you an experienced investor and do you own any stock or other assets? Do you have friends and / or family with substantial means? And so on.
The victims provide the scammers of these sorts of details willingly, because they may still be perceived as the good guys. So, there is a decent level of trust. Rest assured, all these details are carefully written down in their CRM app as professional marketers. This information that they have gathered will then be used against you. Once you start doubting what the scammers are doing for you, you will get different scammer tricks dumped on you. Or as soon as you say that you’re low or out of means, or that your money is tied up elsewhere and you cannot invest more than you have already done, they simply suggest borrowing money from friends or family. “Your wife has such a good job. Can’t she get a loan?” Or: “sell the boat”.
Power over people
The moment you start asking questions, or when you start doubting the people, companies and investments, the answer is that you – the victim – can afford it and if not, they push you to raise more money from wherever possible for the dirty criminal activities. They can totally control you, because they already have so much of your money. Not cooperating will automatically mean that you lose it all. Nobody wants to take that responsibility, until you have no other choice and all your money is gone. In other words, you’re in the weak position.
When you want power over people, there are a number of things you can do. Number one is having them fear you, which is exactly what the scammers do. They make the victims afraid of losing the money they worked so hard for. They make them feel as if they are responsible for blowing up this great deal. It is supposed to feel as your own loss and the loss of other people if you decide not to cooperate. This puts a huge amount of pressure on the victims. It is a way of psychological warfare that even for the brightest minds amongst us, is nearly impossible to resist. What did the victims do wrong? They just had to trust in other people…
A special client
Let’s go back to my story. After having done my due diligence on Ashton Whiteley, the first investment of about €8,900 in the company called Electronic Arts (EA) is done smoothly. In September 2017, the scammer – Robert Brady – calls to inform me about the good news. There is a big jump in the share price of EA of about 50%, in just two months. “We can now cash you out for €12,970,” he says. However, I can also decide to stay in the game and join them on this other great opportunity of an IPO. It’s a promising new company called Lectrifi. I look into the details provided via email. Obviously, it looks perfect. Located on a high-tech location in Hong Kong is an overwhelming amount of professional looking press releases, a nice website and most of all, the contents look both professional and realistic. What could possibly go wrong, I think to myself. Somebody that made me a profit close to 50% in just two months must be someone I can rely on. I have taken the bait.
There is one footnote: these shares are only traded in blocks of 50.000. “However, since you are a special client, I can set you up with in a merged account, so that you only have to buy an extra amount of 13,515 shares at a price of €2 plus 1% commission”. In other words, he needs an extra €27,300 from me to cover the costs. Then, the broker announces that for compliance reasons, he cannot handle the actual deal himself. Just as in a real company, I am transferred to Mr. William Danks, the allocations officer, in order to get the paperwork handled.
Three weeks later, Robert Brady from Ashton Whiteley is on the phone again. Things are going great. However, there is a volume trade in Lectrifi going on and a hedge fund has shown an interest. More shares on the market, blocks of shares, open market, volume trade, the money is in escrow. The price will go up and the payback is in six weeks. Other investors have already agreed, there is proof of ownership and extensive profit calculations are provided time after time and more financial jargon is being thrown at me over the phone. In the end, I have to come up with more money and buy 30,000 extra shares of €2 + 1% commission. Another €60.600 is paid. The mud has now nearly reached my knees.
I can’t even step out, since I will jeopardise the whole deal
One month passes by. I am starting to think that after the initial hick ups, the payout of my investment must be just around the corner. A careful calculation has shown me the amount that I can expect to receive in my account. Another two weeks and I will get paid. I make a promise to myself to never do this again. It is giving me too much stress, even though I sure would love to increase my savings a little.
However, Robert Brady calls again and explains that the buyer does not accept merged accounts. So my block of 50,000 shares is basically worthless, unless I buy another block of 50,000. No matter what argument I make, it’s pointless. My broker controls everything. I cannot contact the other clients, or the bank, or anybody. The other client does not want my 50,000 shares, not even when I decide to take a loss. I can’t even step out, since I will jeopardise the whole deal. So, in order not to lose close to €100,000 in investment, I am forced to put in another €100,000. I start asking for share certificates which I get instantly. I even verify the certificate, but on the other end of the line – in South Africa – there is a scammer answering my emails. The mud is now up to my waist.
It is your responsibility!
Two weeks later, somewhere around early November 2017, Robert Brady calls me again. The value of my portfolio is 100,000 units at a selling price of €5.50 and requires 20% security bond coverage. This amount is to guarantee the bank payment. I’m asking why the buyer of the shares isn’t providing the security as he or she should, which is not the task of the seller. “Sir, you obviously do not know anything about stock trading,” Mr. Brady shouts. “It is your responsibility! You’re endangering the trade! But you will get the money back after fourteen days of cooling off.” An interest of 3% is held in front of me to shut me up. Again, I am transferring another large sum of money. The mud is now reaching my torso and it has become difficult to move.
