Tag Archive for 'fraud'

Wells Fargo Bank Commits Fraud Against Its Customers

Wells Fargo Bank is facing a lawsuit from the city of Los Angeles, which alleges that the bank participated in unfair business practices by persuading its employees to engage “in unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent conduct.” According to the lawsuit, Wells Fargo workers were under a great deal of pressure to meet sales goals, and thus, were in the habit of opening accounts for their current customers without first obtaining their permission.

The city of Los Angeles refers to Wells Fargo as a “fee-generating machine” because of its efforts to compel its employees to meet unrealistic sales goals. According to the city, “Wells Fargo places unrelenting pressure on its bankers to open several accounts for each customer. “ “Wells Fargo’s bankers are thus naturally and predictably forced to use alternative means to meet quotas.”

As a result of the workers’ actions, customers were subjected to more fees and a diminished ability to obtain credit anyplace else. For example, their credit reports were affected, thereby having an adverse impact on their capacity to obtain a car loan or mortgage. Customers also felt compelled to get identity theft protection because Wells Fargo accounts were being opened in their names without the customers’ consent. wells-fargo-robbery

The city is therefore attempting to secure a court order from the Los Angeles Superior Court that would mandate that the bank act in compliance with the law. It is also seeking to have Wells Fargo penalized with a fine of $2,500 per violation in accordance with California’s unfair competition statute and restitution.

In addition, the city alleges in its lawsuit that Wells Fargo workers were dishonest with customers when they told them that they had to open more accounts in order to get a checking account. Moreover, workers incorrectly informed customers that there were no fees associated with the accounts, and pressured customers into buying extra products, such as life insurance.

Furthermore, the city claims that Wells Fargo was in violation of state and federal law when it misappropriated customers’ private information, and neglected to inform customers that their private information had been misused. In response, representatives from Wells Fargo said that they have disciplined a few employees who have misappropriated customers’ personal information in order to open accounts without their permission.

Ken Wallman, a business owner, was one customer whose private information was misused by Wells Fargo workers. Wallman told Los Angeles Times in an interview that he opened a checking account with Wells Fargo, but eventually he had a dozen additional accounts because the bank opened additional accounts without first obtaining his approval. When Wallman tried to close the accounts, Wells Fargo refused and, instead, charged him extra fees.

Unfair Competition Law

Under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), there are five definitions of unfair competition outlined in §17200. They are as follows:

  1. An illegal business act or practice;
  2. A business act or practice that is unfair;
  3. A business act or practice that is fraudulent;
  4. Advertising that is unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading; or
  5. Any act forbidden by §§17500-17577.5.

Under §17203, the court can order injunctions to prevent the unfair competition as well as order other equitable defenses. Victims of unfair competition can obtain relief through the court, which can order that money or property be returned to them. In the event that an injunction is issued in accordance with §17200, those who intentionally engage in unfair competition could be penalized up to $6,000 per day. And when a lawsuit is filed by a government agency, such as the city of Los Angeles, civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation are permitted.

Top Holiday Crimes

December ushers in the cold weather, shorter days, and that good ol’ holiday cheer. I personally enjoy the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, but I can also understand why some people get leery about it. The overall increase in consumer activities sometimes gets frantic, especially when it comes to the joyous merriment of elbow-to-elbow shopping and skirmishes for parking spots.

Top Holiday CrimesAlong with this increase in consumerism comes another phenomenon: holiday crimes. It seems like every year, criminals invent new ways of taking advantage of unsuspecting victims in order to get at their holiday loot.

Of particular concern this year is the sudden increase in what are called “porch thefts.” Many counties are reporting alarming increases in porch thefts, even in neighborhood communities that are generally considered as safe. Many people do their shopping online, and get their gifts shipped directly to their door. Porch thieves operate by intercepting the package before the recipient can get a hold of it. They do this by literally walking up to people’s porches and stuffing the packages into bags. While mail theft is a federal offense, this new breed of holiday bandit doesn’t seem to care.

Besides porch thefts, some other types of holiday crimes to watch out for include:

  • Car Break-Ins: Don’t leave your presents and gifts in your car! Thieves are targeting parked cars and breaking into them in search of gifts. Not even your locked trunk is safe. On a similar note, the classic neighborhood home break-in à la Home Alone is always a threat during December and January.
  • DUI’s and Alcohol-Related Incidents: Along with the holiday cheer comes, well, holiday beer. This results in increases in DUI cases and public drunkenness charges, as well as alcohol-related domestic violence incidents. Some counties can rack up several hundreds of cases in a single holiday weekend due to DUI crackdowns.
  • Fraud and Scams: Consumers as well as business owners should beware of the “12 Scams of Christmas”, especially those which use newer mobile apps to perpetrate identity theft.
  • Retail Crime: Store owners and business operators should be watchful for shoplifters, especially during times when the store floors are crowded.

