International financial watchdogs have issued warnings over nearly two dozen "all or nothing" financial gambling websites fronted by Scotland's most controversial 'offshore' companies.

State agencies in America, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, Israel and Cyprus have all published formal cautions about unregulated online binary options businesses registered through Scottish shell firms.

Tycoon Sir Richard Branson this week warned such sites were "terrifyingly deceptive" after police in England said known fraud related to binary options had tripled in the UK in the last year alone.

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Overseas regulators believe punters - or "investors" in the jargon of the industry - have lost hundreds of millions of pounds over the last decade betting on the movements of currencies or other financial instruments against each other.

Regulators say hard sell tactics are used to lure punters to wager more and more in to high-risk, high-pressure, high-stake bets on, say, whether the Chilean peso will rise or fall against the Canadian dollar in the next five minutes. The FBI this spring warned many such sites are rigged so that the house always win.

An investigation by The Herald has been found 43 Scottish shell companies as corporate fronts for binary options sites. Of these, 41 are Scottish limited partnerships or SLPs, a kind of business which allows their owners to be secret, file no accounts and pay no taxes. At least 22 of the shell companies are named as owners or payment processors on websites subject to international warnings.

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Another 140 English shell companies are fronting for binary options websites, sparking concern among politicians that the industry was using Britain as a smokescreen of respectability within the EU.

Although global in reach, the calls centres driving the binary options website have traditionally mostly been based in Tel Aviv. This week Israeli sources told The Herald they believed the industry was moving "offshore".

The country's most senior financial regulator last year referred to the business as "filth" tarnishing Israel's commercial reputation. As an outright ban goes through the Knesset, the country's parliament, police this week raided addresses and charged a 38-year-old owner of a binary options firm with extortion and receiving money fraudulently.

The SNP's Roger Mullin, who is currently campaigning to be re-elected as MP for Kirkcaldy, led campaign in the last UK Parliament for reform of British corporate law and, especially, the increasingly scandal-hit SLPs.

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Mr Mullin said: "It is deeply worrying that yet more UK operations, including SLPs, are increasingly at the heart of unregulated financial gambling sites that are little more than scams.

"Although I thought the operations were mainly centred around Tel Aviv, it is now evident the scams are migrating offshore via UK firms.

"This is a matter the UK police and UK Security Minister need to take action on, and quickly.

"How many stories of this type need to come to light before strong action is taken by the UK Government?"

Labour's Jackie Baillie, one of the first politicians to spot problems with SLPs, called on Scottish and UK administrations to come together to "stop dodgy companies using Scotland as a base".

Ms Baillie added "It is increasingly clear that urgent action is needed to stop the abuse of SLPs. We must not allow SLPs to be used as a front for money laundering activity or for on-line high stakes gambling sites."

Over the last two years The Herald and international partners have identified hundreds of SLPs and other Scottish shell companies involved in everything from mass tax avoidance and unethical online business to alleged serious criminality, including child pornography, corrupt arms exports from Ukraine to the Middle East and the biggest money-laundering case ever identified, the $20bn Russian Laundromat.

We first recorded the migration of the formal ownership of what are believed to be Israeli-based binary options sites from the Pacific tax haven of the Marshall Islands to Scotland last summer. Last November we revealed that a Dundee SLP called TSIE was acting as a front for a website called DGI Market which was fined £125,000 in the first big crackdown by the Israeli Securities Authority.

Last December the British Columbia Securities Commission or BCSC urged Canadians to "exercise caution" with an online business called StoxMarket. The website says it is owned in the traditional tax haven of Dominica but payments are processed by an Edinburgh SLP called OCapital. The SLP is one of six now named in this way by BSCS.

Italy's financial regular Consob has also named a website called Brokeryard, which says it owned and operated by OCapital, as being unlicensed. The Italians have also named another four binary options sites fronted by SLPs, including two, ExxonFx and UniqOption, which list their owners as a Glasgow firm called Revolution Markets.

SLPs acting for binary options, including those name above, are clustering around two addresses, one in Bath Street, Glasgow, and another in St Vincent Street, Edinburgh. Both are mail drops and the partnerships concerned have no physical presence in the country bar their virtual “brass plates”.

The Virgin boss has complained online criminals are using his name in order to dupe people in to signing up for a binary options account. Sir Richard said: "These scams can be terrifyingly deceptive and I would urge everyone to look out for these stories and report them as soon as you see them.”

Detective Superintendent Glenn Maleary of City of London Police said:"Opportunist fraudsters have taken advantage of an unregulated market and done everything can to defraud unsuspecting investors.

"Anyone who invests in binary options should be vigilant about who they are trading with and should follow our protection advice to ensure that they don’t fall victim to what is becoming a commonplace investment scam."