Bank Of America Let Conwoman Steal My Dead Aunt's Identity And Rob Her Safe Deposit Box

Ariel’s wealthy aunt died. When his mom went to open her safe deposit box, which was supposed to hold $300k in bonds and jewels, it was empty. The bank clerk said that it had been emptied that morning, by the aunt…

Further investigation found that it was actually a woman using his Aunt’s identity who cleaned out the box. This woman had “befriended” the aunt in the months before her death.

The tale inside reads like it fell from the pages of a pulp detective novel…


Ariel writes:

Okay, where do I begin?? Let me start with a brief synopsis of the circumstances surrounding the reason for this email.

My aunt recently passed away after battling breast cancer for several years. My aunt lived in Manhattan in a tiny apartment for many years up until her death. She was eccentric to put it lightly and probably suffered from some mental disorder that was probably never diagnosed. She also had lots of money both in the form of cash, bank accounts and stocks. During the last 8-9 months of her life, a woman came into her life and befriended my aunt. This woman is married with a child and is the CEO of a fledgling water company in NY. Somehow, during the final month of my aunt’s life (while she could no longer walk and was on heavy morphine) this woman managed to get control of many of my aunt’s assets. Bank accounts that were set aside for friends and family were suddenly transferred into this persons name. She cleaned out several safety deposit boxes while my aunt was still alive, and then cleaned out at least one after my aunt died. Oh, the original copy of my aunts will mysteriously disappeared.

This leads me to the point of this email. My aunt had at least one safety deposit box/account with Bank of America which contained $75,000 in cash + jewelry and other paperwork. The day after my aunt died, my mother arrived in New York. The first thing that she did was go to the funeral home to see her sister. After going to the funeral home she went to the Bank of America in midtown Manhattan to begin the process of closing out accounts and safety deposit boxes. Upon arriving at the Bank of America she was asked to sign into a register before she was allowed to access my aunts safety deposit box. To her shock, someone had already accessed the safety deposit box that morning. Can you guess who it was? Yes! This woman who had known my aunt for less than a year had gone into Bank of America and signed her name and noted POA (power of attorney) on the register. When my mother checked the safety deposit box, all of the cash was gone. Several pieces of jewelry were also missing, however the papers (of no financial value) were still there.

When my mother went back to the bank agent and asked who had accessed the box earlier that morning she was even more shocked by what she was told.

According to the bank agent, my aunt had been the one who came and accessed the box! My aunt who had died the night before in her apartment had walked into Bank of America and cleaned out her safety deposit box?? My mother told the agent that her sister had died the night before and that there was no way that she could have been at the bank. But, the agent insisted that the woman who came into the bank was my aunt, in fact she showed ID. My mom demanded to speak the bank manager. When she asked the Bank manager to call the police, he/she refused and put away the safety deposit register. Apparently he then called his boss and they came back and told my mother that they could no longer talk to her about this and that if she wanted access to anything, she would have to subpoena them.

Of course there was video tape of this woman entering the bank and going to the safety deposit box. However, the NYPD claims that the bank will likely never give up the video tape (if it still exists). The bank will no longer speak to my mother and clearly is trying to cover it’s a$$. It would seem like Bank of America screwed up big time by letting someone show false ID into a safety deposit box and steal $75,000 in cash + jewelry. Let’s not forget that this woman had no legal right to access this account after my aunt died. The law states that power of attorney ends when the person dies. Since my aunt died the night before, this woman had no legal power, yet she still wrote POA on the register.

So what do we do here? Do we cause a huge stink? The NYPD said good luck in trying to get Bank of America to admit fault. In fact, good luck trying to sue them in court. This woman who committed forgery, identity theft, and grand theft larceny is sitting pretty in her apartment in Manhattan counting the nearly $300,000 in cash and jewelry that she stole from my aunt. Not only was my aunt dying, but she was on morphine and many other drugs that allowed this woman to manipulate and take advantage of her. Doesn’t Bank of America have a duty to it’s customers (alive and deceased) to protect their assets and provide adequate security measures so that the theft of $75,000 doesn’t happen? If a person walked into bank of America and stole $75,000, don’t you think the bank would be pressing charges?

Bank of America sucks! It let a woman steal my aunts money the day after my aunt died of breast cancer!

What should I do? Would should the family do?

Sincerely,

Ariel N.

Ariel, condolences for your loss. Deaths are never easy, and for this one to be surrounded by this crime must be very painful.

That said, I have two questions before posting this story.

How did you family come to know about this woman who befriended your mother?
Were any of your family around when you aunt died? If not, why not?

