Martin Eweg had conducted his own investigation into the scam and so far had found 45 other South Africans who also lost money.
Seventeen of these are from KwaZulu-Natal, and they have pooled their resources to build a strong case against Bell Capital Private Wealth Investments.
They will be represented by attorneys Jumer Aquino, Gilbert Punzalan, Rolando Arellano and Virlynn Ramirez of Burkley and Aquino law office, based in the Philippines.
A team from the law firm spent a week in Durban formulating a case. Eweg was hoping more people would come forward.
Punzalan said Bell Capital was an online investment platform run by four British nationals living in the Philippines.
Bell Capital allegedly offered worthless, non-existent securities to investors through online transactions. The company claimed to have offices in Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and Indonesia, but its actual operations were conducted in the Philippines.
They were apparently able to do this through the use of Digital Internet Decoders (DID) which are usually used by call centres.
“Behind Bell Capital is another company called Plustel Solutions. They also have some influential Filipino partners in their elaborate online scam. The Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and some investigators from our Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) arrested the syndicate in April 2017,” Punzalan said.
Law enforcers apprehended 172 individuals working as data miners, qualifiers and verifiers. Another 35 personnel, all Filipinos, were caught offering and selling worthless, non-existent securities to investors through online transactions.
“Found in Plustel’s premises were many computers and documents like sales scripts and lists of potential investors belonging to various business and civic organisations. The 35 and four British nationals were subjected to inquest proceedings for violation of our Securities Regulation Code,” he said.
Eweg said the syndicate used aggressive selling tactics.
“There are close to 100 South Africans who were scammed. Seventeen of us have agreed to be complainants. It is embarrassing, but we put our hands up and admitted we were scammed,” he said.
“The attorneys will develop a memo, decide on the merits of the case. We also want to warn others of online investment scams. We want moral satisfaction and to stop them from committing additional crimes,” he said.
Eweg said the syndicate’s call centre had called him two years ago to sell him investment opportunities.
“It was what you call a cold call. There was no face-to-face interaction of trust build-up. They had a legitimate website. To source prospects, they data-mine the internet and hack into civic organisations, yacht clubs and business chambers of commerce institutes,” Eweg said.
“They create a fake online recruitment scam requesting financial managers. When you apply, they siphon your details and target the people you used as a reference. The applicant is sent an email saying their application for the job was unsuccessful,” he said.
“They have an apparatus or synthesiser that can change their voices. It is shocking and deceit supreme. When you call them to explain that your portfolio is stagnant and you are not receiving any dividends they reply that Mr XYZ had died in a car accident,” Eweg said.
“Another person then calls you, apologising for the previous employee’s mess. He then assures you that he will rectify your portfolio. You are relieved that someone is helping, but you are falling deeper into the scam. They issued me with a stock certificate of R43million.
“The website showed your investments were doing well on the stock exchange but in actual fact they didn’t invest any money in a particular stock.
“I am much wiser now about investments. Some investors gave up. Others were on the brink of suicide, some faced liquidation while others lost their families,” said Eweg.
Punzalan said Plustel had not been issued any permit to sell any kind of securities products, including equity and debt securities, mutual funds, shares of stock and time-shares. Neither was it licensed as an investment house, securities broker, dealer or investment adviser.
“They invented many fictitious characters and they are given strong ‘online presence’ to make it appear as though they were real persons so when a prospective investor checks out their background through Google searches, they would appear to be legitimate businessmen,” Punzalan said.
Philippine Television news carried several news bulletins on the syndicate’s arrest. The Philippine Star newspaper reported on the incident stating that the suspects are now facing a violation of RA 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 pursuant to Article 315 (syndicated estafa) under the Revised Penal Code.