'I see lies spun to build my trust'

Housing fraud victim Helen Armstrong
Housing fraud victim Helen Armstrong said the more research she did, the sicker she felt (Supplied)

A convicted conman has orchestrated a multimillion-dollar housing fraud, taking thousands of dollars from investors, before putting the company into liquidation.

Notorious fraudster Philip James Whitley, now known as Philip James Dale, is alleged to have told clients their tiny house builds were underway and that the business was secure - but the company, Duro, has liquefied and left clients tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

South Auckland-based early childhood education consultant Helen Armstrong signed a contract with the company in January this year.

The 26-year-old invested her life savings, just over $33,000, and discovered late this week that her project doesn't even exist - saying she has been lied to the whole time.

Ms Armstrong told RadioLIVE on Sunday she received a phone call several days ago informing her of the insolvency.

Told her trailer was complete, she was asked to administer a further deposit of just over $20,000.

"I did some research, and the more I discovered the sicker I felt."

Duro was founded in 2016, and proposed building tiny houses and trailers to transport them as a low-cost alternative to the high-priced housing market.

Philip was a shareholder of the company and his wife the director.

An infamous fraudster, Philip was imprisoned for five years in 2010 after defrauding 490 investors for more than $5 million on the basis he had invested a computer software technology that could make him the world's richest man.

Removed as a shareholder from Duro two weeks before the company filed for liquidation, it is understood the company had acquired around $500,000 worth of sales.

Ms Armstrong believed she was fully informed, and had even taken a tour of the Christchurch-based factory.

"Phil showed me the programme and told me he was an engineer. I did my research and nothing came up with anything other than positive… I never saw it coming."

While she knows of around 10 others in the same position, she has also heard of others who aren't part of the tiny house community.

"We're a minority group of people trying to find an affordable housing solution, people who are already strapped for cash. Everyone feels that they've been taken advantage of."

She said looking back, she can see he had a method of building trust.

"Now that I know the truth, I see lies he spun to build my trust - he asked why I'd been in Christchurch and I said it was to do with my church. He told me he'd been a youth pastor and used to counsel trouble teens, and had run youth camps."

The liquidating company, Waterstone Insolvency, said she won't be told further details until early next week.

Believing she performed all due diligence, Ms Armstrong has struggled to think of what further precautionary measures might have been taken to avoid the situation she has found herself in.

Ms Armstrong's advice for those looking to invest is to not take anybody's word for anything.

"If I had really pushed for the trust thing I probably would have made sure I'd physically seen the trailer before I put down the deposit. I've gone over it and over it and kick myself for trusting this guy."