The cooperation of Payvision B.V., a Dutch supervised Payment Service provider, with the cybercriminals Gal Barak, Uwe Lenhoff, and his accomplices (Gery Shalon, Vlad Smirnov, and others) began in 2013. The cooperation ended at the end of January 2019 with the arrest of Gal Barak and Uwe Lenhoff.
When reading the summary below, please remember that ING, Amsterdam– one of the leading European banks – acquired the shares of Payvision in March 2018 at a valuation of € 360 million and after thoughtful (?) due diligence.
The marketing material!
Payvision B.V. Amsterdam – a 100% subsidiary of ING Groep, Amsterdam – has been a technical payment service provider for high-risk online customers (CardNotPresent) since its inception in 2002.
After Payvision became a licensed and supervised payment institution, and license partner of the VISA/Mastercard credit card companies in 2012, Payvision offered its own acquiring activities to high-risk merchants. In its statement to the Austrian investigative authorities, Rudolf Booker, the founder and general manager of Payvision up to 30 April 2020 summarized Payvision’s activities as follows.
Onboarding of NOVOX Capital Ltd in 2013
Since March 2013, Payvision has been working for NOVOX Capital Ltd, the predecessor company of the criminal organization around Gal Barak and Uwe Lenhoff. In April 2014, the Cypriot regulatory authority (CySec) onboarded NOVOX Capital Ltd (in the following “NOVOX”) as a licensed investment services company. NOVOX operated the following “approved” binary options websites (also called “brands”): optionsbit.eu, zoomtraderglobal.com, optionstars.com, optionmerchants.com, AND the following “non-approved” binary options websites: optionbit.com, optionstarsglobal.com (CySec approves each separate domain). NOVOX Capital Ltd appeared on the cybertrading websites as the owning and operating company for all supported binary options platforms.
Already before Payvision onboarded NOVOX and its brands, the web was full with negative comments about optionbit. And already on February 24, 2014, the French supervisory authority AFM warned about the binary options website www.optionbit.com, operated by NOVOX Capital Ltd.
On December 6, 2016, the Canadian British Columbia Securities Commission warned about Option Stars and OptionStarsGlobal, owned by NOVOX Capital Ltd.
Payvision was one of several credit card processors (acquirers) for NOVOX Capital Ltd. Payvision processed card transactions for both the approved and non-approved websites, according to the statement Booker dated July 12, 2019. Payvision onboarded NOVOX Capital Ltd, the supervised entity. The domains – operated by NOVOX and not approved by CySec – showed operating companies based in the British Virgin Islands and Seychelles, respectively, and falsely claimed to have a license as Vanuatu. According to Booker´s statement for the Austrian prosecutor and the unapproved domains, NOVOX was the onboarded merchant.
The beneficial owners of NOVOX were Israelis Elan and Shoram Hilel, also called the Hilel brothers. Back in 2013, the Hilel brothers also owned, together with Ilan Tzorya, Vlad Smirnov, and Gery Shalon, the trading and CRM software Tradologic used by NOVOX for all its brands.
Payvision was connected to the various binary option websites operated by NOVOX via technical interfaces to the Tradologic software and also acted as a payment gateway software provider.
When Barak and Lenhoff came in!
In early 2014, the Israeli Gal Barak started building a call center in Sofia, Bulgaria. Being referred by Tzorya, started to manage the brands (= binary option websites) ptionStarsGlobal (not licensed) and OptionStars (licensed) for NOVOX Capital Ltd. Back then, NOVOX was the onboarded merchant for both binary options websites and Payvision just was one of several payment processors working for the scammers.
In the spring of 2015, the German Uwe Lenhoff started to set off the brand option888. In the beginning, option888 was operated under the license of NOVOX. Lenhoff paid a license fee to NOVOX for “using” their license. Also for this website at the beginning NOVOX was the onboarded merchant with Payvision for the card payments done by Payvision.
Agressive selling style and a dispute!
From the beginning Gal Barak applied very aggressive sales methods (even compared to the Hilel brothers). The boiler room employees got special trainings, promises of high bonuses and threats for underperformance. Lenhoff was heavily impressed by the performance of Gal Barak`s boiler room employees and turned to Barak for support to educate his people in convincing victims to transfer money for ficticous trading.
