As the Knesset prepares to vote Monday on the first reading of a bill that would outlaw the entire binary options industry, The Times of Israel has been contacted by friends and relatives of two people overseas alleging that they were duped by fraudulent Israel-based binary options dealers and that this led to their deaths.
Binary options is a multi-billion-dollar, widely fraudulent, Israel-based enterprise, employing thousands of Israelis, whose activities have been exposed in a series of articles by The Times of Israel since March 2016. Last Sunday, a bill seeking to outlaw the industry, which has flourished with almost no intervention by law enforcement for a decade, was approved by the cabinet. On Monday, it goes for the first of three readings in the Knesset.
In January 2017, the Times of Israel reported the case of Frederick Turbide, a Canadian businessman driven to take his own life after losing his life’s savings to an Israel-based company called 23Traders. (In a response at the time, 23Traders said this claim was “absolutely false.)
Fred Turbide’s tragedy was not an isolated case. The Times of Israel heard last week from the devastated husband of a 32-year-old woman in Singapore, the mother of a 3-year-old child, who said she took her own life last month, six months after losing a five-figure sum to Option.FM, a now-defunct binary options website. The Times of Israel also heard from a friend of a woman in Italy who said she fell into a depression and died after losing money to Strongoptions.com.
The man from Singapore, who asked not to be identified because he has told family members that his wife died of natural causes, said that the family’s troubles began in April 2016 when he was diagnosed with rare type of cancer and underwent major surgery.
“Right now I’m still recuperating and wearing a nasogastric tube to feed myself,” he told The Times of Israel in an email.
The husband, A., who until recently worked in the construction business, said he only pieced together what had happened after his wife’s death.
In the weeks since she died, A. went into his wife’s email account and saw that between June and October 2016 she exchanged emails with thee brokers at Option.FM, who called themselves Daniel Sharp, Kevin Bloom and Glenn Moore. (Fraudulent Israeli binary options companies ostensibly offer customers worldwide a potentially profitable short-term investment, but in reality — through rigged trading platforms, refusal to pay out, and other ruses — these companies fleece the vast majority of customers of most or all of their money. The fraudulent salespeople routinely conceal where they are located, misrepresent what they are selling, and use false identities, so these are most likely not the real names of the brokers.)
In her emails, which the woman’s husband shared with The Times of Israel, she tells the brokers that she desperately needs money for her husband’s medical treatment and seems to be reassured by the notion that her trades are “insured.” After depositing over $10,000 into her account at the urging of “Daniel Sharp” and quickly losing it all, the woman is contacted by “Kevin Bloom” who promises to help recover her “losses” if she only deposits another $4,000. The woman, who repeatedly tells her brokers how financially strapped she is, manages to scrape together $3,000, which her husband now believes was borrowed money.
Soon enough, she loses most of the additional $3,000 she put in to recover her original $10,000.
She sends an email to Option.FM: “At this point, I want you to refund what I have deposited cos it’s not my fault why I lost everything. It is your well trained account managers who gave me instructions to place the trades. Your analyst and signals are all rubbish if all trades will be lost.”
In reply to this email, Glen Moore wrote, “Considering the gravity of your allegations we have done an in‐depth review of your account and can confirm you have received all the ministrations as provided by Option.FM. However, Option.FM would like to resolve the dispute and keep all its traders happy by offering you a refund of USD 3500.00 to be returned to your credit card.”
To this the woman replied, “the ministration you are talking about is not extended on me. I have discussed with your account managers my goal why I am investing (for my husband’s treatment). The promise of help is just a facade for me to deposit big sum and get trapped in the end.”
Ultimately, the woman appears to have accepted the $3,500 refund (out of the over $13,000 she deposited in total). But according to her husband, the money she used to trade had been borrowed from banks.
After her final correspondence with Option.FM in October 2016, the woman, an exercise studio instructor, fell into a spiral of debt from which she could not recover, according to her husband.
“The money that my wife used in that binary trading was loan money from banks. After she was scammed in order to pay that loan, my wife took another loan from other banks and licensed credit card companies,” he said.
By March of this year, buried under a growing mountain of debt, she resorted to borrowing money from loan sharks, after she received a text message offering her a loan.
