South Florida dentist Dr. Luis Fabelo says he lost “close to half a million dollars," and thinks what happened to him can easily happen to others.
Fabelo said he’s the victim of an alleged fraud involving one of his former employees, and claims one of the area's biggest banks doesn’t have procedures in place to stop her or anyone else.
Fabelo said he discovered that former employee Elizabeth De Leon was allegedly stealing hundreds of his checks, putting them in Wells Fargo ATM machines, depositing the money into her own accounts and cashing in.
Fabelo said he started taking a close look at his surveillance cameras when a patient alerted him that he never got credit for a payment he made.
"That led me to look at my surveillance camera and that's when I saw the payment being taken by my former employee,” he said.
The woman the dentist saw on camera was De Leon, who is now facing charges of grand theft and organized fraud. Police and Dr. Fabelo said she kept under the radar for months stealing checks that were clearly made out to the doctor, but deposited them in ATM machines at Wells Fargo — which Fabelo says let her put the money into her accounts.
"It shocked me that anybody can do that. Just imagine I write you a check. Your purse gets stolen and that check can get deposited anywhere and it will go through,” Fabelo said. “Apparently there's no way that Wells Fargo checks the checks."
Fabelo said De Leon was part of his team and attended social functions – all the while she allegedly was deleting records that would have clued him in. He said no one at Wells Fargo was checking the ATM deposits.
"All this technology is great but it also has its drawbacks and these are the drawbacks,” Miami-Dade Police Det. Marcos Rodriguez said.
Detectives said that when De Leon stopped working for Dr. Fabelo that didn't stop her from committing the same fraud at another dentist’s office.
Fabelo said when he asked the bank to give him the thousands stolen back they wouldn't. So now he's suing in federal court alleging that "Wells Fargo has no system, policy, and/or procedure in place to verify the depositor/account holder, was entitled to cash the checks."
His suit added that were it not for the “deficiencies in Wells Fargo’s ATM deposit procedures, Ms. de Leon would not have been able to deposit (i.e., steal) checks that had been made out to Dr. Fabelo and…his dental practice in her personal account.”
“I think it’s the banks responsibility to check,” Fabelo said.
For its part Wells Fargo said, "We deny the claims and will vigorously defend ourselves in this lawsuit."
Police said the convenience of ATMs – and banking using smartphones — comes with a price.
"The quicker you can access your money, the quicker that other people can access the money from your accounts also. So it’s like a double-edged sword,” Rodriguez said.
The doctor’s lawsuit also said that Wells Fargo has intentionally deprived him of his funds.
De Leon is pleading not guilty to the charges and her attorney said he is just starting to build her defense.
Experts say in the big picture the message is to keep a close eye on your accounts, and there's something to be said for a teller looking someone in the eye and asking for a driver’s license.
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