This resulted in increased investor warnings from regulators and more and more customer complaints to the Cypriot regulator for optionstars, optionstarsglobal and option888.
In 2015 more and more disputes arose between Barak/Lenhoff and the Hilel brothers as NOVOX withheld more and more money for the platforms operated by Gal Barak and Uwe Lenhoff due to massive customer complaints and an ongoing audit by CySec. At the same time, Barak/Lenhoff claimed that NOVOX repeatedly used the customer base of the “new” platforms to operate their platforms.
The arrest of Gery (Gabriel) Shalon!
2015 saw the arrest of Gery Shalon, co-owner of Tradologic Software in Israel. Gery Shalon is a Georgian criminal. He became one of the foremost perpetrators of U.S. history’s most significant data theft. Shalon was the mastermind behind cyberattacks on financial institutions and other companies worldwide. In October 2015, Shalon was arrested and charged with two other suspects. They were accused of being involved in several crimes, including hacking, identity theft, fraud, and money laundering. The charges were varied and included stealing information on more than 100 million customer records.
Lenhoff and Booker met
In the winter of 2015, Lenhoff got to know Rudolf Booker/CEO of Payvision, personally through a mutual business partner (Dirk-Jan Bakker). A close business and personal cooperation started that resulted in thousands of consumers losing their lifetime savings
CySec got active!
At the end of 2016, the Cypriot regulator imposed the highest ever fine (up to then) of € 175,000 on NOVOX Capital Ltd for non-compliance with the imposed rules.
The fine split as follows:
€70,000 comes for providing investment advice without authorization. The remainder of the fine is imposed for the defendant’s violations:
€10,000 for not maintaining proper internal control mechanisms for the approval of advertising materials
€20,000 for inadequate outsourcing activities to third parties, such as customer service and call center activities.
€30,000 for not acting in the best interests of the clients.
€30,000 for the dissemination of misleading advertising materials by third parties.
€15,000 for providing information unsuitable for clients.
VISA/Mastercard fined Payvision for high charge-back ratios
Payvision was fined for too high charge-back rations in processing optionstars/optionstarsglobal and optionbit with € 480.000 in March 2017.
Splitting up with NOVOX.
Late in 2016, Lenhoff and Barak finally parted ways with Hilel brothers due to the many complaints and ongoing disputes about the money. The Hilel brothers rejected the aggressive selling methods of Barak and Lenhoff and/or asked for a bigger share of the stolen money for providing the licensed entity and taking the risk with CySec.
2017 also saw the exit of the Hilel brothers from the Tradologic software investment (this software was used for all brands done by NOVOX). So In 2017, Vlad Smirnov and Gary Shalon acquired the majority stake in Tradologic Software. Gal Barak and Uwe Lenhoff acquired 10% each in the company holding the IP rights to Tradologic Software.
Payvision also made its choice.
At the end of December 2017, they stopped working for NOVOX and joined Lenhoff and Barak`s criminal organization.
Payvision`s processing volume for NOVOX
The total volume of card payments processed by Payvision for NOVOX from 2013 to 2017 for the brands amounted to € 23 mio. according to the information provided by Booker to the Austrian authorities (no guarantee for completeness!). There is no documented personal relationship between Booker with the beneficial owners of NOVOX, and there is proof that Payvision was only one of several acquirers working for NOVOX.
The criminal organization Uwe Lenhoff and Gal Barak prospers.
In March 2016, Uwe Lenhoff acquired the brands zoomtrader.com, zoomtraderglobal.com and zoomtrader.info in addition to the fraud platform option888, which he operated anyway. In the following months, Lenhoff also opened the brands xmarkets, tradovest and tradeinvest90. for all these brands aggressive
Due to the close personal relationship between Lenhoff and Booker, Payvision became the main payment gateway provider and card processing entity for Lenhoff´s brands.
As early as spring 2016, Uwe Lenhoff took it upon himself to resell Payvision´s services to his business partners. Gal Barak was the first one to be introduced.
So starting with summer 2016 Payvision also became the main payment service provider (payment gateway provider and acquirer) for Gal Barak and his fraudulent brands. From 2015 to 2019 Barak operated the investment scams optionstarsglobal, cryptopoint, xtraderfx, safemarkets and goldenmarkets.
In total, Payvision processed victim credit card payments totaling € 55.6 million for Uwe Lenhoff from 02/2016 to 01/2019.
