When most of us think about Churchill, polar bears, whale watching and maybe bird watching, come to mind.
We don’t think of it as being the headquarters of a Dutch crypto-currency trading operation at the end of Canada’s most northerly rail line.
The red flags were waving all over the place when Manitoba securities regulators saw a website for a company called cryptrade24.com that offered a guarantee of a 200 per cent return in 20 days.
That the operation that made that offer was headquartered on a residential address on Button Street in Churchill was a sure giveaway.
The Manitoba Securities Commission has flagged it as an off-shore investment scam. It warned Manitobans to stay clear no matter how much they would like to support the Churchill economy, which has suffered many blows over the last couple of years.
The firm’s website boasts it has “…collected the best from the business of investment under a single virtual roof.”
But Jason Roy, senior investigator with the securities commission, quickly discovered the firm — which purports to be licensed in the Netherlands and in Manitoba — is not registered in either jurisdiction.
Not only that, the “virtual roof” is a two-bedroom bungalow in Churchill. The property is owned by Manitoba Housing and is used as a residence for government staff who travel to Churchill for work.
Although the website is attractive and professional-looking, Roy said that’s a relatively easy thing to create and is not uncommon for the thousands of fraudsters around the world who are currently operating.
“For whatever reason, they picked this Churchill address,” Roy said. “I’ve not quite figured out why they came up with that, but it definitely caught our attention.”
Roy said he once investigated a scam linked to an address that was a surface parking lot in downtown Winnipeg.
While the commission does not have any indication of victims at this point, Roy said it is keen to get out in front of the fraud.
“We are asking Manitobans if they have been contacted about this or any other type of investment fraud to contact our office,” he said.
Roy said these kinds of scams typically feature attractive, savvy websites and if anyone reaches out they will be contacted by persuasive rip-off artists. He said he has had countless conversations with investors who are angry at themselves for getting suckered by sweet-talking scammers. He said they are trained in effective tactics and are amazingly successful in getting people to part with their money.
Roy said they encourage consumers to make sure dealers or brokers are registered to do business in Manitoba. The information is available at www.aretheyregistered.ca.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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