Ben,

Thank you for the comments. My aunt was eccentric to say the least. Her passing was not a surprise in itself except for the fact that my mother was going to visit her just as she passed away.

To answer your questions…

My mother actually met this woman several months ago while she was in New York visiting with my aunt. As things have unravelled we have spoken to many of my Aunt’s friends who all have talked about this woman who came into her life late in the game. This woman is the daughter of an attorney (prominent) that my aunt dated years ago. According to my aunt, she didn’t know this woman more than casually during that period.

None of the family was with my aunt when she passed away. There were at least two people in her apartment when she passed away in addition to the paramedics and police. One was one of the caretakers (whom I believe called 911) and the other was this woman who eventually stole much of my aunt’s money. This woman grabbed (according to witnesses) my aunts camcorder (and stole it) and videotaped my aunt in her soiled underwear as the paramedics were administering CPR. One of the police officers at the scene actually had to forcibly tell this woman to stop recording the death. My mother was apparently on the phone with one of the two women as this was going on screaming that there was a DNR for my aunt. To date, the woman who stole the money and took advantage of my aunt will not return the money, tape, camera or jewelry. My mother arrived in New York the day after my aunt passed away which is also the same day that this woman went and cleared out the safety deposit box a Bank of America.

I hope this is useful. This could be a story about elder abuse among other things, but I (and my family) are extremely angry with Bank of America for letting this woman who had no legal right, to access my aunt’s safety deposit box and steal $75,000 in cash and jewelry.

Sincerely,

Ariel

We spoke with Ariel by phone and yes, the family already took the case to the police. However, the detective ruled that it was a civil affair, not a criminal.

We also found that the highest ranking person they spoke with was the branch manager. We advised busting BoA corporate’s door down with the story. They might have a very different story than a local manager covering his ass.

Lastly, if the aunt had renter’s insurance, it may cover the safe deposit box, even in this bizarre circumstance. We recommend checking in with the insurance company.

As an odd coda, the family knows who the conwoman is. She hasn’t denied taking any of the money, and has in fact written the family a letter saying that she “deserved” it.

Any other advice for the beleagured family? — BEN POPKEN

UPDATE: Ariel writes

Holy cow! I had no idea it would garner such a quick set of responses from your readers. It is great that people have responded with supportive comments regarding our situation. I believe that my mother (administrator of the estate) is in the process of assessing the cost to benefit ration of suing the thief. We have been told that it could cost from $30,000-$70,000 to file suit without any sort of guarantee that we will win or be able to collect if we do win.

Just to clarify, the NYPD did say that what this woman did was criminal, but due to the amount of time that had lapsed between the crime and when my mother was actually sitting in the NYPD portable would make it nearly impossible to get any evidence from BofA and therefore attempt to prosecute the thief. Perhaps it was the D.A.’s call?

Comments

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  1. d0x says:

    To hell with what the Police say, I would sue. How can you lose? You can prove your Aunt was dead. You know someone claiming to be her went into the bank the following day and they gave them access to the account.

    You might not be able to get the Women who did it unless you get the tape but you sure as hell should be able to get the bank since it was their fault.

  2. B says:

    I had no idea identity theft was a civil affair, not criminal. Learn something new every day. I’d advise you to sue the pants off of Bank of America.

  3. enm4r says:

    I’m confused as to why someone would note Power of Attorney on the register if they are pretending to be the legitimate owner of the box.

  4. gorckat says:

    @enm4r: Habit, most likely.

  5. martyz says:

    I would absolutely take this all the way up to the top honcos of Bank of America — that branch manager can’t / won’t do jack for you.

  6. Dr. Eirik says:

    For that matter, even if the woman had power of attorney, does it survive into death? Assume for the moment that there is some minor confusion over the exact circumstances of the woman getting into the box: Perhaps she didn’t claim to be the aunt but rather someone acting with her consent. Let’s also assume that she actually did steal and destroy the will, so the woman died without one.

    Doesn’t her estate go into probate court at that point? Basically, no one has a right to touch her assets until a judge determines who gets what?

    BTW, even if the woman did destroy the will, shouldn’t the law firm that wrote it up have a copy in their files?

  7. shiny says:

    We recently moved our safe deposit box to a new branch of Bank of America which recently opened closer to our new home. With the opening of the new branch comes new technology — which means having my palmprint scanned and a PIN entered on a keypad before I’m able to gain access to my box. This can be done without interacting with any bank employees.

    Of course — the most technologically skilled con-artists will be able to gain access if they can emulate the print and gain access to the PIN and the physical key to the box. But I suppose it’s a win-win situation for the bank and the consumer: it emphasizes a perception of added security for us while it allows the bank to cover its ass in the best way possible: employees won’t make these type of mistakes if they’re totally removed from the equation.

