Man sues bank after identity theft nightmare

Man sues bank after identity theft nightmare

Being a victim of identity theft is never fun, but one man in Florida had an especially terrible time with it. In 2011, Carlos Gomez was arrested in the middle of the night for money laundering, which got him two weeks in a federal detention center and seven months of house arrest, according to a report in the Miami Herald .

Turns out, they had the wrong guy. A rogue banker had stolen Gomez’s identity as part of a money laundering scheme, but it took the better part of a year for the authorities to determine that.

Nearly three years later, Gomez is suing the bank for the wrongful charges and prosecution.

The banker was a Wachovia employee, so Gomez is suing Wells Fargo WFC -0.20% , which acquired Wachovia in 2008. The employee pilfered $1.1 million from customers, stole Gomez’s identity and created a checking account under his name to launder some of the money.

A solid case?

After he was arrested, police officers showed him Wachovia checks with his name and a signature Gomez insisted did not belong to him. Gomez’s lawyer told him the prosecution’s case looked solid, and he was looking at up to 20 years in prison. So Gomez took it upon himself to clear his name.

In 2011, the scheme’s ringleader, Wachovia bank employee Noel Abraham Mendez, pleaded guilty, along with other defendants, and the charges against Gomez were dropped. Still, there were those two weeks in a detention center and the seven months of house arrest, which Gomez said could have been avoided if the bank had done its due diligence.

Last month, a U.S. District Judge said Gomez had “sufficiently alleged” that Wachovia violated its “fiduciary duty” to him by allowing an employee and others “to misuse his private and confidential information to launder monies.” A Wells Fargo spokeswoman told the Herald that the bank will continue to contest Gomez’ allegations.

“We don’t believe the facts we have and the applicable law support the claims made regarding the role of Wells Fargo and the circumstances that preceded his arrest,” bank spokeswoman Michelle Palomino told the newspaper.

No matter what ends up happening, it’s not a story that encourages consumers. It’s an unfortunate and messy situation — identity theft usually is — but it reinforces the recurring theme that consumers have to vigilantly monitor their personal information and know how to respond when someone misuses it (note the “when,” not “if”).

If you want to monitor your credit for free, the Credit Report Card will update two of your credit scores every month for free. Any major, unexpected changes in your credit scores may signal identity theft and you should pull your credit reports (which you can do for free at each of the major credit bureaus once a year ) to investigate.

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