The Seneses and their companies deny the allegations and say they were operating a legitimate payment platform for TitanTrade. Mr Ida is no longer represented in the case. In earlier hearings his lawyer Jonathan Kenny denied Mr Ida had engaged in any wrongdoing.
TitanTrade, under its various websites, has run investing clubs that have come in for complaints around the world including in Europe and America.
Binary options, including those sold by TitanTrade, allow traders to “bet” on the price of an “asset” (such as a share in a listed company) or a particular currency or commodity (such as gold) within a certain time-frame. The options mean the traders never have to actually buy or sell the underlying asset, currency or commodity.
For example, the customer bets that in three minutes the price of a particular company’s shares will be above 50 cents. If after three minutes the price is 52 cents, they are paid out a return. If the price is 49 cents, the customer loses their bet and the money is kept by the provider.
The Federal Court on Monday heard local clients of the TitanTrade website were presented with a series of lures to convince them to sign up and remain as clients.
These “lures”, according to barrister Michael Pearce, SC, for ASIC, included presenting investors who wanted to exit the scheme with an invented professor Dr Florian Schulter, who offered imaginary trading insurance. Also, aggressive brokers with fancy names like ‘Bruno Gold’ who bombarded clients with multiple daily Skype calls and messages despite pleas from clients, including one local man who begged to drop out of the scheme because he would not be able to afford his spinal surgery.
Mr Pearce told the court TitanTrade made various promises about “getting your money back” and how betting on binary options had secured its clients $15 million in trading profits.
“Those are all lies. This was a very sophisticated scam that cost people in Australia and people overseas a very large amount of money,” he said.
The court heard clients were offered a bonus amount and pushed into taking that bonus as “free money” to make bets. Yet the terms and conditions of the bonus effectively stripped people of their rights to withdraw the money. The “bonus” amount would also be taken from the clients’ balance and a 30 per cent fee of the remainder
of the balance would be charged to the client.
“Once you accept the bonus, which you were induced to do, your hands were tied, you virtually could not get any money out,” Mr Pearce said.
He told the court TitanTrade would often oblige withdrawal requests for small amounts of the total invested early in its relationship with a client.
Don’t know how I am supposed to pay for my operations now. I am screwed.
“This is how they lure people in. They honour early requests for withdrawals but once you got more money in, they would refuse your withdrawals,” he said.
One victim, Mr Pearce said, was a 42-year-old spray painter who had signed up to TitanTrade after clicking on a pop up window online. The court heard the customer within weeks had second thoughts because of his serious back injury and wanted to withdraw his $20,000 balance.
“I think it’s best if you close my account and transfer me the money. Let’s leave this so I can get my shit together and clear my head,” the customer said.
ASIC alleges that customer was convinced by TitanTrade adviser “Lee” to keep trading and then told to double his trades. He then lost the trades and the remainder of his money in his account.
The customer soon after wrote to Lee the adviser: “Don’t know how I am supposed to pay for my operations now. I am screwed.”
According to ASIC, the customer has said in a formal statement: “Lee continued to pressure me to trade, and suggested I bet it all on Tesla. He then started being aggressive.”
Another customer invested more than $600,000 in TitanTrade including all of the superannuation balance of himself and his wife. The man also took out a second mortgage on his home.
“We will need to sell our home as we can no longer pay our mortgage,” the customer said in a statement to the court.
The hearing continues.
Sarah Danckert is a business reporter.