Wilsons Detectives Croydon has linked fraudster Mark Hill-Wood / Philipp Buffet he Advertiser has linked fraudster Mark Hill-Wood to Stellar Intelligence, another dodgy business that is not, as it claims, based in Mayfair
WHEN Mark Castley was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison at Luton Crown Court in 2008 his criminal career appeared over. He was already well known to the law but his notoriety as one of Britain’s most prolific conmen had finally caught up with him as well. “On Google he appears as a fraudster,” said his barrister, “but now he wants to behave in a different fashion.”
The conman, for the first time in his life, was true to his word – if only in one sense.
When he came out of prison he retired Mark Castley, created a new identity and carried on his scams. A quarter of a century since his first conviction, an in-depth Advertiser investigation has connected him to a new identity and another misleading business.
Last March the Advertiser revealed that Castley was posing as Mark Hill-Wood, a supposedly Oxford-educated former Government operative behind FullProof Intelligence.
Using fake advertisements, imagined endorsements and bogus accreditations he tried to create the impression FullProof was a global security company which had rescued a wealthy heiress kidnapped in South Africa and whose clients include the Saudi royal family.
Hill-Wood told the Advertiser he was operating FullProof as a sole-trader so was not in breach of a 2011 court order which barred him from holding a directorship for seven years.
This was imposed by a judge alongside a three-year prison sentence when, under the name Mark Cas and living in Croydon, he conned athletes out of thousands of pounds in the build up to the London 2012 Olympics.
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Undeterred by his cover and methods being blown, the conman continues to run FullProof Intelligence and to use his Hill-Wood identity. The Advertiser has also found extensive links between him and a new alias, private detective Marc Marshall, and another dodgy business, the supposedly Mayfair-based Stellar Intelligence.
When we contacted the man posing as Marshall he denied being Hill-Wood or having any link to FullProof Intelligence. However, Wilsons Detectives has traced Hill-Wood to an expensive flat in Camberwell, south London – the same address the domain name Stellarintelligence.com was registered to when the security firm’s website was set up last September.
Croydon Private Investigators Wilsons Detectives reports:
Mark Hill-Wood at the flat in Camberwell, where Stellar Intelligence’s domain name is registered
There are numerous other pieces of evidence linking the two together and to show Stellar Intelligence is not the business it claims to be.
At first glance Marshall’s profile on business website LinkedIn appears impressive. He too claims to be a former field operative for a “Government organisation”, who speaks Spanish, Russian and French. Among his numerous “specialities” he lists major crime investigations, counter-terrorism operations and experience with firearms.
He says those skills have helped him “improve the tactical response capabilities” of governments and HNW (high net worth) figures.
The claims on Marshall’s CV are matched only by Hill-Wood – literally. He also purports to be a highly-skilled former Government employee (though his work was so sensitive he cannot reveal the details). In fact, parts of both pages are identical.
Both men claim to be members of the Proceeds of Crime Lawyers’ Association (POCLA), whose ranks include judges, barristers, solicitors and accountants. POCLA’s logo appears on the websites of both FullProof and Stellar Intelligence. The organisation, however, says it has no connection with Marshall, Hill-Wood or either business.
Chairman Andrew Mitchell QC said: “POCLA is a well-established organisation for lawyers, investigators and accountants; the very idea that someone should use our name and logo to advance his dishonest activities and life is a further indicator of the need for such professionals to be supportive of the association’s work.”
According to Marshall’s LinkedIn profile, he attended Cranleigh School, a boarding school in the village of Cranleigh, Surrey, before winning a place at Oxford University (like Hill-Wood) where he graduated in 1984 with a master’s degree in political science and government.
Cranleigh and Oxford told the Advertiser they could find no record of Marc Marshall having ever been a student.
Parts of Marc Marshall’s and Mark Hill-Wood’s LinkedIn profiles are identical
He also claimed to have worked at Stellar Intelligence for more than six years but the domain name for its website has only been registered since September 29, 2015. Marshall’s LinkedIn profile has recently been amended to show his start date as May 2014.
Moreover the offices FullProof and Stellar Intelligence claim they are based in have no record of either business. According to its website, FullProof’s offices are in 4 Lombard Street, alongside leading names in the banking and insurance industries. The receptionist told our reporter neither FullProof or Hill-Wood had ever worked there, before asking: “Is he still using our address?”
Stellar Intelligence claims its offices are in Devonshire House, in Mayfair, the most expensive and exclusive business district in the country. The office manager told the Advertiser the company was not based there.
Mike Brooks Overseas Director Wilsons Consultancy Investigations
Devonshire House, left, and 4 Lombard Street, right
Stellar Intelligence’s goes to other lengths to appear legitimate. Visitors to its website are greeted by a video (created from stock footage by a company called FTZ Studios) featuring a voiceover describing how the business provides “solid proof and concrete evidence” to victims of cyber-attacks and corporate espionage, as well as people who suspect their partner is having an affair. “No matter what the situation” Stellar promises to “find the vital facts” while offering “reliability, confidentiality and results”.
