London-based nurse Hiba Ali hoped to make some money when she opened a £250 account with a company called BinaryBook, which promised big returns on investments known as binary options. Just months later she had lost more than £13,000.
The day after she opened her account most of the £250 was gone. But a phone salesman assured her she could get it all back and more if she invested in BinaryBook’s “risk-free platform which will give 75% profit,” she said.
She agreed to put £5,000 in, and over the course of high-pressure phone calls and emails went on to invest £14,000 in total. The salesman told her that a set of trades were “100% insured by BinaryBook bonus money management system,” and that her money would be returned to her account within an hour if the trades were lost.
But a few months later she says she was told all her trades had “expired”. While her account showed a balance of £14,689, only £689 was hers to withdraw.
The other £14,000 was “bonus” money and could not be accessed until she had traded at 30 times that amount.
“I feel stupid being fooled to this extent,” she told the Bureau. “But they are very professional”. Ali was later left unable to work after being hit by a car in February, and pleaded with BinaryBook that she was desperate for money – but to no avail.
She complained to her bank that she believed she had been defrauded and £10,000 was refunded. But BinaryBook succcessfully disputed a further £4,000 refund, arguing that she had not met the conditions required to withdraw the “bonus” money. “The stress and pain this [has] caused me is indescribable,” she said.
Ali is just one of thousands of people who believe they have been ripped off by companies and websites offering binary options trading – a scheme sold as an investment opportunity that in reality is a gamble or straight-up scam.
Binary options investments involve betting on whether the price of certain assets, such as shares, currencies or commodities, will go up or down within a specific time period.
Scores of websites like BinaryBook offer these deals to British customers, who often forge a relationship with a personal broker – or ‘expert trader’ – who will place the bets for them.