Sheikh Scams

May 15, 2024
min read
Sheikh Scams

Opulence and illusions in a desert of deceit...

Dubai billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor had offered Jeremy Frommer, chairman & CEO of Creatd, an investment of 7.5 million dollars in early March 2024. While some might see this merely as a cautionary tale, the following story of a web of deceit is undeniably true, etching a stark warning into the glossy facade of global finance.

A seemingly innocuous email slithered its way into the inbox of Stanley Baumgart, a financial operator who had made some business introductions for Jeremy Frommer, the spirited chairman & CEO of Creatd $CRTD. The sender, presenting as a broker for the Al Habtoor Group, dangled a lucrative proposition— $7.5 million dollar investment from none other than the Dubai billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor himself. This was not the benevolent outreach of a wealthy sheikh but the opening move in what would become a masterclass in deception.

The initial inquiry didn’t come from the esteemed businessman himself; it arrived from a man who claimed to be Al Habtoor Group’s financial broker. From there, the plot to scam Frommer and his tenacious founding partner Justin Maury was in full swing.

Falling prey to scams is not out of the ordinary for startups and their founders. These scams range from fraudulent investors and fake grants to compliance threats, among others. Since becoming a publicly traded company in 2016, Creatd had raised nearly $100 million in capital and uncovered numerous adversaries who believed they could pull one over on the founders. But Frommer and Maury’s experience with Al Habtoor and his alleged broker, Ludovic Debus, was unique. It was marked by a degree of sophisticated strategy and calculation that the duo hadn’t experienced often in the company’s history.

After several emails and a WhatsApp conversation with Debus, Baumgart felt confident enough to forward the offer to Frommer. The information, like that of previous deals, appeared legitimate and clear cut: Al Habtoor would lend $7.5 million at a reasonable interest rate, and Creatd would pay $49,600 to cover Al Habtoor Group’s legal fees. Covering an investor’s legal expenses isn’t unheard of, but typically it is taken out of the proceeds upon closing of the transaction. Despite the irregularity, the term sheet was nonbinding. Al Habtoor Group only required Jeremy’s signature to move forward, so on the Creatd letterhead, Jeremy signed and sent his agreement. Debus requested the usual documents that an institutional investor requires—income statements, appraisals and market data, company intellectual property, company liabilities, etc.—to which Frommer said he would send, but wanted to first have an introductory call where he could meet Al Habtoor. The real theater began on that Zoom call.

Debus connected first on the call, clad in a sleek designer suit, his backdrop a tastefully decorated but oddly empty social club. Khalaf Al Habtoor appeared next, regal in a white robe and turban, his setting nondescript, his demeanor inscrutable. Chaos ensued early, with Debus interrupting Frommer during their introductions and chiding them for conducting themselves incorrectly.

In spite of the bizarre start, Frommer and Maury proceeded through the presentation that detailed their business and its operations. The atmosphere thickened with tension, but Frommer, seasoned in the dance of deal-making, pressed on. They were scarcely into their presentation when Al Habtoor abruptly interjected, "You’re approved!" The declaration was devoid of any of the usual deliberations that accompanied such substantial financial engagements. With a flicker of his camera, Al Habtoor was gone, leaving only his digital avatar behind.

By now, Frommer and Maury’s suspicions had heightened. Debus went on to explain the nuances of the deal, should the team move forward. Frommer would need to bring gifts, which could include iPhones or expensive watches—a strange request, considering the price difference between an iPhone and a Patek Phillipe. But Debus didn’t yet know where he wanted Frommer and Maury to meet him. First, he said Switzerland, but after opening the term sheet, switched to Belgium, as if he were reading a deal written for someone else. Frommer would have to pay for his own travel and hotel—though Al Habtoor Group would choose Frommer’s hotel—then they would pick him up, go to the bank, and sign the documents. Next, Frommer would have to present the gifts—though Debus was careful to note that this exchange could not be witnessed by anyone else—and as mentioned in the emails, Frommer would need to wire exactly $49,600 for legal fees.

The call concluded shortly after, leaving the Creatd team with more questions than answers. Frommer and Maury had another call scheduled less than a half hour later, but within that brief interlude, they returned to their Google calendar and hovered over the Al Habtoor email address. That was when they noticed that the address was, which doesn’t lead to the real Al Habtoor Group website, which could be reached via or Fortunately, the Creatd team’s next call was with a senior analyst speaking on behalf of a banking group. Frommer explained that there might be a high net-worth individual from Dubai investing in the company. The analyst asked for the play-by-play of the interaction, chiming in as Frommer relayed every step, as if he were present during the Zoom. “He explained that multiple companies have fallen for this type of scam over the last couple of years, and he’s personally known people who have traveled to the bank to close the deal. The scammers go as far as renting out a high-end office, filled with people typing away at desks, and everyone is in on the con as the business owner signs paperwork and goes to the bank,” said Maury.

Everything crystallized after that call. Interpol only opens an investigation into investment fraud when the amount exceeds $50,000—that’s why the scammers asked for $400 less. The domain attached to the scammers was registered one year ago, whereas the official Al Habtoor Group website was registered for over 20 years. The actual Al Habtoor official website also contains a warning for business owners to be wary of fraud performed in their name. Frommer and Maury discovered that the voice of the real Khalaf Al Habtoor sounds nothing like the man on the zoom—whom they suspect was an actor, or an advanced deep-fake.

The con artists ghosted after Frommer emailed that he wasn’t interested in paying their legal fees, likely crossing “Creatd” off their list, and moving on to their next potential victims. With millions of startups in existence and new ones cropping up daily, there is no shortage for scammers to rinse-and-repeat their strategy. Seasoned business owners like Frommer and Maury have enough foresight to detect red flags and prevent damage. In hindsight, though, the scam contained a level of sophistication that would be high enough to deceive new business owners, especially if they shrug those red flags off as cultural differences.

As they moved past the incident, Frommer and Maury's experience became a cautionary tale echoed in executive offices throughout the micro and small cap markets space. The allure of easy millions had been tempting, indeed, but the real treasure lay in the hard-earned wisdom from their brush with the darker side of global finance. 

Some names have been changed to protect individuals' privacy

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