Jonalin Depakakibo has something to add to the long list of consumer and regulatory grievances against Wells Fargo Bank, which was slammed last month with a $1 billion fine for consumer abuses in its auto-lending and mortgage businesses.
The resident of Bridgeport, Montgomery County, fell prey in March to a "government-grant scam," after a fraudster hijacked a coworker's Facebook Messenger app and convinced Depakakibo to deposit a $6,700 membership fee into a Wells Fargo account — under the name Adeboye Oresanya — to get a $155,567 grant.
Within an hour of making that deposit at Wells Fargo's King of Prussia branch on March 5 and after talking to other coworkers about whether they had gotten the grant, she realized she had been duped and rushed back to the bank to alert bank personnel of the suspected fraud and to see whether she could get her money back. It was still in the account.
She said she got promises of help through a fraud alert, but no action.
"I'm really stupid to buy into that situation, but I tried to stop it, going to them to help me, because I identified that it was a fraud. But they didn't do anything. It's a nightmare for me all the time," said Depakakibo, who hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
That lawsuit, filed April 10, finally prompted San Francisco-based Wells Fargo to freeze the account, which by then contained $2,300.
Now Depakakibo is on pins and needles, not knowing whether she'll ever again see the $6,700 that was intended for her 18-year-old daughter's college education.
The fraud that snagged Depakakibo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Philippines who works in a nursing home, was the subject of a Better Business Bureau alert in September. The alert said "government-grant" scammers were increasingly reaching victims through Facebook Messenger.
"In this con, the scammer — posing as a friend of family members — will send you a message claiming you qualify for money from the government. To receive the grant, the scammer requires you pay a 'processing fee' or 'application fee' first," the Better Business Bureau wrote.
Depakakibo's lawsuit alleges not just fraud against the scammer, but also that Wells Fargo was negligent when it did not freeze the account after Depakakibo alerted Wells Fargo to the suspected fraud.
"Banks have a duty to look out for red flags that their customers are using their accounts to commit fraud or other illegal activity," said Lauren Saunders, associate director at the National Consumer Law Center in Washington.
"While consumers need to look out for scams and should never send cash to someone they don't know, it seems that the bank could have done more in this situation where it was apparently alerted before the money was gone that its customer may have been perpetrating a scam," Saunders said.
A Wells Fargo spokesman said the company, which is among the Philadelphia region's largest banks by deposits, does "not generally comment on ongoing litigation and will not have anything to add to your story."
Not long before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau levied the $1 billion fine against Wells Fargo, the Federal Reserve responded to widespread consumer abuses and governance breakdowns by restricting the bank's growth until it improves governance and controls.
Depakakibo's lawyer, Scott Waterman, said on April 13 that he received a call from someone at a Wells Fargo branch in Florida. The caller was the account holder who wanted to know why his account had been frozen.
"He claimed that he wasn't the one who stole the money," but "he allows his account to be used by people to transfer money from one person to another," Waterman said. How much? $10,000 to $15,000 every month, Waterman was told.
Brief negotiations with a lawyer for Wells Fargo over a possible settlement went nowhere, Waterman said.
Waterman's message to a lawyer for the bank: "Wells Fargo should do the right thing and reimburse her for this loss because they had it in their purview to stop this fraud. They were aware that the fraud was happening before the money had disappeared from the account, and Wells Fargo has taken the position that they don't care."