Apple and Google have removed hundreds of financial trading apps from their app stores following an investigation suggesting that thousands of people may have been scammed – many of them seniors. Some have reportedly lost their entire life savings.
The action follows an investigation by a newspaper and a review by a securities & investment body …
The Independent reports that its own investigation into scams reported to British police revealed the scale of the problem, which primarily center on so-called ‘binary options’ trading.
Binary options platforms encourage investors to make apparently simple bets on whether shares or currencies will rise or fall in value over time. Many such platforms are legitimate, but an increasing number have been popping up across Australia, the UK and elsewhere that are fraudulent.
Many victims were persuaded to use lump-sum payments from their pension funds to invest in these platforms.
Elizabeth Ablett from Derbyshire said that she signed up to a platform caller Binary Uno in December 2016. The 70-year-old’s husband had died the previous year and she didn’t have a pension big enough to live on.
Ms Ablett said that she initially invested £200 with the company, but that individuals who described themselves to her as “brokers” convinced her to up her stakes, telling her she was trading on the performance of gold and stocks.
By the end of March, she said, she had invested a total equivalent to almost £40,000, nearly her entire life savings. The following month, she said, her online account balance was shown to have slipped to zero. She said that nobody at BinaryUno answered her calls.
The decision by both Apple and Google to pull the apps followed subsequent intervention by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
In a statement on Tuesday, ASIC said it had conducted a sweeping review of mobile app stores focusing on those associated with so-called binary options trading. It said that the review highlighted over 330 apps that were offered by entities and individuals that appeared to be unlicensed.
Some apps were found to actively mislead users about the risks or potential profits, while some 80% of them did not provide legally-required warnings about the risks. Others were found to be totally fraudulent, with no way to actually make money or recover the sums ‘invested.’
It seemed that some investors made money in the demo mode but lost money once they moved to a live trading system […]
The majority of the complaints relate to companies that appear to be based overseas and are attracting increasing numbers of users, particularly pensioners, who say their investments are frozen if they try to withdraw their money.
ASIC said that it was pleased by the speed at which both Apple and Google responded.
With many of the apps run by companies based in foreign countries, regulatory authorities are often powerless to help. One lawyer attempting to help victims recover their money says the only hope is to persuade banks to freeze the accounts of the scammers, and that fraudulent binary options trading may turn out to be one of the biggest financial scams around.