A couple of weeks ago, a REDD-Monitor reader sent me an email. I’ll call him Jack. “Have you seen the website alternative-investing.uk?” Jack asked. “I think it could be a scam site given the track record of these types of things.”
I asked Jack if he’d been cold called. “I had been surfing around, I can’t exactly remember what triggered it,” he replied. “An advert popped up about it and I followed the link.”
The website alternative-investing.uk raises several red flags.
The company is offering investments with a range of returns from 6.5% to 42.5%. These are fixed returns.
As an investigative reporter, the easiest financial crime for me to detect is a Ponzi scheme. Any investment scheme with a performance chart that is essentially a diagonal line trending upwards with little or no meaningful variation over many months is a Ponzi scheme and, as such, doomed to failure.
The website gives no information about who is behind the company. A search on Companies House for “Alternative Investing” doesn’t show any company under that name registered in the UK. Neither does a search on Open Corporates. The company’s website was registered in July 2015. But it was registered anonymously.
The website shows a series of happy customers. But a search on Google Images reveals that alternative-investing.uk is not being entirely honest about who these people are.
Here are the first three (there are six in total):
The photograph of “Tony” is available free from pixabay. “George” is really Ryan Harris, who runs a US-based company called Petplan Insurance. And “Edwina” seems to be Debra Ramirez. Or perhaps Bianca.
The small print at the bottom of the alternative-investing.uk website explains that anyone wanting to hand over their cash to alternative-investing.uk has to declare themselves to be a Sophisticated Investor or High Net Worth Individual.
Anyone else should “exit the Website immediately”. Investors may lose the right to complain to the Financial Conduct Authority, or to the Financial Ombudsman Scheme. They may also have “no right to seek compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme”.
The best part of the website is in the small print:
The Content of this promotion has not been approved by an authorised person within the meaning of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Reliance on this promotion for the purpose of engaging in any investment activity may expose an individual to a significant risk of losing all of the property or other assets invested.
This is a highly risky investment, at best. Yet a video on the alternative-investing.uk website misleads potential investors into believing that the investment would be in a “type of savings account which lasts for a set period”, offering “piece [sic] of mind”:
In 2016, a company called Grain ran a media campaign for “investment house Heron Global Partners”. It was nominated for the Drum Awards for the Digital Industries (DADI) awards. The DADI awards website illustrates the campaign using Alternative Investings’ Facebook page:
It seems that alternative-investments.uk and Heron Global Partners are one and the same. The companies share the same address.
On 2 February 2017, another REDD-Monitor reader sent me an email. I’ll call her Jill. “I invested in Bar Works on the advice of a broker from Heron Global Partners,” Jill told me.
More red flags
Jill’s contact with Heron Global Partners came via an advert on Facebook. Let’s see how many red flags we can spot in addition to those already raised by alternative-investing.uk.
Heron Global Partners gives three addresses on its website:
Registered office: 86-90 Paul St, London, EC2A 4NE. This is the same virtual office address as alternative-investing.uk.
Contact Us: Suite 6040, Aldgate Tower, 2 Leman Street, City of London, E1 8FA. A co-working office address, oddly enough run by We Work, one of Bar Works’ competitors.
According to Six & Flow (the company previously known as Grain that ran the media campaign), Heron Global Partners managed to raise £10.8 million in investments between January and October 2016. It’s odd (to say the least) that a company that has raised so much money is running its operations from two virtual offices and a co-working office.
Heron Global Partners was registered in the UK on 13 September 2013 under the name Kingsborough Ltd. It was registered by Darren Symes, who is currently director of 260 companies, all at the same address: 35 Firs Avenue, London, United Kingdom, N11 3NE. Symes appeared previously on REDD-Monitor when two of the companies he registered ended up as recovery rooms (after he had resigned as director): Claremont Partnerships and Noble Rock Partners.
Symes resigned as director of Kingsborough Ltd on 1 January 2015. On 21 June 2015, he was replaced by Jonathan Arafiena. The company’s website was registered on 17 June 2015. It was registered by Richard Wood, the director of Six & Flow.
On 23 June 2015 later Kingsborough Ltd changed its name to Heron Global Partners. On 27 January 2017, Arafiena resigned, to be replaced by Peter Hartwell.
Heron Global Partners is not registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. The company claims that it “does not provide investment tax or pension advice”. The company’s twitter account suggests otherwise:
Heron Global Partners shares its phone number with a company called “Real Property Fund” – which promotes investments in property in Brazil. Another unregulated, high risk investment.
The phone number is 0208 7128 658 (Real Property Fund on the left, Heron Global on the right):
A chap called Sami Raja lists Heron Global Partners and Bar Works as his clients on his website, Sami Raja Consultancy.
Here’s how Raja describes his work on his website:
Sami Raja Consultancy (SRC) is an independent sales and marketing specialist. I, Sami Raja, have over 12 years of experience in investment sales. I created SRC to give other companies and individuals the opportunity to gain from my knowledge and contacts in the industry.
You can never live long enough to make all the mistakes there are to be made in business, especially sales. I admit I’ve made a fair few along the way, which I am truly grateful for. I’ve become aware of how not to do things, which has made me much stronger in terms of my business mind set and approach to new projects.
Inbound marketing is the new cold calling
One of the many interesting aspects of all this is Heron Global Partners’ “inbound marketing” campaign.
Hubspot describes its work with Heron Global Partners on its website:
HGP is an independent off-shoot from a larger business and was used to the parent company managing all lead generation through outbound marketing tactics, such as cold calling, events and print advertising. However, its sales team found both the volume and quality of outbound leads to be low. These poorly qualified leads meant the sales team were talking to the wrong types of prospects and its paper-based process of recording interactions was taking up precious time.
Anyone else wondering who the “parent company” might be?
Using HubSpot’s software and Six & Flow’s marketing strategy helped Heron Global Partners to boost its sales. According to Phil Walker, Marketing Director at Heron Global Partners,
“The HubSpot software powers both our marketing and sales organisations. We’ve been able to dramatically increase the number of leads we generate each month and our sales reps can see instantly which leads they should follow up. This is helping us focus on the right leads and we’ve seen a tremendous increase in leads and revenue.”