CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWYER SUES BANK FOR FAILING TO REPORT SCAM
A consumer protection lawyer prosecuted a tragic case. Between June 21, 2011, and December 21, 2011, Margaret Lucca made approximately twenty-seven wire transfers from her account at the Wells Fargo Bank branch in Somers Point, New Jersey. She was 82 years old. She sent the funds at the direction of an individual who telephoned her home. He identified himself as a lawyer. The “voice” provided her with the information for the wire transfers.
Ms. Lucca was scammed. She never recovered the funds.
Ms. Lucca hired the consumer protection lawyer. The consumer protection lawyer filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo. The consumer protection lawyer charged Wells Fargo with failing to notify the authorities of suspicious transactions.
Facts of the Case
Ms. Lucca was eighty-five years old at the time of trial. She had been living alone since her husband died in 2003. Ms. Lucca had no children and no siblings. She stopped working sometime around 1990.
In June 2011, Ms. Lucca received telephone calls from a man she did not know. He told her to go to her bank. He provided her with the names of beneficiaries for wire transfers, the amount to be transferred, and the bank accounts to which the money should be transferred.
Ms. Lucca did as the man instructed her. Between June 21, 2011, and December 21, 2011, Ms. Lucca transferred $330,000 from her Wells Fargo account. Ms. Lucca testified that no one at the bank told her that she was being scammed.
According to Ms. Weinstein, a Wells Fargo employee, by the third wire transfer, she asked Ms. Lucca if she knew the person to whom she was sending the money. Ms. Lucca told her to mind her own business.
Beginning on July 1, 2011, Weinstein filed a report with the Wells Fargo internal elder abuse department after every wire transfer. Weinstein never heard back from that department. There was no testimony that an internal bank investigation ever occurred.
At the end of December, Weinstein, while reviewing Ms. Lucca’s bank records, saw that she withdrew $54,000 from her account at a different Wells Fargo branch. Weinstein called Ms. Lucca. She told Weinstein that the money was to be paid “for taxes.” Weinstein told her that she had been scammed.
What the Law Says
Whether Wells Fargo had a duty to report the suspected fraud to the authorities turns upon an interpretation of a New Jersey law. The law reads as follows:
A financial institution may release the financial records regarding a customer’s account to a law enforcement agency … if: a. A vulnerable customer or a senior customer has [an] interest in the account … and b. The financial institution suspects that illegal activity is… taking place … including, but not limited to, defrauding any vulnerable or senior customer.
Ms. Lucca’s consumer protection lawyer claimed that the bank should have notified the authorities early on under this law that a scam was occurring. This would have prevented Ms. Lucca from losing all, or at least part of, her money.
Unfortunately for Ms. Lucca, the same law also states:
A financial institution … which decides in good faith not to disclose information which it is permitted to disclose under this act regarding the account or relationship of a senior or vulnerable customer shall not be liable under any law … of this State for that decision.
Therefore, the judge dismissed Ms. Lucca’s lawsuit.
The moral is clear. If an offer ever sounds too good to be true, it probably is. See a consumer protection lawyer in person before you ever think of giving your hard-earned money to someone you don’t know.
If you’ve been defrauded, you should similarly see a consumer protection lawyer immediately. There may be other laws under which you might be entitled to compensation.
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