The bank says federal officials are investigating an interstate scheme with fictitious accounts and misuse of its trademarks.
You could call it a real whodunit.Wells Fargo & Co. filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in Minneapolis alleging that its trademarks are being used by an unknown group in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). The suit says that "John Does 1-10," and possibly more, appear to be trying to convince investors that they have large amounts of money in Wells Fargo accounts, and that the money is available for financing and investing.
In fact, the accounts are "entirely fictitious," says the San Francisco-based bank.
It's not known how many people are victims of the scam, according to the bank.
"There is an ongoing investigation and we do have federal involvement in the process of identifying several individuals" involved in the alleged scheme, said Felicia Boyd, an attorney with Barnes and Thornburg in Minneapolis who filed the lawsuit.
Bank officials began getting complaints last year about a phony letter that appears to be from a Wells Fargo branch in Los Angeles. It asserts that an individual in Renton, Wash., had $100 million on deposit and notes that the money is free of encumbrances and was derived from "non-criminal" sources.
Letter to Detroit Lakes branchIn March, an unknown individual presented a similar letter to a Wells Fargo branch in Detroit Lakes, Minn., seeking to verify the existence of $905,372,077.33 in an account at the same Los Angeles branch. Similar to the other letter, it says that "these funds are legally earned, good clean and cleared funds of non-criminal origin."
Both letters, which were attached to the lawsuit, were purportedly signed by branch manager Tigran Sargisya. They list a phone number for verification purposes. While Sargisya is, in fact, a Wells Fargo employee, she did not sign or authorize the letter, the suit says.
The bogus phone number listed on the letter is a working number. Callers hear a recorded message that plays Wells Fargo music, states Sargisya's name and offers to take a message