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Published: 00:01, 09 February 2019
A woman has had her dream of buying a home to enjoy her retirement destroyed after she lost nearly £500,000 following the collapse of a payment services firm.
Pauline Creasey, of Dover, is owed £462,113 by the Portugal-based Premier FX.
She is one of 250 customers across the UK affected by its shutdown last summer and there is not enough money left behind to pay everyone back.
She had intended to buy a house in the UK after selling her home in Portugal.
But when the purchase of the UK house fell through she needed to deposit the money and did so with Premier FX.
Ms Creasey, originally from Elms Vale, is now back in Dover, after finishing her job in Portugal in the IT business.
But she is now renting and with her savings running out she believes she can afford that for another six months while she is not currently working.
Ms Creasey, a single parent with one daughter, said: “I am applying for jobs to keep us going.
“I couldn’t believe how easy it is for someone to take your money...” - Pauline Creasey
"Yet the money I had, if I hadn’t lost it, would have meant buying a house and living rent and mortgage free.
“A total 250 people have lost out but I know I am one of the biggest losers.
“I couldn’t believe how easy it is for someone to take your money.”
Ms Creasey, who is nearing retirement age, added: “We need to know where our money is – and when we will get it back.
“These are our life savings and most of us will struggle to go out and earn this money again.
“Many are suffering extreme economic harm and financial hardship from which they will not recover.”
Administrators have received claims of around £10.6 million from consumers – but report that the firm only left £1.1 million in assets.
The Financial Conduct Authority is investigating possible criminal activity at the firm.
Premier FX was authorised and regulated by the FCA as a money remittance firm.
This would mean handling sums sent by expatriates to their home countries.
Yet the administrators have said that Premier FX was undertaking activities beyond that authorisation such as deposit taking.
The sole director and shareholder of the firm, Peter Rexstrew, died following heart surgery at a Lisbon hospital on June 16 last year, according to Portugese media reports.
The firm went into administration on August 13, 2018.
Ms Creasey took her case to Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke.
He discussed it with FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey during a Treasury Select Committee hearing on Tuesday last week Jan 29.
There the MP said: “The firm was able to misrepresent its FCA authorisation, which was for remittances, and effectively represented itself as a deposit taker.
“How was it able to act beyond its authorisation?”
Mr Bailey replied: “If that is what they did – and there’s a strong suspicion that’s what they did – then it’s illegal, first of all.
“We are carrying out an investigation. I am very concerned that the money of individuals has been lost in this activity.
"My team so far, I can tell you, has looked at nearly 250,000 transaction records to try and trace this money – and we will not stop doing this.
“The principal involved in this activity is said to be dead.
"I think it is incumbent upon his relatives, his business partners, to tell us where the money is.”
Ms Creasey says the firm claimed it was authorised by the FCA and Barclays to hold escrow accounts (use for real estate transactions such selling houses).
Clients would be protected by the firm’s compensation scheme as well as UK banking laws.
Ms Creasey had been using Premier FX since 2006 for foreign exchange transactions and had found the service prompt and cost effective.
It sponsored TV programme A Place in the Sun, was a member of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and recommended by a number of high profile financial and legal firms.
“If that is what they did – and there’s a strong suspicion that’s what they did – then it’s illegal, first of all... - FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey on the suggestion Premier FX was acting beyong its authorisation
After the hearing, Mr Elphicke added: “I am deeply concerned by this case and am determined to do everything I can to help Pauline and other victims of Premier FX get their money back.
“Innocent people have been left in terrible financial hardship. The authorities need to get to the bottom of this urgently.”
Premier FX went into voluntary liquidation and a statement from the FCA shortly afterwards said: “We are very concerned that there was criminal activity taking place at Premier FX in relation to missing funds.
“We are investigating the business undertaken by Premier FX and will take action against any individuals we find to have broken the law in order to return money to customers of the firm.”
Meanwhile friends and neighbours have already jumped to help Ms Creasey through food banks.
And she says she has already has had one delivery as her income gradually dwindles.
Ms Creasey had told this to Mr Bailey in a hard-hitting letter, demanding action from the FCA.
She said: “It is sickening and depressing for me to have to expose myself to neighbours, friends and family like this.
They thought I was smart and successful and never thought I’d be a victim.
“The local food bank has been round with food boxes following my elderly neighbours reporting my situation.
“Innocent people have been left in terrible financial hardship..." - Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke
"How have I arrived at this?”
She added: “The FX firms operating in this market need to be closed down - none of them can prove adequate insurance or safe segregated accounts for clients.
"This fraud will keep happening as they know the FCA wait until the next batch of victims complain and report fraud.
“Pay us and put the Premier FX staff in court on criminal charges. You have vast information to act.”
The parliamentary session heard the FCA had been warned about Premier FX.
Mr Elphicke told Mr Bailey: “In 2017, the Bank of Portugal fined Premier FX for trading outside the regulations in compliance with its license in Portugal and reported that to the FCA.
"There was no follow-up by the FCA under safeguarding regulations. Why was the breach not detected?”
Mr Bailey replied: “We will look thoroughly at the record of this case. The first priority is to find the money, frankly, because that’s what we owe to the victims.
"If we missed clues in this case, particularly in the reauthorisation process under the European Payment Services Directive, we will look at that.
"I don’t know which jurisdiction some of this activity went on in yet, because it crosses over between the UK and Portugal – but we will look at that.”