“Scam” introducer at the heart of Mirror investigation promoting High Street Group

Last week the Mirror’s Andrew Penman investigated one of the introducers flooding Google Ads with high-risk unregulated investments targeted at savers looking for non-high-risk savings. His article, Scamming with impunity: the GoogleAd sham investment comparison websites, is well worth a read.

Penman turned the spotlight on Ilian Stoimenov, who had parked his caravan on the Google search results for “good ISA rates”. One of the first hits was for sterling-isa.com, aka Lead Generation Limited.

It has a single director, a 35-year-old Bulgarian called Ilian ­Stoimenov, who coyly gives Companies House an accommodation address in Covent Garden, London.

So far this month, two of his sites have been added to the FCA’s warning list – excellent-bonds.com and isa-search.co. The watchdog’s entry for each one states: “This firm is not authorised by us and is targeting people in the UK.”

Probably for reasons of space, Penman didn’t go into the actual investments recommended by Stoimenov’s excellent-bonds.com outfit.

I can reveal, thanks to a reader who has asked to remain uncredited, that excellent-bonds.com is promoting High Street Group.

Specifically, excellent-bonds.com is promoting Keystone Property, which is High Street Group by another name (and smelling exactly as sweet).

Keystone Property Group offers identical terms to investors as High Street Group, namely its distinctive 7 year loan notes starting at 12% per year and rising to 22% per year in the seventh year. Keystone’s website lists one of HSG’s proudest erections, Hadrian’s Tower in Newcastle, as one of its own projects, using the same picture as High Street Group.

[Update 8.9.20] This article originally stated that Keystone literature listed HSG owner Gary Forrest as Chairman of Keystone. The brochure in question – which was part of Keystone and HSG’s joint promotional efforts – in fact listed Forrest as Chairman of HSG. [end update]

I could go on, but we can leave it at Keystone = High Street Group.

After the reader gave their details (not their real ones) to excellent-bonds.com, they were contacted by an Account Manager at Keystone, who confirmed they used Excellent Bonds as their marketing company.

Keystone solicited investment from the reader claiming “an average annual return of 20% per annum”, and misleadingly compared their high-risk unregulated property notes to the returns available from an investment in the FTSE 100 and cash savings accounts (among others), both of which are significantly lower risk than a loan to an unlisted company. The FCA has confirmed that comparing the returns from high-risk unregulated investments to cash accounts is misleading.

I reviewed High Street Group’s bonds in January 2018, noting their high risk nature, in contrast to introducers who over-egged their “Corporate Guarantee” (which is only as good as High Street Group itself).

Last October High Street Group’s lawyers attempted to shut down Bond Review – not just my review but Bond Review in its entirety – over inaccurate whinging that I’d “questioned our client’s conduct” and “appeared to suggest that our client is not truthful and their actions are not be trusted” [sic]. At no point did either my review or a follow-up news article on HSG’s 2017 accounts suggest that HSG was not truthful or not to be trusted.

I have never had any contact whatsoever from High Street Group or their lawyers directly and that remains the case – the complaint was directed at my webhosts. I have heard nothing further since last October.

So let’s be clear – I question whether any company in the UK should be using introducers which misleadingly promote their bonds to retail investors using Google Ads.

The FCA has issued a generic fire-and-forget warning on its website against excellent-bonds.com. Despite High Street Group’s habitual use of unregulated introducers who misleadingly promote its high-risk bonds, no action against High Street Group’s investment scheme has been taken by the FCA that is in the public domain.

High Street Commercial Finance Limited (the company issuing the bonds) is 8 months overdue with its December 2018 accounts. Although failure to file accounts on time is a criminal offence, no action has been taken against the company or its directors that is in the public domain.

Starting in April 2019, readers reported that High Street Group was trying to avoid repaying their investments in cash when they fell due, by offering to pay them in High Street Group shares instead.

Due to its failure to file legally-required accounts, how much investor money is at risk in High Street Group is not known. In December 2017 High Street Commercial Finance owed £37.5 million to loan investors, but it’s anyone’s guess how much that is now after two and a half years of hard work by Stoimenov, Conway and co.

19 thoughts on ““Scam” introducer at the heart of Mirror investigation promoting High Street Group

  1. Keystone = High Street Group is factually incorrect. I know Keystone and they are just an unregulated introducer (albeit not a very good one) its companies like Keystone that gives people like me, who have, and will always have, our clients interests at heart a bad name!

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  2. Having “Keystone Property Group” on investment literature, as if Keystone is the one issuing the loans (when it’s actually HSG), and naming HSG’s Gary Forrest as the Chairman of Keystone on Keystone-headed brochures goes beyond being an introducer.

    Introducer, white-label, front, whatever you want to call it, an investment in Keystone = an investment in HSG.

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  3. High Street Group paid me back on each loan note progressively later and later. I was introduced via Avantis Wealth in Brighton. I would never lend to them again. Both Gary Forrest (Chairman) and Gary O’Hara (operations manager) defended their poor management of cashflow by saying that High Net Worths getting such a high double digit return shouldn’t quibble over a few weeks or a couple of months’ delay. No apology. I voted with my feet.

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  4. I think high street group offer a high risk high return investment? What is wrong with that, its as if you dont want to see any non regulated investment offerings??? FCA regulated Investments fail aswell!! Stop targeting one type of investment and review at all investment types. or are you FCA regulated yourself? The public should have a right to make informed choices with their OWN money!