  8. eldergias says:

    Hey Bank of America, I think you just got a new member on the board of directors. Or at least you will when Ariel’s family owns your a$$ when they easily win the lawsuit against you. It sucks enough that there was ID theft, but that is excusable as incompetent oversight. But telling Ariel’s family that you would not help in the matter, that they would have to subpoena the information from them and will not deal with them, that is malicious conspiracy to commit identity theft after the fact by aiding the perpetrator. Any rational jury would see that. And yes, even if the law said otherwise, though the jury is not supposed to, they would side with Ariel.

  9. rooatbar says:

    My audition to be a commenter:

    I don’t know the law in New York, but most states have avenues for citizen complaints or criminal charges. Ariel should check with the courthouse in her aunt’s area and see if she can file charges or file a request for them directly with the court. The woman’s actions, at least facially, sound like larceny by false pretenses (claiming poa after the death) and possibly embezzlement (converting funds legally entrusted to her to her own use).

  10. saerra says:

    So sorry for your loss, Ariel – what a horrible thing to have to deal with, on top of losing your aunt.

    I don’t have any great advice – but I’d think you’d want to find a lawyer asap. They should be able to better direct you on how to proceed, help clear up why this isn’t a criminal matter (I’m perplexed too), and make sure things get handled properly.

    Maybe it’s just me – but you probably also want to start a journal with dates, times, names of people you talk to, and details as things are happening… I know I’ve got a terrible memory, and if you ever end up in a trial, it would be nice to have a papertrail and be able to say for sure “On this date, this person at the bank told me this…”…

    Good luck to you, sorry for your loss…

  11. rooatbar says:

    And another thing, Ariel should immediately go to a lawyer and get a court to order the bank to preserve the video. Security video is routinely taped over in pretty short order unless it is being preserved for some reason. Sounds like BofA is going to be in a hurry to get rid of that video, so time is of the essence.

  12. ChiefDanGeorge says:

    Well if the woman stole $75000, I am pretty sure that is a criminal offense. I’m no lawyer or anything, however it seems to be that there can be charges of identity theft and property theft.
    I’d lean on the police something fierce to do their job.
    I’d keep going up the BoA chain as well.

  13. katana says:

    wow, so theft AND identity theft (fraud) are no longer criminal acts in NYC? Nice place to visit, but…

    The one part I don’t get:
    If the conwoman went to the bank and claimed to be the dead aunt, then why write/claim POA (power of attorney)? You don’t need POA to access your own stuff.

    Yeah, I’m hiring a lawyer and going after everybody here – the con, BofA… Sorry to say it, but it all may be too late. All of the stuff may be long gone. Someone, other than the con, should have been getting her affairs in order as health was declining. But hindsight being what it is, I’m still suing.

    Truly the downfall of the American banking system is when they did away with allowing bank managers to think, and replaced them with monkeys.

  14. Alex says:

    If this woman had legal power of attorney over your aunt’s estate, then she is in the clear.

    You do have BoA by the balls for allowing the woman to access the safety deposit box however to actually receive compensation for this, you’re going to have to take this to court.

    You’re going to need some very specific documentation of who had power of attorney over the estate.

  15. iMike says:

    Sad story. One wonders why the decedent’s family wasn’t more present so they could have stopped the manipulation.

    That said, this is a civil matter. As far as the cops (and BOA) know, the “con artist” had permission/authority to enter the vault and empty the box. BOA couldn’t have known that the aunt had just died the night before, and for all they knew the person who entered the box did so on a valid POA.

    As for the cops: again, for all they know the person was authorized to take action against the contents of the box; the only person who could testify to the contrary is dead. No case.

    Ultimately, it seems that to prevail the family will have to show fraud or duress resulting in the changing of the will/grant of the POA, or that the person who took the stuff exceeded her authority in so doing.

    Which will be exceedingly difficult.

    Moral of the story: see the first paragraph of my post.

  16. blchrist says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t Ariel know the identity of the woman who stole the money? Shouldn’t Ariel’s family sue her first? BoA obviously bears some of the blame here, but the real criminal is the woman who stole the money. I am not a lawyer, but I would think if Ariel’s family sues the thief, they should be able to subpoena any videotapes from the BoA branch as evidence.

  17. brooklynbs says:

    Sue the woman ASAP and take the story to one of the tabloids (Post or Daily News). The con artist’s background – CEO of a small company and daughter of a prominent attorney – is perfect fodder for them and it will put pressure on her. Bank of America’s treatment of you makes it an even better story (no offense, and my condolences on your loss and all you and your family have been through).