You can help prevent holiday crimes in your area by taking a few measures:

  1. Install security cameras: Having a visible, active security camera on your porch can do a lot to deter the new wave of porch thieves.
  2. Don’t leave your valuables in your car or in exposed areas.
  3. Only order from secure websites and don’t divulge your information to suspicious parties.

Many holiday crimes can be prevented simply by being mindful of your purchases and belongings. Be sure to report any suspicious activity to the authorities, and consult with a lawyer if you have any legal issues or concerns.

Notario Fraud: Common Immigration Issue

So-called “notarios” have lately earned an infamous place in the public spotlight.

“Notario” is a term used in Latin American to denote a legal official. The term also sounds similar to English word “notary,” who likewise is NOT a lawyer, but can certify documents, take depositions, and do some other quasi-legal work.

Neither Spanish “notario” nor the English “notary” denotes an attorney. However, recently arrived immigrants tend to confuse both for lawyers, legal advisers, or attorneys specializing in immigration. Confusion is exacerbated by what essentially amounts to immigration fraud by crooks, who advertise as “notarios,” or notaries who misrepresent themselves as having all the powers of an attorney. This situation is commonly known as notario fraud.

notario fraud Immigration Law

A newly arrived immigrant relying on help from a “notario” sets himself up for big trouble: loss of savings, denial of immigration status, and deportation. Unfortunately, before becoming fully established in the US, a newly arrived immigrant oftentimes becomes an easy and defenseless prey to unscrupulous con artists.

A legal professional may be engaging in notario fraud if he or she:

  • Charges unusually high fees for standard immigration paperwork.
  • Claims to have s special relationship with authorities.
  • Selling an otherwise free documents, such as immigration forms available online.
  • Filing asylum applications while your case does not qualify for asylum.
  • Guaranteeing receipt of permanent resident or citizenship status.
  • Working from a shady business on “referral only” basis.

Before going to a notario, think twice. Even better, do not even consider substituting a notarios’ services for advice from a qualified immigration attorney.

New York Doctor Accused of Medicaid Fraud Claims Her Split Personality Did It

No one wants to be convicted of a crime.  Jail and fines are never fun.  It’s no surprise then why people come up with a plethora of creative excuses for why they aren’t guilty.  Unfortunately though, much like telling your teacher that your dog ate your homework, in reality, these excuses never work, regardless of how convoluted or interesting they may be.  However, that hasn’t stop people from trying.

A prominent New York doctor is putting her luck to the test with her own peculiar defense.  Diana Williamson, 56, is claiming that her alleged crime was done by her alter ego, Nala.  Williamson has been accused of defrauding Medicaid out of approximately $300,000.  Prosecutors say the doctor wrote fake prescriptions for oxycodone paid through the program and then resold the drugs for profit.  It’s a pretty serious offense, made all the more serious by the allegation that this was only one part of a $1 million conspiracy.  If convicted, Williamson could face up to 11 years in prison.  Ouch.

Williamson has been practicing medicine for decades.  She’s led a prominent medical career and is well-known for her work to establish an AIDS hospital.  But, as noted above, what’s most interesting about her case is her defense.

Williamson claims she suffers from multiple personality disorder.  She states that the problem stemmed from childhood trauma in which she was sexually abused by a priest.  As a result, her lawyer argues the incident caused Nala, a “mischievous, irresponsible, reckless” and apparently criminal persona within her to develop.

But that’s not all folks.  Apparently, Nala committed the illegal acts entirely on her own, and didn’t bother to let Williamson or any of her other personalities know.  How rude.  You’d think that if you shared a body with someone, the least you could do is give them a heads up if you plan to spearhead a seven-figure criminal conspiracy.

In all seriousness though, multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder is a serious medical condition.  While debate continues among psychologists as to how many people are actually afflicted by the illness, the majority agree that it often develops as result of childhood traumas, such as physical and mental abuse and molestation.

The problem is that in terms court defenses, MPD doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to acquittals.  The reason is because MPD is considered a type of insanity defense.  And as such, it’s subject to the incredibly tough-to-meet insanity test.

Despite what terrible shows like “Law and Order” would lead you to believe, acquittals via the insanity defense are very rare.  A defendant generally must prove that their mental defect prevented them from appreciating the wrongful nature of their actions and/or made them unable to conform to the law at the time of the incident.

