Friday 21 January 2011

I told you so

I know it’s wrong to gloat but I can’t help myself.

I told you about Stock Market Direct, I honestly did.

In late 2009 the Botswana Stock Exchange issued a statement warning the public that Stock Market Direct wasn’t authorised to trade on our local stock market. SMD then responded by pointing out that this didn’t matter, they only helped people to trade on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Then we did some digging and began to understand what it was they were actually offering. That was firstly little more than helping people to open online trading accounts with genuine South African brokers, the ones that actually do the work and secondly, providing their customers with the information they need to decide what to buy and sell. However this too is not something that SMD themselves do, they just acquired the information from a legitimate South African provider and charge extra on top.

OK, you might think that’s worth the extra money, despite it being measured in thousands of Pula. What concerned me more were the signs of deception. Their web site still claims that the
“company has been operating for several years with offices in Johannesburg, Mbabane, Maseru, Windhoek, and now Gaborone.”
Not true. Not even slightly. There is no trace of the company in any country other than Botswana. They’re certainly not registered as a company in South Africa, I know, I’ve checked. Nor is there any trace of them in Swaziland, Lesotho or Namibia.

We’ve continued to warn readers about them since 2009 but most recently things became much more serious. A reader got in touch alleging that after he attended one of their presentations he decided to sign up and offered them a cheque on the spot but this wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted cash. What’s more they wanted the reader to pay cash into the personal bank account of one of the presenters.

Unfortunately our reader must have been excited and caught up in the moment because that’s what he did. You think he’s making this up? I’ve got a copy of the deposit slip.

Now you know, I know and now the reader knows that this is extremely suspicious.

So I called the people at SMD to find out what could be done. That’s when I heard the story that made it into the papers last week. Tony Samuels, the Director of Stock Market Direct, the guy who stood me up when we were due to meet, never responded to my emails, phone calls or text messages had left town and was on the run from the cops. According to what I was told by his former colleagues several million Pula of investors’ money has gone missing and was last seen heading south with Samuels.

The people left at SMD claimed they were suspicious all along but, well, they would say that wouldn’t they now that the cops are asking awkward questions.

The unfortunate fact is that our reader’s money has gone and isn’t likely to come back.

Getting this money back is going to be challenging because I have another suspicion about Tony Samuels. I suspect that he might not actually exist. I can find no trace of anyone called Tony or Antonio Samuels before he arrived in Botswana to steal investors’ money.

Yes, there is a man who was associated with SMD whose picture is still available on their web site but I wonder whether he was ever a South African citizen called “Tony Samuels” or “Antonio Samuels”. Here’s a challenge for anyone who knew him or worked with him. Did you ever actually see his passport, ID or driving licence?

So is there a lesson in this? Well, there’s an obvious one: not to trust total strangers with large quantities of your cash. According to one news report one investor gave “Samuels” P600,000 to invest on his behalf. I don’t know what sort of person has that sort of cash lying around that they can just give it to the first jerk in a flash suit who asks for it but clearly it’s someone who shouldn’t be allowed out without his mother.

The other lesson is that anyone with a bit of common sense, a little knowledge of how to trace people and some curiosity can find out enough about a company to know it’s not worth trusting. Over the last 14 months I’ve probably spent no more than a few hours researching Stock Market Direct but found out enough to say that I personally wouldn’t trust them with my money and I would suggest the same to any friend or relative.

If I can do this then you can too, it doesn’t take much effort or skill. Even if it does take a bit of effort and diligence don’t you think it’s worth it when you’re considering giving away lots of your hard-earned money?

One last thing. This is personal I’m afraid. In a report in a newspaper last week one of the few remaining people at Stock Market Direct didn’t take kindly to my criticism of the company. She said “He knows nothing and should say nothing” and “He should have done something before dismissing us”. Well dear, I DO know something and I DID do something about your company and it’s strange and deceptive ways. I told everyone, here in Mmegi. I guess that’s what has upset you.


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