Today's BrokeAndBroker.com Blog has some 50 shades of gray involving an online dating scam and a victimized Wells Fargo registered person. Unfortunately the victim, in turn, sort of victimizes her employer and, well, in the end, it all ends very badly with a lot of pain.
Case In Point
For the purpose of proposing a settlement of rule violations alleged by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA"), without admitting or denying the findings, prior to a regulatory hearing, and without an adjudication of any issue, Lisa Suzanne Dutcher submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent ("AWC"), which FINRA accepted. In the Matter of Lisa Suzanne Dutcher, Respondent (AWC #2014041842701, May 5, 2015).
In 1997, Dutcher was first registered and from 2008 through June 23, 2014, she was registered with FINRA member firm Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC.
Imagine how my jaw dropped and my eyes widened as I read this portion of the self-regulatory organization's settlement agreement with Respondent Dutcher:
FACTS AND VIOLATIVE CONDUCT
In April 2014, Dutcher began communicating with RK, whom she had met through an on-line dating site. RK claimed to be an American working in South Africa who had financial difficulties and needed Dutcher's help to return to the United States. Unaware that RK was, in fact, a scam artist, Dutcher agreed to help him. RK proposed to have friends send Dutcher two checks totaling more than $11,000 via overnight mail for her to deposit in her own account. Dutcher was then to withdraw the funds and deposit them into two accounts at another bank that RK identified to Dutcher.
I mean, c'mon, how could I not write about this case?
May 14, 2015: $4,125 Check
As alleged in the AWC, on May 14, 2014, Dutcher received via FedEx a $4,125 check, which she deposited into her Wells Fargo brokerage account and, on that same day, she attempted to get immediate clearance for the funds. Ah yes, true love, Cupid's arrows, and let's not forget the siren-like lament of RK, that handsome fellow working away in South Africa and having money troubles. Our heartthrob needed funds to return to the US and he had a friend send a check to Dutcher.
Why, you might ask (please, go ahead and ask . . . okay, thanks for asking) couldn't the friend just send the money to Dutcher? For starters, that would have ruined a good tale and likely would not have sucked the poor Ms. Dutcher into this romance-novel of a financial services industry potboiler disaster.
The apparently love-struck Dutcher assured Wells Fargo that the check represented good funds. In furtherance of her plea to expedite the settlement of the check and give her quick access to the proceeds, she explained that the urgency to get her hands on the cash was prompted by her need to buy some things for her daughter, who was leaving New York on May 15th. In truth, Dutcher seems to have had no rational reason to believe that the $4,125 check represented good-to-go funds and the story about her daughter was apparently a lovely yarn. In the end, Wells Fargo acquiesced and authorized an early release of the funds. Once the $4,125 was available for withdrawal, Dutcher withdrew the funds and then deposited them into an account pursuant to RK's directions.
May 20, 2015: $7,125 Check
Lo and behold, on May 20, 2014, another check for $7,125 arrives via FedEx. Dutcher again presses for expedited clearance - this time offering a tale about needing the funds to buy a car for her daughter and how the seller dealt on a cash-only basis.
As with the May 14th check, the AWC alleges that Dutcher again falsely assured Wells Fargo that she had personally verified the availability of funds to cover the subject check. Once again, the expeditiing occurred and Dutcher withdrew and deposited in another account pursuant to RK's instructions.
NSF X 2
I'm sure that you're not going to be too shocked to learn that around May 22, 2014, both Dutcher and Wells Fargo were informed that the $4,125 and the $7,125 checks had bounced per insufficient funds. Ah yes, the old NSF strikes again!
Inaccurate and Out The Door
Wells Fargo was apparently not moved by the whole online dating site and heartbreak aspect of this fraud because online FINRA BrokerCheck records as of May 7, 2015, disclosed that the firm "Discharged" Dutcher on June 23, 2014, pursuant to allegations that:
MS. DUTCHER PROVIDED INACCURATE INFORMATION TO FIRM MANAGEMENT CONCERNING THE REASON FOR HER REQUEST OF THE EARLY RELEASE OF FUNDS THAT SHE HAD DEPOSITED INTO HER PERSONAL BROKERAGE ACCOUNT, AND DID NOT CONFIRM THE AVAILABILITY OF THE FUNDS FROM THE BANK ON WHICH THE CHECKS WERE DRAWN.
Equally cold-hearted, FINRA asserted that Dutcher's conduct violated the "high standards of commercial honor and just and equitable principals of trade" obligations set forth in FINRA Rule 2010. In accordance with the terms of the AWC, FINRA imposed upon Dutcher a $7,500 fine and a 4-month suspension in all capacities from association with a FINRA member firm. Alas, the things we do for love.