    Likewise, if the police are of no help, contact the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Call the Special Prosecutions Unit at (212) 335-8900.

    In the meantime, change all of the locks on your Aunt’s apartment. If the building has a doorman and/or superintendent, inform them that the woman who stole from your aunt is no longer allowed in the building and ask them to contact you if she tries to gain entry. And, make sure you put holds on any accounts in your aunt’s name. Her lawyer should have a copy of the will. If you can’t find that information in her papers, perhaps call the phone company and see if they can pull her phone records (may need a lawyer for this).

    If you an afford it, hiring a private detective to investigate the woman would be a good idea.

  18. saram says:

    Ariel, I’m sorry for your loss. And I wish you the best of luck in this process – whichever way you and your family decide to proceed. As someone who used to work in a BofA branch, I can tell you that there were many times that I was completely unsure of who I was letting in to the safe deposit box. The way they have that process set up is ridiculous. Someone comes in, shows ID, and signs a little card right below a dozen or so of their old signatures – a process that practically invites forgery. And that is it – no security questions, no photos for us to compare, nothing. If they know the box number, have the key, and know how to copy a signature, they are basically in the door. Thankfully the new branches are being equipped with the new technology that was mentioned above.

    I agree that you should start at the top of the corporate ladder – Ken Lewis – and see how far you can get before taking this to court. Be aware, however, that they have no way of verifying what you say was in the box or who you say may have emptied it. Nonetheless, I wish you the best! Keep us updated, if you can.

  19. indianaguy says:

    @consumerist

    ha this headline screams of bias.

    Unfourtunatly for this woman BoA is not at fault. If this lady did have POA / Fake ID how was BoA supposed to know. Also, how was BoA supposed to know that the woman died THE DAY BEFORE. They are psychic.
    And the branch manager was covering his own butt, he doesn’t want to lose his job over this, this is alot more complicated than refunding someone’s overdraft fee’s this could potentially be a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

    Sad to say but the fault of this lies squarly with the lady who commit the identity theft.

  20. indianaguy says:

    err that is supposed to say they are not psychic

  21. notebook says:

    She needs help, then?
    Get Ariel to go to her local newspaper with this story. Get the Media on this. Because Bank of America would definitely not want this kind of publicity.

    Or, like a few people have said, take this to civil court. But having the Media on your side is a good thing, as well.

  22. Buran says:

    Press charges against the woman for theft and identity theft. Sue her for the $300k plus punitive damages plus court costs. Sue the bank for giving an unauthorized individual access to the safe deposit box. Climb the ladder with the police department until you find someone who will help you. (Did she take the stuff across state lines? Call the FBI if so). Go to the media, too. Shame works wonders.

  23. Chris says:

    I don’t want to join the parade of half-assed legal misinformation on this thread, but I strongly suggest that Ariel talk to a competent civil litigator in New York. In California, we have an Elder Abuse Act that has some very appealing provisions for plaintffs (attorney’s fees, civil penalties, punitive damages). The CA statute covers both physical and financial abuse. Perhaps NY has a similar statute.

    I’m not sure if BoA could be held liable under such a statute (esp. since I don’t even know if one exists), but there might be enough to at least file the suit (with negligence as a fallback). It all depends on how the facts shake out, of course, and I am not giving legal advice.

  24. reeg2 says:

    i’m fairly certain that none of this story makes sense and is probably missing some key facts.

  25. elforesto says:

    Police use the phrase “it’s a civil matter” as a cover for “we don’t think your case is important enough to expend our energy on and we’d like to blow you off without telling you that.” Fraud is always a criminal matter but they just don’t want to get in on it unless it’s a high-profile case. That’s how so many scammers continue to get away with it every day.

  26. tvh2k says:

    Definitely the media will be your best (and cheapest) weapon here. The media loves this sort of story and publicizing it will certainly raise the brow of the appropriate execs at BofA as well as the NYPD. Get the word out–The Consumerist was a good start but don’t stop here. I’m sorry for your loss.

  27. Lilyara says:

    My condolences for your loss. I hope this will help you.

    Broadcast:
    CBS 2 – Kirstin Cole (Consumer Correspondent)
    E-mail: kcole@cbs.com, mmmcgeever@cbs.com, cgottlieb@cbs.com

    NBC 4 – Jonathan Dienst (Investigative Correspondent)
    jonathan.dienst@nbcuni.com, Joseph.Valiquette@nbc.com, Alice.McQuillan@nbc.com

    FOX 5 – Generic “Contact Us” page but pick Fox 5 Investigates for topic
    http://www.myfoxny.com/myfox/pages/InsideFox/ContactUs?pag

    ABC 7 – 7 On Your Side
    http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=features&id=3395


    Print:
    NY Daily News
    Main phone number: (212) 210-2100
    News tips to City Desk: (212) 210-NEWS

    NY Post
    News Tips:
    News Tips: (212) 930-8500
    Business Editor: dcolarusso@nypost.com

  28. Bobg says:

    Isn’t theft from a bank investigated by the FBI and the Treasury Dept.?