In the period from September 2016 to 01/2019, Payvision processed a total of €75.6 million in victim payments for Gal Barak’s online fraud websites (again the figures are taken from the info provided by Booker so no guarantee for completeness can be given):
Payvision´s contribution to the fraud.
Payvision´s services to the brands included acquiring (processing the card payments), acting as a Payment gateway provider (providing alternative payment methods and rerouting), and crediting Ponzi refunds for the victims.
By ignoring and violating all applicable care of duty and legal money laundering rules, Payvision, a European-supervised credit card company, they have onboarded pure shell companies with (homeless) strawmen posing as beneficial owners and managing directors.
Neither of the onboarded merchants had a license for offering investment services in Europe nor a money transmitter license.
Nevertheless, Payvision used a Merchant Category Code (MCC) for licensed services. So Payvision purposefully miscoded the kind of transactions done. Thereby defrauding the issuing banks and increasing the transaction volume processed drastically.
The websites of the fraudulent brands displayed offshore companies registered in the Republic of Samoa, Seychelles, and the British Virgin Islands.
Regulators in Europe frequently-issued warnings about xtraderfx, option888, goldenmarkets, optionstarsglobal, safemarkets due to massive consumer complaints.
Hundreds of defrauded consumers desperately filed charge-back requests and fraud complaints with their banks (card issuers for the consumers). Payvision received all of them and was contractually required to review them.
But Payvision continued and ignored all red flags. This unscrupulousness, in combination with the Barak´s and Lenhoff´s aggressive selling strategies, resulted in a massive increase in the number of transactions processed by Payvision for the fraud platforms, created a source of income for all those involved in the fraud, and resulted in thousands of innocent consumers losing their lifetime savings.
Gery Shalon reentered the scene!
2017 also saw the exit of the Hilel brothers from the Tradologic investment. In 2017, Vlad Smirnov and Gary Shalon acquired a majority stake in Tradologic Software. Gal Barak and Uwe Lenhoff acquired 10% each in the company holding the IP rights to Tradologic Software.
With Gery Shalon being a big scammer and promising a massive number of transactions, Booker also was eager to be acquainted with him. Subsequently, through the mediation of Uwe Lenhoff, business relations were also established between Payvision, Gery Shalon, and Vladimir Smirnov. So Payvision also processed the BINEX brand. The trading platform www.binex.ru used to work with Tradologic software and used Dreams Pay as its payment system. BINEX primarily focused on customers in Russia and Ukraine, where offices are also maintained. According to the documents available to us, the center of the BINEX operation was Moscow, but an office in Kiev was also operated to acquire Ukrainian customers. Already in August 2018 a police raid was done in BINEX office facilities in Kiev. No issues at all for Payvision, Payvision continued its services.
Soon after his arrest Gery Shalon was able to agree a (whistleblower) deal with the FBI. When he was held in home custody in New York, he was heavily involved in Barak and Lenhoff`s brand development and defrauding of European consumers.
2018 was the harvesting year for the scammers
2018 was the best-performing year for the scammers.
With the unleashed support of Shalon´s marketing capabilities, the deposits and number of transactions done in 2018 peaked mainly for the websites xtraderfx and optionstarsglobal.
Higher charge-back ratios accompanied the increased transaction volume. More frequently, Booker called Barak telling him about more significant risks and asking for higher transaction fees and charge-back handling fees. So in June 2017, Payvision and Gal Barak established a new merchant agreement for all brands done by Barak, setting a processing fee of more than 7% and a fixed fee of € 24,- for handling every single charge-back request. (Be aware this was without the charges for the payment gateway service fees and for handling the Ponzi refunds).
The high fees charged and the aggressive selling volume paid off well for Payvision. Payvision´s gross revenue in 2018 increased accordingly. Booker pushed payvisionßs gross income from 2017 € 119 mio to € 192 mio (in total, 73 mio or 61 % increase) in 2018.
With this excellent business performance, Rudolf Booker could sell his shares in Payvision to ING – one of the biggest European banks – for a valuation of € 360 mio! (in 2017, the EBIT of Payvision was € 886.000, and the net result was – € 465.000). ING celebrated the acquisition, and thousands of European consumers lost all of their savings to unscrupulous criminals.
Next part will tell how the success story of Barak and Payvision ended. Stay tuned