February 12, 2020 / 7:40 PM / 7 days ago

London hedge funds' websites cloned as scammers grow bolder and more ubiquitous

LONDON (Reuters) - Some of London’s top hedge funds and asset managers are among those that have been targeted by rogue internet operators who clone their names and websites in an attempt to part unsuspecting investors from their cash.

An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The high number of warnings from leading regulator the FCA — roughly one a day so far this year — underscores the concern in the sector over sham internet sites.

Although few individuals are known to have fallen for the fakes so far, Winton and Algebris, backed by two of Europe’s most prominent investors and targeted in recent weeks, are among the highest profile names to be hit as the scammers grow bolder.

The regulator has warned that fraudsters typically use the name of a genuine firm, launching a website with a similar design to the original.

It warned about cloned sites of Algebris UK, founded by Italian investor Davide Serra, and Winton Group, set up by British billionaire David Harding, in January and February respectively.

The cases came to light as the British government, which is considering new legislation to tackle rogue online operators, on Wednesday said it could appoint telecoms regulator Ofcom to police the sector.

Winton complained to the FCA after a website called wintonfinance.com was set up, according to one person familiar with the matter. That website is no longer active.

In a separate incident, a video described as an interview between Winton founder Harding and Bitsmax, which on its website describes itself as a UK certified investment platform for cryptocurrencies, was posted on YouTube on December 26 via an account carrying Bitsmax’s name. Reuters couldn’t confirm who owned the account.

The video was, in fact, of Harding talking at an investment conference, said the person familiar with the matter.

Bitsmax could not be reached for comment.

The video was online until Monday when a spokesman for YouTube owner Google said the video had been removed after it was contacted by Reuters.

The source close to Winton said the firm had previously spent weeks trying to get the video removed. The spokesman for Google declined to comment further.

The FCA issued a warning against Bitsmax on Tuesday. Winton had already on Feb. 5 posted a warning to its clients via its website about Bitsmax claiming false association to the firm and its founder, following a more general warning on Twitter on Feb. 3.

INCREASINGLY COMMON

The FCA has issued a further 40 warnings about cloned sites so far this year, compared with 365 last year, 303 in 2018 and 111 in 2017.

Among those it warned about last month were unauthorised firms purporting to be affiliated with Natixis Investment Managers, Aviva Investors Global Services and Redhedge Asset Management.

“The cloning of websites and other online scams has become increasingly common in the financial services industry,” a spokesman for Aviva told Reuters.

In Aviva’s case, the spokesman said a cloned website calling itself www.avibonds.com was using the background from Aviva Investors’ real website.

Aviva and Redhedge said no clients or individuals had lost money, while Natixis said “members of the public may be victims” when they issued a warning on their website on Dec. 10 - 28 days before the FCA issued an alert.

Winton and Algebris declined to comment on whether investors had lost money.

“We regularly check for cloned companies like this, and maintain an ongoing dialogue with the regulator, where appropriate,” said Andrea Seminara, CEO and CIO at Redhedge.

The asset manager’s Chief Operating Officer Eloise Lipkin said the FCA had issued an alert about the company Redhedge Investments within 48 hours of their complaint.

A spokesman for the regulator said, however, that it had no control over content shared via Google, and nor did any other agency.

Reporting by Maiya Keidan; editing by John O'Donnell and Kirsten Donovan

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