TJ Naidoo (not her real name) works in a hospital in the Durban area and decided she wanted to make a little extra cash to supplement her income.
She logged into Facebook and started searching. It wasn’t long before she came across this guy:
It turns out that Chris is a trader with a company called GooTrader.
The GooTrader website assured TJ that it was a “legally operating company”, but that could not confirm anything other than a bleak statement.
Chris spends his time when he’s not making a fortune in cryptos:
TJ is connected to Mason on Facebook. He offered her the opportunity to make a quick profit on bitcoin: invest R3,000 in bitcoin, Chris said, send it to an address where he would use it for bitcoin mining, and she would get R11,000 on a matter of received weeks.
Last November, TJ bought R3,000 worth of bitcoin through the Luno crypto exchange and sent it to the address Chris provided.
Sure enough, a few weeks later she had deposited R11,000 into her Luno account.
It had achieved a staggering 266% of its R3,000 investment.
Satisfied that her first investment went so well, she was a game for another round.
Time to think bigger
But this time Chris said she should invest a bit more and get a few friends on board as well, making it a group of four. TJ did R8,000 for herself and R3,000 for her mother. The two friends who got on board invested R3,000 and R5,000, which meant a total of R19,000 between the four.
All of this was used to buy Bitcoin again through Luno, with instructions to send it to a Bitcoin wallet “GooTrader” or an account called a “Trade Link” by Chris.
This time TJ and her friends were able to turn their investment into an incredible R800,000, even within a few weeks.
If that sounds too good to be true, it was.
When the “investment” fell due in early March of this year, TJ and her fellow investors couldn’t wait to get their hands on the promised R800,000.
But there was a problem: Chris said she had to pay “taxes” of Rl 120,000 to release the money.
TJ went out and took out a personal loan and paid the “tax” of Rl 20,000 – also in Bitcoin – to Chris’ wallet.
Still, there was a problem. Since it had taken TJ so long to pay the “tax”, Chris told TJ that she needed a withdrawal PIN to release the money.
And, bad news for Chris, his bosses were so upset by the delay in receiving the tax that TJ’s account was turned over to Anderson.
Funnily enough, Anderson’s English reads very much like Chris’s. TJ communicated with Chris / Anderson via WhatsApp and Facebook.
This is how it went on WhatsApp:
Chris: When you have deposited the money with your Luno, please let me know so I can run you well
TJ: Ok, I need to send it (the bitcoin) to the trade link?
Chris: Yeah, but not that link, okay, it has to be the direct link for the pin. Let me send it to you
Chris then sent a bitcoin wallet address, and TJ duly sent the bitcoin to Chris’ bitcoin wallet. At that point, her bitcoin was gone.
I decided to jump over to GooTrader to see if I could make sense of what had happened. I opened a chat box and in no time “Bruce” was on the other end.
Me: is that real? Can I speak to Marco Verratti (one of the directors listed on the website)? They say there is a 100% chance of not losing any money. How so?
Bruce: Sir, you can get an order from any of our officers, okay. There is no way to lose your money because you alone have access to your trading account. You have to trust the platform in order, so I will advise you to start with the minimum amount so you can see how everything works fine.
Bruce: Ma’am, it all depends on everything being okay. Only if you have exceeded the payment of COT (sic) does not need to go through the SARS verification if you honestly find out that you are being asked to pay taxes.
Ich: what is COT?
Bruce: COT means transfer costs !!!
Me: What are the transfer costs?
Bruce: Sir, COT is not determined in order by anyone but by the market signal of your trade.
Me: Do I have to send Bitcoin and to which address?
Bruce: Sir, you will create a trading account on the platform. After that, send the bitcoin to the account that you created in order. Once you create the account, you will have a bitcoin wallet on the account that you have. ll create.
At that point I had had enough of Bruce or Chris or Anderson or whatever his name was. His use of “okay” in practically every sentence is a dead giveaway for being the same person.
An image search by Marco Veratti, a supposed director at GooTrader, reveals the same photo that appears in dozens of other lookalike schemes.
There is a sad ending to this story that TJ is now considering undergoing a debt review in order to claw her way out of the hole she dug for herself.
Signs of fraud
There were red flags all the way that TJ missed.
- No company registration number or certificate to verify.
- Not a license issued by any financial regulator around the world (crypto companies are generally unregulated but still have company registrations, offices, phone numbers, and credible directors with a track record of doing business; you can and should investigate). .
- “Directors” that look like pictures of models taken off the internet, and if you search that image on Google, the person shows up as the “directors” of other seedy investment programs.
- Bad english on the website.
- Testimonials from “satisfied” customers.
- Guaranteed Return Claims.
- Claims that you cannot lose your money.
- Address customers on Facebook or WhatsApp.
- Insist that you invest in bitcoin and send that bitcoin to an address provided by the scammer (once your bitcoin is sent to that address, it is gone and there is no one to help you recover it).
- Adding weird costs like “transfer costs” (if you are sending Bitcoin or a crypto from a legitimate company like Luno, the transfer costs are already paid for by you and are generally quite low. You don’t have to pay two sets of transfer costs).
- Setting up the Ponzi scheme, as in the case of TJ: start small and then see a successful payout. Comforted with this success, you are encouraged to grow taller next time. Then it dissolves. You were had.
- Delays in Receiving Withdrawals: Claiming procedural errors when requesting withdrawals, asking for more money (such as transfer costs), and claiming that it took you too long all caused an administrative error – all to the process delay. In TJ’s case, she was blocked by Chris on Facebook.
- Claims your investment in Bitcoin mining will flow: There are reputable “miners” (who use high-performance computers to solve complex problems and be rewarded with Bitcoin), but these companies don’t need your money, and most of them do do this fabulously well too, as we covered earlier in Moneyweb. Some of them are listed on the exchanges and offer an indirect way to get exposure to Bitcoin.
In TJ’s case, Chris asked her to pay an additional $ 3,000 to release her R800,000 profit. That’s another 45,000 R that she would have to pay, in addition to the “tax” of 120,000 R and the original “investment” of 19,000 R.
The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) has been made aware of GooTrader and announces that it will issue a public warning. It appears that “Chris” or “Bruce” or whatever his name is, operates out of Florida in the US.
There are many legitimate crypto operators in SA and we have covered them extensively on Moneyweb. Luno is a legitimate crypto exchange and one of the largest in the country.
Had TJ bought her Bitcoin from Luno and continued to hold it, her investment would have gained more than 100% since December 2020.
A look at Chris Mason’s Facebook page (which we won’t be delivering) suggests that numerous South Africans are about to take the same tragic steps as TJ.
“I would laugh if it wasn’t so tragic,” she says.
According to Brandon Topham, the chief of law enforcement at FSCA, who issued a health warning on cryptos two weeks ago, “… it appears these people are foreigners and even if they are there, the chances of ever getting something back are sadly less than 0.000000000000001%.
“Unfortunately, the banks will not be able to do anything to help either.”