/ 22 June 2024

Banxso investors lose life savings

describes itself as a ‘zero commission online trading platform’.

Two pensioners who invested in Banxso’s trading platforms and lost R1.71 million of their life savings are infuriated by the company’s offer to pay them back less than half of the money in instalments over five months.

Zona and Chris Bruyns, who sank their savings into the platform, are among scores of investors who have alleged that Banxso consultants contacted them after they clicked on deepfake adverts supposedly featuring prominent personalities and business people such as Elon Musk, Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer, offering excellent returns for a minimum investment of R4  800.

People then invested money using an online trading platform, allegedly on the trading advice of Banxso’s “success managers”.

Banxso chief operating officer Manuel de Andrade has previously denied that the company has any links to the deepfake adverts created by Immediate Matrix, a company the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) warned consumers to steer clear of in December last year. But the adverts have appeared again on Facebook and YouTube in recent weeks, and again “featuring” public broadcaster SABC’s anchor Leanne Manas and prominent people such as African Rainbow Minerals founder Patrice Motsepe.

Motsepe said this week that he was aware of the deepfake adverts and that he and African Rainbow Minerals had no association with them or with Banxso.

“The unauthorised use of our personal information and business brand is unlawful and consequently viewed in a serious light,” he said.

“Our lawyers are investigating and identifying appropriate civil and/or criminal action to initiate.”

The SABC’s acting group executive for corporate affairs and marketing, Mmoni Seapolelo, earlier said the possibility of “future legal actions cannot be ruled out”, while Oppenheimer Generations, an organisation that represents the global interests of Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer and the family, said the advertiser had “unlawfully” used his identity and that it is following a “legal process”.

Banxso chief operating officer Manuel de Andrade

This week Zona Bruyns said she and her husband have been struggling to get their money back after they were allegedly encouraged by Banxso staff to invest more and more into the platform as losses spiralled.

Their ordeal started in November 2023 when Bruyns clicked on a deepfake advert on Facebook purporting to feature Manas showing her colleagues how to invest R4  700 with Immediate Matrix, which she touted as “an automated investment platform”.

“I deposited R5  000 and within seconds, received a call from someone called ‘Marinos’ from Banxso calling himself my success manager. He did a few trades with me but I was not comfortable with this situation so withdrew our money,” Zona Bruyns said.

“I then researched Banxso and found that they were a licensed, registered and regulated company. I also called Banxso and established that Marinos was an employee of theirs stationed in Greece.”

Bruyns said Marinos called and persuaded her to “deposit more money to be able to make decent profits, which he would help me with”. She deposited R60  000 into the trading platform, and then R50  000 after a consultant called “George” called and told her to deposit more money to avoid losing the R60  000.

“Not long after, another call came, more funds were required. I stated that we did not have … and watched the account run dry,” she said.

She then got a call from “Dale” and a R100  000 “recovery bonus” was made available on the platform. He promised to help make back the lost money.

“Dale called every day to place a few small trades and made us promise not to make any trades on our own. He seemed to take pride in his work and it also seemed like Banxso was trying to take responsibility for the part they played in our loss. He knew we were pensioners and had one big dream — they ask these questions beforehand — of going to Portugal to be closer to our children and grandchildren, whom we have not seen since before Covid-19,” she said.

“After many calls … and promises to help us make some money by September to assist in making our Portugal dream come true and [after the company gave] a credit bonus of R15  000, we deposited R1  million [on 14 March 2024].”

Bruyns said she and her husband had repeatedly told Banxso that they did not have trading skills and could not afford to lose money, but were assured that its success managers were experts who, by law, had to protect their clients. They were also told that they would be able to draw their money from the platform.

“We initially started trading in rands but were then advised to convert our money into dollars; ‘better for trading’, they said. This later also proved to be a tactic which would prevent us from withdrawing money as it first had to be converted to rands,” she said.

The investment started incurring “major losses”.

“We could not withdraw money and the nightmare started. We realised that we were being misled but were standing to lose all the money already deposited and had no idea how to get out of this. We felt helpless and alone,” Bruyns said.

“Next thing, ‘Olli’ calls. We need to inject more money, just temporarily for a couple of days or risk losing everything. Nothing less than R500  000, which will make us exclusive clients … and they will give us another credit bonus of $10  000.”

In a bid to save the R1  million, the couple sunk a further R500  000 into the platform. But they received another call from Olli advising that the account was again in trouble and they risked losing all their money.

“They wanted to help us get the account right and they [were] going to inject $60  000 from their side and we needed to put in more to validate their contribution,” she said.

“We were told that we must have more money stashed away as we are pensioners with lots of money. Eventually, we scrounged around and put in R100  000 on 11 April, only to receive a call more than a week later on 19 April,” she said.

The account was again running major losses and yet another consultant, “Oscar”, called and tried to convince them to deposit a further $6  320. But the couple refused.

“We found ourselves in sinking sand, with no way out. Our money just became unavailable and to date remains unavailable to us and nobody has a care in the world,” Bruyns said.

“Promises were made regularly to lure us into this little scheme.”

She said Banxso had offered the couple a “without prejudice” refund of R600  000, which they had refused, demanding a full refund.

John Jooste — who lost R204  800 after clicking on a deepfake advert featuring Musk, which he said also led him to Banxso’s trading platform — is equally annoyed after the company offered initially offered him a paltry R4  800 refund, followed by an updated offer of R50  000 to be paid over three months.

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Photos of prominent people such as Patrice Motsepe have appeared in deepfake ads. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

When the Mail & Guardian approached Banxso for comment regarding the two complaints and the prevalent adverts that appeared to be directing investors to its consultants, the company did not respond directly to questions. 

Instead, its lawyer, Hendrik Theron, replied: “We do not intend to deal with each and every aspect of your correspondence and specifically reserve our client’s rights to do so at a later stage, if need be.

“We note that, regrettably, our client is not currently in a position to respond materially to your queries, as the matter is presently sub judice, being under consideration in multiple forums.

“We confirm, however, that the company has allocated significant resources in dealing with all client complaints and/or queries as expeditiously as possible and moreover, in the appropriate manner, regardless of the nature thereof.”

In April the FSCA said in a statement that it was “investigating possible contraventions of financial sector laws by Banxso” and that the company was cooperating with the investigation, a point De Andrade also confirmed at the time.

“The investigation follows several complaints received by the FSCA in relation to the conduct of Banxso and is of the opinion that the allegations should be investigated. The FSCA emphasises that the investigation is not completed and that it has made no findings to date,” the authority said.

The FSCA did not respond to further questions regarding the matter this week.

The authority has called for people who have information to contact the authority by sending an email to [email protected] with the words “Banxso Investor” in the subject line.