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TONY HETHERINGTON: A huge payments scam – and Nationwide and Visa should be ashamed


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 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 happened.

Cross-border fraud: This scam originated in Tallinn, Estonia and the authorities there warned it was trading illegally

Cross-border fraud: This scam originated in Tallinn, Estonia and the authorities there warned it was trading illegally

If anyone has a sense of déjà vu, this is because we originally printed your letter as long ago as last August, with a warning that Easytrade.biz is a scam, based in Tallinn in Estonia. 

The authorities there warned it was trading illegally, and while it offered to deal in shares, currencies and commodities, it had no permission to do so. The man behind the scam is Dutch citizen Floris Waals, and I reported that he was also the director of TRSystem, which had been the target for a public warning issued by our own Financial Conduct Authority. 

So, an internationally recognised cross-border fraud was taking place, and you had fallen victim to the tune of £1,250. But my report last August ended with a cliffhanger. After sending an initial £250 to the crooks by bank transfer, you paid them £1,000 on your Nationwide Visa card. 

And mysteriously, that £1,000 was not collected by Easytrade.biz, but by a firm called Fxplace, based in Nicosia in Cyprus. To me, this looked simple. You had never authorised any such payment to Fxplace. 

And when I investigated, I found that Fxplace was also pocketing payments that investors thought were going to Instafx24 and Trade Capital Investments, both crooked firms that the FCA also warned against. 

The whole arrangement reeked of money laundering, so I asked Nationwide to snatch back your £1,000 under Visa’s chargeback rules. Everything since then has been a huge letdown. 

It has exposed the thin veneer of investor protection that we all take for granted until we have to try to use it. Fxplace rejected Nationwide’s chargeback bid, and Nationwide surrendered. Nationwide’s bottom line was that the chargeback had missed the 120-day deadline for making claims under rules covering misrepresentation. I pressed Nationwide. 

It could forget the lies, false claims, and misrepresentations from Easytrade.biz. The blunt fact was that your payment to Fxplace was unauthorised. 

Not so, Nationwide told me. In its eyes, the fact that you had authorised a payment of £1,000 meant that it was fine for a completely different company, in a completely different country, to pocket that amount and benefit from those lies and false claims. 

So, I went over Nationwide’s head, to Visa itself. Fxplace is allowed by Visa to accept card payments, but did this make it all right, I asked, for Fxplace to rake in the proceeds of scams on behalf of firms that have never been authorised by Visa? I thought Visa took this seriously. 

I was asked to take part in a conference call with its officials, including a top investigator, and when this ended I was asked to give Visa a report of what I knew about Easytrade.biz, its boss, Fxplace, and other evidence of this huge scam. Well, I gave Visa my report. 

And I asked: is it acceptable under Visa rules for a cardholder to find that a payment to a firm that falsely poses as a Visa merchant, ends up with a completely different firm elsewhere in the world, with completely different terms and conditions? The closest I got to a straight answer was that Visa allows travel agents to book tickets with airlines using the customer’s card. 

Other than that, Visa clammed up, claiming that, ‘This is now a criminal investigation, but we have been requested not to make this public.’ 

Fine, I replied, I am happy to go along with any such request from the police, so which police force is tackling this? Visa refused to say. 

So, cardholders beware. Payments to one company can end up with another. Payments to one country can end up in another. Payments to a firm not allowed to use Visa can be claimed by a totally different firm that is approved by Visa. 

Easytrade.biz has vanished, and so has your money. But your card debt to Nationwide remains. Nationwide has knocked £85 off the bill ‘as a gesture of goodwill’, and it charged no interest for three months, during which you have paid off some of the balance, leaving about £700 due. Nationwide is now expecting this, along with 18.90 per cent interest. 

A few days ago you told me: ‘My tears and pleading came to nothing. I will beg, borrow or steal the £700 and clear the remaining debt on the next payment.’ 

Nationwide should be ashamed. Visa should be ashamed. And when society returns to normal, it is surely time to review the law and ask how companies like Nationwide and Visa can profit from the scams of others and still hold their heads high. 

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 tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. 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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