June 16, 2024
Investments

An unsolicited email offering a fake investment in cognac with Hoffman Chase leaves a very sour taste: TONY HETHERINGTON investigates


Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

A.T. writes: I have received an unsolicited email from a company called Hoffman Chase. 

It claims to be offering high-return investments in cognac, but while it only appears to have opened for business in January, some of its favourable reviews on Trustpilot must be fake as they refer to investments made months ago. 

Tony Hetherington replies: Well spotted! Trustpilot had already deleted some reviews for Hoffman Chase, but more remained. They included one from ‘Michael Peters’ who claimed to have invested last August: ‘My collection has already increased in value after only a few months.’ 

And ‘Christie Reynolds’ told Trustpilot she invested last May, saying: ‘I am pretty new in this market, but I am sure they just gained a very loyal customer.’

Bizarre: Hoffman Chase says investors could lose everything

Bizarre: Hoffman Chase says investors could lose everything

I highlighted these to Trustpilot, and they have now disappeared. Trustpilot told me: ‘In the case of Hoffman Chase Ltd, since the beginning of the year, our fraud detection software identified and removed 43 fake reviews.’ The cognac company was given a warning and told to clean up its act, but this did not work.

Trustpilot said: ‘We have further evidence to suggest Hoffman Chase Ltd has continued to procure fake reviews.’ Another dozen have now been deleted. Trustpilot has posted a consumer warning on its page about the company, and demanded that Hoffman Chase remove the fake reviews.

The bogus write-ups are just the beginning of the questions though. Hoffman Chase tells investors that their cognac is safe because it is stored in the London Wine Tunnels where it is fully insured. There is no such company as the London Wine Tunnels, but there is a genuine storage company called simply The Wine Tunnels, with facilities in Kent and Wiltshire. Could this be it? Definitely not, according to its director Sarah Labat. She told me: ‘We can 100 per cent confirm Hoffman Chase are not a client of ours. We have never spoken or had any contact with them, and they are not a company we have previously heard of in the wine and spirits UK market.’

And if investors’ cognac is safely stored and insured, how does this explain the curious statement Hoffman Chase displays on a separate website at cognacinvestment.com? It warns no one should invest ‘unless you are prepared for the possibility of losing all invested funds’. What could go so badly wrong investors would lose every penny?

I put this question and others to Hoffman Chase’s sole director. She is Thea Hoffman, from Brighton, and I asked where she acquired her expertise in cognac investment as the only background I found showed she worked for a local estate agent. I also asked about the fake reviews, some of which are copied word for word from elsewhere. Until she took over and changed its name, her company was called Apex Gallery and was owned by art dealer Ryan Marsh. The Hoffman Chase website selling cognac did not even exist.

Hoffman replied: ‘This is extremely confusing. I will review your points and respond back shortly.’ But she failed to answer any questions about her cognac, its storage, insurance, or her knowledge of the business. Bizarrely, her only response has been to blame unknown people who she says have chosen to place fake reviews on Trustpilot. She told me: ‘It certainly seems some have not been genuinely left. We have reported numerous unrecognised reviews ourselves and as you can see, they have been removed.’

Its website boasts: ‘At Hoffman and Chase, transparency is the bedrock of our philosophy.’ But only until someone asks awkward questions, it seems. This cognac scheme leaves a very sour taste.

WE’RE WATCHING YOU 

Two weeks ago I reported that cannabis investment company Orange River Capital had failed to pay a promised dividend to investors who had bought preference shares. 

The shares have been marketed since 2022, with a fixed dividend of 15 per cent, but they give investors no say in the running of the company, controlled by its sole director Lee Farbrace.

I warned two years ago the share offer document was riddled with falsehoods. Farbrace has filed no accounts since those for 2021, which is an offence. Investors have been told their money was used to buy a minority stake in Greengrow Capital, a South African company said to operate a medicinal cannabis plantation.

Missing money: Cannabis investment company Orange River Capital has failed to pay a promised dividend to investors

Missing money: Cannabis investment company Orange River Capital has failed to pay a promised dividend to investors

Now, in a statement to his investors, Farbrace has blamed his partners in South Africa for his own failure to pay investors, saying they put too much effort into research. 

He told shareholders: ‘The undesired effect of seeking scientific breakthrough above profitability is that Greengrow has not commercially produced revenue to meet a distribution to Orange River Capital, and therefore ORC is unable to pay its 2023 dividend.’ No accounts have been issued for Greengrow.

Farbrace’s solution is to ask investors for more money. He is offering the same fixed dividend preference shares to raise a fresh US$1.2 million to support new management in South Africa, he claims. 

He emphasises ORC owns 49 per cent of Greengrow, but with no accounts for either, it is impossible to answer the question: 49 per cent of what?

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned. 



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