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  5. I think high street group offer a high risk high return investment? What is wrong with that, its as if you dont want to see any non regulated investment offerings???

    Nothing is wrong with offering high risk investments. What is wrong is when they are promoted to ordinary investors using Google Ads, using misleading terms like “fully secured”.

    As for “high return”, an investment isn’t “high return” if it doesn’t return interest and capital back to all its investors, is it Mr Merchant. (And by returning capital I mean giving them back their money, not shares they can’t sell.)

    Now your turn. Why is a mortgage broker with no FCA authorisation to advise on investments interested in high risk unregulated loan notes?

    Stop targeting one type of investment and review at all investment types

    Who died and made you King of the Bloggers?

    The public should have a right to make informed choices with their OWN money!

    If you think you should have the right to flog high risk unregulated loan notes to the public while misleadingly claiming they’re “fully secured”, take it up with the FCA and Parliament. Or don’t, because it’s not going to happen.

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  6. First of all my point was that any type of investment can fail not just secured ones!

    A diversified, non-geared mainstream stockmarket investment has no material risk of permanent and total loss, in contrast to unregulated loan notes such as High Street Group’s.

    Promoting high risk investments while using reassuring-sounding terms like “fully secured” is misleading.

    Since my review of High Street Group pointed out that its loan notes were in reality a high risk investment with an inherent risk of 100% loss, a succession of salty individuals has queued up in the comments to tell me I can’t say that, of whom you’re the latest. And High Street Group attempted to get my entire blog shut down. And yet here we are.

    No one but i have a right to comment as your site does offer that facility?

    No one said you didn’t. We’re talking about you trying to tell me what I can and can’t write about – “Stop targeting one type of investment and review at all investment types”.

    What is wrong with offering that option? Investments, especially in these uncertain times are ALL at risk in some form or another.

    This is a false equivalence as above.

    I think offering shares is at least a small yet appreciative step in the right direction?

    If, hypothetically speaking, a company you’ve loaned money to cannot repay its creditors and is going to go bust in the future, accepting shares to settle the loan is actually going in the wrong direction, because it puts you further back in the queue for any funds recovered.

    (In that scenario it is of course perfectly possible for both creditors and shareholders to get nothing, in which case it makes no difference, other than the debt-equity swap meant it took longer for the creditors to come to terms with their losses.)

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  7. Brev your replies match your review style, your way or the highway !

    “a succession of salty individuals has queued up in the comments to tell me I can’t say that, of whom you’re the latest”

    Asking bondreview to stop targeting one type of investment and also include regulated ones, i do not believe constitutes “telling someone”

    “A diversified, non-geared mainstream stockmarket investment has no material risk of permanent and total loss”

    Are you kidding me?

    I dare say High Street Group tried to close you down, when you have an anonymous editor of a website making accusations, some questionable biased statements then surely they should be allowed to confront their accuser??

    Ill refrain from indulging your ego any further.

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  8. Brev – you seem to have type the wrong thing in the “Name” box. Your second post is attributed to “Jamal Merchant” which means it doesn’t make sense.

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  9. It sounds like investors need to work collectively to get information from them. This is what the investors did with Blackmore (with professional advisors in tow)

    It’s not unreasonable to request management information (especially in these uncertain times).

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  10. I don’t seem to be able to get them to pay me anything. They keep promising, but I never receive anything……………….

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  11. Sorry Bob-it looks like the coffers are dry at least until new investors can be “persuaded” to subscribe and this is becoming more and more difficult. The recent rumour that work has stopped on the Westminster Works (“WW”) site in Birmingham is true! United Living which was working for HSG on this site is no longer working for them and are referring all enquiries to HSG. HSG has said that due to Covid (ha,ha) they are in talks with contractors i.e. they have no money to pay them. So far I have not had a detailed response from Fortwell Capital (“FC”). FC is funding the WW development (up to £31.1 million on the basis of 75% of Gross Development Value (“GDV”). There is clearly a problem! I am guessing but I believe that the project is over budget and FC wish to see more funds injected by HSG before it will continue with its funding arrangements. This is not unusual. My guess would be that FC has been pushing HSG to inject funds for some time. FC may continue to be patient and wait hoping that HSG will be in a position to inject further funds in the near future OR it could exercise its security and take possession of the development and find a way to complete it itself. Time will tell!

    If FC exercises its security and takes control of the site any equity that HSG may have had in this site will almost certainly be completely lost.

    If the numbers stack up there might just be a small possibility that HSG could persuade a “vulture” investor to take a look and help provide the additional finance needed to enable FC to continue with its funding agreement. However, I would imagine that HSG has already tried to do this and has failed.

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  12. I invested in HSG 7 year loan note a year ago and sent several emails to them requesting 2 out of 3 of my investments back as I was within the one year anniversary but I was told this needs to be in writing, I sent a signed letter by courier and have been told I would only be allowed to cash in my 3rd investment as I didn’t give 30 days notice in writing for the first two. I have been told that the investment made end of October 2019 would be paid but not until 60 days after the anniversary. Can someone tell me does their contract stipulate ‘in writing’ and does this require a letter or should an email suffice.

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  13. It is “Interesting” that people can now find Bond Review when potential “Losses” are looming. BUT did not have the FInancial Intelligence to “HEED THE WARNINGS POSTED HERE IN 2018 !!” QED. The country is awash with Financial Idiots..Looking to be relieved of there money.

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