The website, however, is full of bogus claims. For example, it says the company’s name and logo are registered trademarks. According to the Intellectual Property Office, as of today, neither Stellar Intelligence nor its logo are trademarked.
As well as POCLA, the website also claims Stellar is a member of the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA), a Swiss organisation representing the security industry. According to its online register, Stellar is not a member of the ICoCA. FullProof signed up in June last year, three months after the Advertiser asked Hill-Wood why he had displayed the logo without permission. Businesses are required to pay between $2,500 (£1,741) and $10,000 (£6,966) per year to become accredited.
FullProof’s website features testimonials from anonymous clients, such as a Magic Circle law firm, a “well-known singer on a worldwide tour” and a “high-profile businesswoman”. Stellar Intelligence’s website also includes testimonials but, in these videos, customers can see the person speaking. In one a woman claiming to be an “agent working with many stars in the entertainment industry” says Stellar has supplied her with bodyguards.
In another, a man says he represents an “oil and gas client” and claims Stellar Intelligence has provided “maritime security” for an offshore drilling operation near the west African coast. Two of the ten videos feature the same person. She describes how Stellar’s security systems gave her company peace of mind after a cyber-attack and, in another video, she claims Stellar provided “two expert witnesses with the highest credentials” during a malicious negligence case. Unusually, the website also includes a testimonial from a man describing the exact same situation, word for word.
A quick search online for “paid testimonials” reveals why the videos sound so false. The people, or in this case actors, from Stellar’s videos are freelancers on Fiverr.com, an online marketplace where people offer to perform a wide variety of services for prices starting at $5 (£3.95), and a similar site PeoplePerHour.com.
Seller ‘Sanpan’ provided Stellar with a testimonial (above) about the company discretely securing the evidence she needed to start divorce proceedings against her cheating husband. According to her advert on Fiverr, for the basic $5, Sanpan will produce a “realistic and natural video testimonial” by reading a script of up to 50 words.
Wilsons detectives sent Sanpan a script about a woman who suspected her husband was having an affair only to get ripped-off by a con artist posing as a private detective. The lines were similar to the work she completed for Stellar but our reporter was not asked to provide any evidence the scenario was true. A few days later we were sent the finished video (below). Just as with her previous work, Sanpan appeared professional and believable as she explained how a journalist helped make sure no one else became a victim of the fraudster’s schemes.
What would the actors in Stellar Intelligence’s videos say if they knew they were being used to promote a business linked to a career conman?
Sanpan asked only if the other actors had been asked the same questions. Another seller, generatecashbiz, who created the maritime security video, said he would contact Fiverr. “Right now it says the buyer retains all the rights,” he explains before thanking the Advertiser for alerting him. “I will run it up the legal flagpole.” Bizbuz, who claimed to run a removals company with poor cyber-security, said: “Of course I’m not OK with it but there’s little I can do other than report it to customer support. This is a public site, open to the world, and it doesn’t surprise me some people with questionable or criminal backgrounds misuse it.”
A Fiverr spokeswoman said: “Deception is not in the spirit of our marketplace and the testimonials you’ve referenced are offered by actors, with their services advertised as such. The buyer has a responsibility to disclose the relationship of the testimonial-giver on his website. It’s disappointing that he has chosen to misrepresent their work.”
Fake testimonials are only one method Hill-Wood uses to make his ventures appear legitimate. FullProof’s YouTube page includes videos which show its logo on an F1 Car, a passenger jet and a London bus. Another search on Fiverr’s website reveals sellers offering to do all those things. Why splash out big money on an advertising campaign when you can pay someone on the other side of the world $5 to put your business’ logo on a Mercedes F1 car? The Advertiser also paid the same amount to a graphic designer to make a logo for a fictional company called Marc Marshal ISA Fraud. Again the seller expressed no misgivings about the order. The only question we were asked by the person who superimposed the logo on the side of a bus was whether we had a higher resolution image. We stopped short of making a fully-functioning website but the experiment showed how simple and inexpensive creating the illusion is.
The video testimonials and digitally created advertisements may look unconvincing to a suspecting eye but similar tactics helped Hill-Wood, then known as Mark Cas, trick professional athletes into thinking his company, Global Sponsorship Group, was a legitimate source of funding in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics. On its website it claimed to have a sponsorship portfolio of £35 million, the backing of FTSE 100 companies and the endorsement of professional athletes like British hurdler Andy Turner.
Too good to be true
Andy Turner wins gold at the European Athletics Championship in Barcelona, 2010
It was too good to be true but Andy Turner was desperate.