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Crypto scammers use hedge fund billionaire for promotion

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
The BitsMax website claiming to show an association with David Harding. Photo: Screenshot/Yahoo Finance UK

Scammers are using false endorsements from a hedge fund billionaire to try and lure victims.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) this week issued a warning about BitsMax, a cryptocurrency scam claiming to be run by David Harding.

Harding is the billionaire founder of Winton Capital, a British hedge fund. BitsMax’s website lists the details of Winton Capital on its site and claims it is a subsidiary of the business. The site also features Harding’s headshot and an apparent quote, claiming he is the CEO of BitsMax.

Read more: Hedge fund boss who gave £100m to Cambridge suffers 36% profit slump

BitsMax’s website also links to several crypto industry websites that claim to have interviewed Harding about the company. One purported interview claims Harding said BitsMax could deliver investment returns of up to 1,825%.

A fake interview linked to by BitsMax, claiming to show David Harding endorsing the product. Photo: Screenshot/Yahoo Finance UK

Harding and the FCA have both called out BitsMax as a scam.

“Fraudsters are using the details of firms we authorise to try to convince people that they work for a genuine, authorised firm,” the FCA said in a warning notice published this week.

The FCA declined to comment on whether they were taking action.

A spokesperson for Winton Capital directed Yahoo Finance UK to a statement made on its website last week.

Read more: Hedge fund billionaire Harding gives Cambridge £100m

“It has come to our attention certain websites and social media channels are making false claims of association with Winton Group Limited and David Harding,” the company said in the statement.

“Certain of these websites, including BitsMax, are attempting to replicate our official website and branding. These websites and channels are unrelated to Winton Group Limited, its subsidiaries and its Founder and CEO, David Harding.”

David Harding, far left, with then Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford, and Claudia Harding after the Hardings donated £5m to the museum. (PA)

Calls to a number listed on BitsMax’s website went unanswered and the company did not respond to questions sent over email and over a chatbot on its website.

BitsMax’s website claims it is “based on [a] neural network, that allows you to make passive and stable profit, even if you absolutely do not understand cryptocurrencies.” It claims to offer returns of up to 5% per day and its website claims it has attracted $640,000 from 1,855 investors.

A spokesperson for AMBCrypto, which ran the fake interview with Harding, pointed Yahoo Finance UK to a disclaimer at the bottom of the article saying it was “a paid post, and should not be treated as news/advice”.

“This article was given to us directly by Bitsmax's marketing team,” the spokesperson said. “AMBCrypto did not conduct an interview with anybody. As mentioned in our article's first line, this was an interview by Teletype.”

The spokesperson said AMBCrypto would “investigate and take appropriate action” and subsequently deleted the article and published a “clarification” saying “an unfortunate error” appeared in the article. AMBCrypto declined to say how much they were paid to run the piece.

Scams and fake celebrity endorsements have long been a problem in cryptocurrency space. Fraudsters have used fake endorsements claiming to be by everyone from Elon Musk to The Rock.

David Harding is a pioneer of quant hedge funds, which use mathematical models to spot market inefficiencies that can be taken advantage of. He helped to cofound what is now Man Group (EMG.L) in 1987 before founding Winton Capital in 1997. Forbes estimates Harding’s net worth at $1.5bn. He and his wife made headlines last year after donating £100m to the University of Cambridge, where Harding studied.