It sounds simple enough, but the problem lies in proving that the defendant actually had a mental defect and that it existed at the time of the crime.  This usually results in a lot of experts from both side spouting a lot of conflicting information that generally leaves the jury confused, but usually just enough to believe that no insanity defense applies.

In Williamson’s case, this is no different.  About the only thing she has going for her is a decades old diagnosis establishing her multiple personality disorder.  Unfortunately, many other defendants also possessed similar credentials that were ultimately shot down after the opposing counsel dug in.

Fortunately for Williamson, she might have a little more luck in her case since she’s not actually seeking acquittal from her charge, but rather a reduction to her potential sentence.  Which is good since her judge doesn’t seem too keen on her MPD defense.  The judge cited her disbelief stemmed from the incongruity between Williamson’s ability to lead a prominent medical care and found an AIDS hospital without incident from her alleged MPD.  Definitely not a good sign of a successful insanity plea.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see whether Williamson’s MPD insanity defense will play out in her favor.  Just don’t expect any miracles.

Internet Anonymity and the First Amendment

Computer typing with a bag on headFederal courts have repeatedly held, to the point that it can probably be considered settled law, that the First Amendment gives people commenting on the Internet the right, albeit a limited one, to anonymity. The reasoning is that anonymity allows a person to express views without fear of reprisals by people who disagree, and that for the government to compel an anonymous commenter would have a chilling effect on speech, thereby violating their First Amendment rights.

But what happens when an “anonymous” poster on the Internet says something that might be legally actionable, such as defamation or fraud? The issue of the constitutional right to Internet anonymity usually comes up when someone wants to sue an anonymous speaker for defamation.

Here’s how the procedure usually goes: on a website blog, or blog comment, an anonymous poster says something that might be grounds for a lawsuit – usually it’s something defamatory about someone else. The subject of that statement hears about it somehow, and decides they want to sue whoever wrote the comment. Of course, you can’t sue someone if you don’t know who they are. So, the plaintiff will file a lawsuit against the person who wrote the defamatory statement, naming the speaker as an anonymous or “Doe” defendant (the plaintiff will be identified as “John Doe” until their identity can be ascertained). Once the lawsuit is filed, they will then serve the relevant website or Internet service provider (ISP) with a subpoena, demanding that they reveal the identity of the person who made the anonymous post. At that point, the major constitutional issue is whether or not the court should enforce that subpoena.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (via the Volokh Conspiracy) has a good analysis of the basics of this issue. Basically, if you want to sue an anonymous poster for defamation, you have a few initial hurdles you must first clear. The biggest one is convincing a court that your rights, which were allegedly violated by the speaker’s words, outweigh the speaker’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously.

However, a federal court has recently thrown something of a wrench into this doctrine, holding that the privacy protections that apply to defendants in cases brought by private litigants do not apply to lawsuits brought by the federal government. In this case, the SEC brought a lawsuit against the owner of an anonymous email address, which the government alleged was being used to promote certain stocks in an illegal “pump and dump” scheme.

While I certainly don’t condone fraudulent manipulation of stock prices, I find this ruling somewhat disturbing. Even if the result is appropriate, the means by which the court arrived at it are unsettling. In other words, I think that this person was engaging in illegal and immoral activities, and his identity should have been unmasked. However, I don’t think the court should have dispensed with the test that balances the interests of the parties.

This sets what I believe to be a dangerous precedent, in which the government can unmask an anonymous writer without more than a suspicion that their writings might be unlawful. While the guy who was fraudulently manipulating stock prices certainly deserves whatever punishment he got, the next person subject to this power might not be so clearly guilty.

For example, what if the government wants to unmask the identity of someone who writes under a pseudonym, and touts extreme and unpopular political views, which the government believes might lead to violence, even though the speaker never advocates violence? While there may certainly be a governmental interest in keeping an eye on such a person, there is no question that they have a right to express their views, no matter how strange or extreme those views may be.

If speakers know that their identity can be easily unmasked, they may well decide that they shouldn’t take the risk of expressing their views online, which definitely isn’t what free speech is about.

This story is also an object lesson to ordinary internet users, and it’s something we’ve known since Al Gore invented the Internet: anonymity online is 100% illusory. There is basically no such thing as “anonymous” speech on the Internet. I’m not praising or criticizing that fact – I’m just saying that, by the Internet’s very nature and architecture, it’s impossible to be completely anonymous online.

So, if you are about to make a “brilliant” comment on a YouTube video, here’s some advice: before you click “post” ask yourself if you would want everyone in the world knowing the name of the person behind your online handle. If not, maybe it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t express opinions. All I’m saying is that, in the modern world, you should never assume that you are truly anonymous, because you probably aren’t.