She filed a report with the Singapore police, describing that interaction as it played out. But last month, her husband said, as a result of what he believes was the intense psychological pressure from the harassment by the loan sharks, she killed herself. One early morning, the husband said, he and his sister-in-law awoke to find her dead.
“Seeing my son crying while looking at his mom lying on the floor was more painful than my 23-hour operation,” he told The Times of Israel.
“She had already paid her loan, but these loan sharks wanted more and were extorting her through harassment. After my wife’s death these loan sharks started to call and message us. They are now after me and my sister-in-law. They have started to harass us and even send runners to our place.”
“My wife kept all of this to herself. As a husband it is very painful to me that I did nothing to help her. If only I had known… Until now I’m still shock and trying to live one day at a time. I hope you can help me and my son to get the justice my wife deserves.”
In a recent lawsuit filed by a Dutch citizen who lost money to Option.FM, lawyers Nir Friedman and Yossy Haezrachy filed evidence to the court that Oren Shabat Laurent, the former CEO of the much-censured and recently closed binary options firm Banc de Binary, is the founder of Option.FM, although he has denied this.
Friedman and Haezrachy cited a 2015 deposition before the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, in which Laurent stated, “We just started another brand called Option.FM, it’s called a backup brand. We use it for customers from Banc de Binary who wish to have multiple accounts, who don’t want to have one account. They want to have another account. So Option.FM.”
The Times of Israel reached out to Laurent for his response to the Singapore case, but had not heard back from him at time of publication.
Tragedy strikes in Sardinia
Meanwhile, The Times of Israel heard from a retired tour guide from the town of Sassari in Sardinia by the name of Antonio Sciplino, who lost about 75,000 euros to a company called financial-advice.net, an introductory broker for the website Strongoptions.com. Sciplino wired his money to TBI Bank in Bulgaria.
Sciplino, whose broker first contacted him in December 2014 and spoke educated Italian with a hint of a Roman accent, has had to go back to work as a result of losing much of his savings. He has spared no effort trying to track down his brokers, and believes that both Strongoptions.com and financial-advice.net were based in Israel.
Sciplino told The Times of Israel that he encouraged two of his acquaintances to invest in Strong Options as well. One of these, a 68-year-old woman of meager means, whom he believes lost between 15,000 and 25,000 euros, subsequently fell into a terrible depression, stopped eating and passed away.
“She was a desperate lady, she cleaned stairs for a living and had no money. You fall into the trap and they’re so clever you don’t even know you’re in the trap.”
Neither Strongoptions.com nor financial-advice.net is still operating, so The Times of Israel was not able to get a response from them, nor was The Times of Israel able to ascertain who owned Strongoptions.com. Financial-advice.net was at one point registered to Gerard Palord of CEA FINANCE at 35 Rehov Ha’avoda, Tel Aviv. The Times of Israel could find no trace of “Gerard Palord” on the internet, and was unable to obtain a response from him.
Beginning with a March 2016 article entitled “The wolves of Tel Aviv: Israel’s vast, amoral binary options scam exposed,” The Times of Israel has for the past 17 months detailed the largely fraudulent Israel-based industry that has been stealing billions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of victims worldwide for the past decade. The proposed law outlawing the entire industry that goes before the Knesset on Monday would impose penalties of up to two years in prison on anyone who violates the ban.
The law would apply to anyone who “manages an online trading platform” that either sells binary options abroad or sells another financial product in a country where it lacks a license. The proposed law defines managing an online trading platform as “making strategic decisions for a company that manages the trading website” or “operating the website, including through software or hardware systems, call centers or online or telephone marketing, either directly or through a company that manages the trading website or provides services to the website.”
The Israeli binary options industry has been estimated to bring in between $5 billion and $10 billion a year, to number well over 100 companies, and to employ between 5,000 and many tens of thousands of employees.
Last month, in a move that indicated the Israel Police had finally begun to tackle the multi-billion dollar global fraud, Eliran Saada, the Tel Aviv owner of a fraudulent binary options firm, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated fraud, misrepresentation, false accounting, forgery, extortion and blackmail.
In recent months, in anticipation of the proposed law, several binary options companies have shut down, while many have relocated their call centers abroad, including to Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Anyone who is suicidal may receive immediate help by logging onto Suicide.org or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE (in the United States). Suicide is preventable, and if you are feeling suicidal, you must get help. Please visit Suicide.org or call your local suicide hotline immediately.