Suspect financial companies on an official ‘warning list’ are continuing to advertise their services to British consumers, research shows.
The websites of one in six businesses on the register of unauthorised entities published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) remain accessible to UK consumers, according to the investigation.
Of the 1,717 firms and individuals who were added to the list last year, 292 still had an online presence, the researchers found.
They include one entry, Trade FCA, which is using a picture of Manchester United stars Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw and former players Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani on its website.
A strapline reads: ‘Trade FCA belong to support Manchester United FC.’
Trade FCA says that it has operated since 2007 with offices in Westminster and has around 1,200 financial consultants. Consumers are offered the chance to trade in stocks, cryptocurrencies, commodities and foreign exchange, with an initial investment of up to $50,000 (£40,360).
As well as having the same initials as the UK watchdog, the firm lists the FCA in a ‘regulations’ section but gives no further information.
Another unauthorised operation is using a picture of former Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Condon on its website. Coin Value Bank claims the image is of its financial manager named ‘Michael’.
The firm also professes to be a ‘relentless ally for your financial well-being’ and offers loans ‘within minutes’ among other products.
Another operation, Heartford Capital, says on its website that it is regulated by the FCA, despite being placed on the list in 2006.
The entity says it has been ‘empowering clients’ to trade on global markets since 1971 and operates in 154 countries.
Giving a headquarters address in the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, Heartford claims on its website that it is ‘regulated by the FCA UK’.
Under each of the listings, the FCA warns: ‘Almost all firms and individuals offering, promoting or selling financial services or products in the UK have to be authorised or registered by us.
‘This firm is not authorised by us and is targeting people in the UK.
‘You will not have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), so you are unlikely to get your money back if things go wrong.’
Any company carrying out a regulated financial activity in the UK must be authorised or registered by the watchdog.
Although the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 does not give the FCA special powers to prosecute fraud, it makes the searchable online database available to the general public via its website.
The analysis of the database up to December 7 last year was carried out by researchers at virtual private network NordVPN. In total, there are 10,726 entities on the list.
In a further trawl back, some financial websites were found to be still operating despite being added to the register as far back as 17 years ago.
The website of one entry, listed as Profit FX and based in London’s Covent Garden, displays a message indicating that, with the help of Nominet, ‘this domain has been suspended on request from the Financial Conduct Authority’.
However Nominet, the national domain registration authority, is primarily aimed at protecting UK domains and web-users.
In 2021, Mark Steward, outgoing FCA executive director of enforcement and market oversight, said: ‘Unfortunately, most scam sites do not have UK domains which makes takedowns for non-UK domains more difficult.’
NordVPN is calling for greater international cooperation to make takedowns a straightforward process no matter what domain is being used.
Chief operation officer Marijus Briedis said: ‘The FCA cannot properly protect UK consumers because its influence is limited to UK domains via Nominet.
‘Scammers routinely exploit this simple loophole because it’s so easy to use the web and social media to target consumers in any country from afar.
‘It’s high time domain registries worldwide joined forces to defeat those committing fraud and financial crime online.
‘The main vehicle for these offences is a cheap but effective website, but this can also be their downfall if countries work together.
‘The longer a company providing unregulated advice and products, or defrauding consumers, remains online, the more victims are tricked into parting with their money.
‘Every one of these companies can see that they feature on the FCA register of unauthorised firms. The fact they are happy for this to remain the case should ring alarm bells.
‘Always check the FCA register before depositing cash with any financial services provider.’
Nominet told Metro.co.uk that inroads are being made in shutting down rogue websites registered in domains outside of the UK.
Eleanor Bradley, managing director, registry & public benefit, said: ‘In collaboration with law enforcement and domain registrars we’ve worked hard to reduce criminal activity across UK web addresses.
‘As these collaborations have developed, we’ve increased the number of proactive domain suspensions.
‘Given the global nature of the internet it’s important that cooperation continues to increase worldwide across law enforcement and domain registries, and there are already good examples of this happening.’
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