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.
Tax probe: Wise chief executive Kristo Kaarmann, from Estonia
D.P. writes: In February, I opened an account with GMGroup.pro and deposited £200. My investment grew at a startling rate, reaching £524. This made me suspicious so I tried to make a withdrawal and was told I would have to open an account with Wise, a payment transfer company.
In May, I opened the Wise account with a £20 deposit and instructed GMGroup.pro to transfer £300 into it. After several weeks they transferred £200, though my GMGroup.pro account showed a withdrawal of £300.
I took out the £200 from Wise, but now Wise says it has closed my account and if I want my remaining £20 I have to appeal.
Tony Hetherington replies: Let’s look at the easy bit first. The Financial Conduct Authority warns that GMGroup.pro is a scam. There is a genuine investment company called Global Markets Group, the regulator says, but the firm you have been dealing with is a clone. It poses as an investment business, trading in currencies and commodities, but it is not authorised. When I looked further, I found that GMGroup. pro is registered on the island of Dominica, at an address I have seen before in scams.
The company that runs it is called Infinium Solutions Limited, which was also behind another scam, Future Currency Trading, which was targeted by the FCA.
A serious warning sign is that GMGroup.pro’s website is registered to an address in Iceland which is used by people who want to hide their real identity and location.
And the website fees have been paid for just one year, which is typically a sign that the business does not plan to stick around.
So, you were lucky to get back your original £200. But I was more concerned with what you told me about Wise. This is not a proper bank, but it is licensed by the FCA to act as a payment transfer company.
Originally known as Transferwise, it has been seen as a successful financial high-tech business, and its shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
I asked Wise why it had decided to close your account without warning. Its sudden decision is similar to those I have seen in money laundering cases, so I asked Wise whether it suspected you of this offence, and whether it had reported you to the National Crime Agency.
Wise refused to say. It reminded me that tipping off a suspected money launderer was also an offence in itself.
But Wise added that there could be other reasons for closing a customer’s account including ‘simply being associated with a scam’, even as a victim.
A spokesman explained: ‘We do this to help keep customers safe, and prevent them from losing further money if we believe they may be at risk of doing so.’
With all due respect to Wise, this makes as much sense as Transport for London deciding that if someone is mugged on the Tube, they should be banned from all its trains to help keep them safe. However, Wise says you need not lodge an appeal to recover the balance in your account. The remaining £20 is on its way.
I do wonder though, how strict Wise is in deciding which customers it wants and which it would like to ditch. Its chief executive is Kristo Kaarmann from Estonia.
He is currently under investigation by the FCA after he was fined £365,651 by the taxman for defaulting on a tax bill of over £720,000. But I bet Wise does not.
Hold-up makes my licence invalid
M.L. writes: My driving licence was due to expire in March. As I have a medical condition, I had to renew by post and not online, so I sent the necessary forms to the DVLA in Swansea by recorded delivery in January.
Just over a week later, I received the same renewal form from Swansea, but it advised me to ignore this if I had already applied. I did telephone a few times but was always told staff were too busy.
I have continued to drive, but now I have received a DVLA letter saying my licence is no longer valid. We live in a rural area and I need to drive my wife to regular hospital visits.
Driven to distraction: M.L. has received a DVLA letter saying his licence is no longer valid
Tony Hetherington replies: The letter from Swansea thanks you for your ‘recent correspondence’, which can only refer to the renewal application you submitted last January.
But the unpleasant sting in the tail is that you have been driving for months without a valid licence, which of course means that your insurance will also not be valid.
After some reluctance when I first contacted them, DVLA staff called you and explained that more medical details were needed, though there was no explanation as to why you were not told this months ago.
Officials said: ‘Medical applications are taking longer due to targeted industrial action and the deprioritisation of medical checks by the NHS to support the pandemic and vaccine roll-out. We expect to be back to normal processing times for medical applications by September.’
And the really good news is that the DVLA has agreed you can carry on driving without a licence, under special rules in the Road Traffic Act which lets you do this while your renewal request is considered.
We’re watching you
Several weeks ago, I reported how cruise line Noble Caledonia had cancelled a reader’s round-Britain voyage on the Heritage Adventurer because of problems with the ship’s fire system, and then wanted to charge £6,000 more to transfer bookings to the same ship’s next voyage in August.
Noble Caledonia told me this was an ‘error’ and you would definitely be welcome on board in August without paying a penny more.
Now though, this trip has been scrapped as well. The cruise company has told passengers: ‘The necessary sea trials took place recently as planned and the ship was performing well until an issue arose with an external valve which allowed an inflow of seawater into the engine room.’
The flooding revealed steel work in need of repair, and damaged a generator. The company has offered all its passengers a £500 discount on any of its cruises later this year, but after two failed attempts to get aboard the Heritage Adventurer, our reader and his wife have called it a day – and asked for a full refund instead.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.