Ponzi Fraud By Any Other Name

During a recession you would think that investors would be more careful with their money. Is it the lure of high interest rates when conventional financial services products offer such a low return that encourages otherwise astute people to invest their wealth with fraudsters – or is it possibly greed that blinkers them to the risks involved investing in off beat ventures?

Every week brings reports in the press of new scams, that are either coming to light, are being investigated or the villains are being prosecuted. For every big investment fraud that is reported, there are likely to be around 10 smaller ones that are not. And for every fraud that is discovered, there are 100s that continue unseen. It is a big problem, and as public spending is cut back, cash for fraud resources is dwindling from its already meagre level.

A smaller Ponzi style investment reported in the dying days of 2010 is the case of Mr Christian Orpin. This is a prime example of a somebody operating on a small enough scale to avoid too much attention from the authorities and which allows him to continue to develop and ply his quest for easy money even after being brought to book.

Orpin operated a business called PDS High Wycombe, offering an investment scheme called Premier Projects. This was an investment vehicle offering between £150 and £200 return per month for a £5,000 investment. This is at least an annual yield of about 36% – far more than the percent or two available from the banks and other mainstream institutions. You would think that the: ’…if its too good to be true…’ mantra would kick in. But no, Orpin was able to gather some £10 million from investors.

This is of course an illegal investment scheme and the Financial Services Authority has obtained orders from the High Court blocking this investment business. Of course the FSA were not prepared to carry out any real investigation, and it was left to Companies Investigation Branch of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills to carry out a probe that resulted in Orpin becoming bankrupt and being disqualified as a director until 2016. It is unlikely that Orpin’s bankruptcy trustee will recover more than 60% of the investors funds, probably much less.

Job done? No – now Orpin is trading as Phoenix Debt Solutions according to a Daily Mail report – with the consent of an Office of Fair Trading’s consumer credit licence! He does not need to trade in his own name to get this accreditation and therefore avoids the constraints of his bankrupcy. As his business is unincorporated, his director disqualification is meaningless.

It does appear incredulous that somebody can be investigated and banned by one regulator but approved by another. However, this as been a criticism of the UK fraud regulation industry for a long time. I have undertaken forensic investigations on behalf of Companies Investigation Branch myself, and apart from the main scam I have uncovered systematic tax avoidance by whole work forces.

Do you think that I was able to get HMRC to take an interest in the tax they were missing out on? It is a retoric question…and the business, though closed down by us, continues to trade from the same premises in a different name.

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About Mark Jenner

Mark Jenner is an experienced forensic accountant specialising in fraud and white collar criminal matters. He provides independent financial investigation and expert accounting witness services to police forces, fraud regulators and criminal defence lawyers, also providing assistance and solutions to organisations embroiled in financial disputes.

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