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.