After about a month and somewhere in December, I am starting to feel really sick about the whole Ashton Whiteley and Lectrifi deal. I ask Robert Brady for a Dutch reference. The same afternoon, I receive a phone call from Victor Borgdorff. A native Dutch speaking man states that he is living in The Hague and is calling from a hospital, where he is recovering from a stroke. I double check the number and indeed, it belongs to the Reinier the Graaf Hospital. Next thing I know, I am searching the internet for news. I subscribe to various financial newsletters. I will do anything to find out if my investments are secured. I really want to believe it is true and not a lie. The stress and uncertainty is growing.
Then one morning, the phone rings. Oh no, it’s that Chinese number again. What now, I think before answering. As neutral as possible, I answer the phone to hear Robert Brady again. In a long story, he explains what has happened. Of the 25 investors, one has dropped out and now the other 24 have to take over his shares. If I won’t, I will lose everything and the deal will be ruined. Moreover, I will get sued in court. In other words, I have to take on another extra 83,334 shares that I of course don’t want to take. The deposit of 20% has been covered, so no worries there, but another 1% is added. Mud levels are up to my upper chest now.
Early January 2018, the warfare pressure is back on in full force and an equity deposit is demanded. By now, I am so grinded by all the emotions that showing any resistance is almost impossible. My spirit is broken. I am like sweet dough in the hands of the cook. 17th January 2018, a co-founder of Lectrifi is dumping shares, which of course is a deal breaker. The 2,500,000 worth of dumped shares need to be equally divided amongst the clients. You have to buy 106,250 shares to save the deal. Logical thinking has already been bashed so many times, that I am incapable to stand up for myself at this point.
All the money is gone
On the 24th of January, Ashton Whiteley shows up on my screen again. A man introduces himself as Mirko Kostas, Director of Mergers & Acquisitions. He informs me that Robert Brady has been suspended for his client work and for not charging the security bond. His tone is even more threatening than what I have encountered until now. Clearly, they are up-scaling their ‘guns’. If I do nothing, I get nothing, he says. The security that Robert Brady helped me with now needs to be transferred. He even confirms his threats via email and maintains that all of this is strictly confidential. The man leaves an extremely unpleasant impression behind.
On February 5th, Mirko Kostas pushes for buying another 260,870 units of fake Lectrifi. Even if I want to, I can’t. All the money is gone. The scammers have reached their goal. The treats increase, even via two emails. Mirko Kostas says: “If you continue to avoid my calls, I will be left with no other choice than to withdraw you from the trade. Because of your lack of attention, you understand and accept full responsibility for the negative consequences”.
That’s it, I think. No more money left. I’m in deep trouble. I put the phone down and stare at the email in front of me on the screen. I’m quiet and don’t know what to do or say. I am overwhelmed with extreme sadness. How could I have been so stupid to trust these people?
On February 6th, Mirko Kostas is on the phone gain, demanding money. On February 7th, Mirko Kostas asks me to pay up today and says that he will buy me more time to complete the trade. On February 9th, Mirko Kostas just calls me to rub it in my face and to state what a stupid person I am. Mirko is the money man. “I’m only here to make money! I don’t care what I trade in. I’m in the moneymaking business.” The IPO Lectrifi is cancelled. They asset strip the company and the other. On February 15th, Mirko Kostas calls again. The buyer wants to reach above 51% of shares. He is willing to buy mine, but I’m just 121,798 shares short in order to do this. So if I buy extra, he can make the deal for me. I decline.
Blow the whistle on fraud and clear your conscience
Throughout the remaining part of 2018, I get phone calls from several Dutch people called Alan Barnes, Martin Pearson, Graham Southgate and David Harding, all trying to get more money from me. Then in January 2019, a proposal is put forward to switch the fake Lectrifi stock for fake shares in Surwon technology ltd. They even forward the paperwork to me. Why, so the scam can continue? I don’t think so. The phone calls with different attempts continue up to late spring 2019.
I would like to call on those who are or who know about the scammers. Blow the whistle on fraud and clear your conscience. Prevent a lot of damage and personal suffering. The next victim will be someone near and dear to you. To the law enforcement, I’d like to say: these are not isolated cases of greedy people – the victims – that want to make quick money through shady investments. This is a global pandemic of organized crime by syndicates, more often than not, kept alive by banks that look the other way and by governments that do care if the ‘rich’ western world is cleansed out of cash.
The subject of this type of investment and boiler room fraud has also raised the interest of various moviemakers. Of course, there is the well-known movie called The Wolff of Wall Street (2013) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Other movies are Wall Street: Money never sleeps (2010) and The Big Short (2015). Less known are the documentaries as The China Hu$tle (2017) and Dirty Money (2017). Looking at these movies and being a victim myself, I realize how similar the movies are to what has really happened in my case.