  29. @Dr. Eirik: “For that matter, even if the woman had power of attorney, does it survive into death?”

    In fact it does not. At that point the power devolves on the executor or trustee.

    @iMike: “BOA couldn’t have known that the aunt had just died the night before, and for all they knew the person who entered the box did so on a valid POA.”

    BofA is a bunch of idiots in this case. I do estate planning, and one of the biggest hassles is banks NEVER, EVER, EVER honor powers of attorney (or letters testamentary) until forced to do so — for EXACTLY THIS REASON. And because they are then sued and end up paying a lot of money about it. I’m frankly shocked BofA let her in with a POA — the bigger the bank, the less willing they usually are to honor POAs and the more bureaucracy they require for it.

    (I’m typically on the other side of the issue whining about their failure to honor a legal POA, but I do realize these situations are why they’re a pain in the ass about it.)

    @Ariel, I would talk to the State’s Attorney (county prosecutor) — the police may not be equipped to handle ID theft or “white collar fraud” and you may need the State’s Attorney’s office to start the investigation.

    I think you also have a good civil case — particularly with the letter. I would STRONGLY reccommend (in addition to changing all the locks and freezing all accounts and so forth) that you get a lawyer, go to court, and have a freeze put on the misappropriated assets until the case can be heard. In a lot of these situations where someone steals money from the decedent, they spend it all before they’re ruled against and then there’s nothing to recover.

    (And yeah – publicity, publicity, publicity.)

  30. superlayne says:

    S, U, E, T-H-E-M! What does that spell?!

    Sue them!!


    What jury WOULDN’T agree? See if you can bully the bank into getting the tapes.

  31. Kos says:

    Don’t forget to reach out to the new NY AG Cuomo. His office might be able to get the wheels of justice moving a little quicker than those cops.

  32. SadSam says:

    This may have already been covered. Check to see if NY or NYC has an elderly exploitation law (a/k/a conning old folks out of their money). Often times these laws are administered by the attorney general’s office of the state. If this woman has admitted that she took the money and jewelry from an old dying woman seems like the case would be a slam dunk.

  33. JohnMc says:

    Indianaguy,

    First, at my bank, you are required to show photo ID every time to request retrieval of your box. Second, to get a power of attorney appropriate for bank purposes one must sign an affdavit in the presence of the bank officer with both the person providing POA and the person receiving POA, regardless of whether you have a valid POA to begin with.

    As for Ariel, I would recommend:

    [] She go after the con civilly. Attach any and all assets. That includes the water business unless the corporate veil applies. But I would supeona all the business records. If flushes of cash are showing up on the balance sheet without reasonable cause you can bust thru that veil and attach those assets as well. [Its probably your money.]
    [] Go after her criminally. Stealing that much cash in NY is a first level felony.
    [] Go after BoA civilly for lack of proper procedure. And have a writ issued to prevent the destruction of any tapes in the period in question. Move on this now with an injuction. DO NOT DELAY.
    [] File with the FDIC as I bet there are provisions covering some of this kind of loss up to a given cap. That will scare the hell out of the bank. Nothing like a Fed audit to get their attention.

    You need a lawyer. Don’t dally. Move on this. The conwoman fully expects you to do nothing.

  34. TedSez says:

    According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, one form of abuse is “financial or material exploitation.”

    “Financial or material exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets. Examples include, but are not limited to, cashing an elderly person’s checks without authorization or permission; forging an older person’s signature; misusing or stealing an older person’s money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., contracts or will); and the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney.”

    I think the person’s family should get a lawyer who’s versed in these issues as soon as possible.

  35. arieln says:

    First of all. I want to say thank you for all of your comments. I want to just say a few things here as an update. It has been a big drama for my family. It has been a major source of stress and grief and will likely continue to be so until there is some sort of closure.


    1. My mother (the administrator of the estate) did hire a NY attorney.

    2. We (family and I) spent a week in March clearning out my aunts apartment in Manhattan, so there is no more property to protect.

    3. My mother is still evaluating (with her attorney) the possibilities and options right now. Mostly the cost to benefit ratio of filing a civil lawsuit.

    4. NY law only protects elder (apparently) people who unable to make sound decisions only after the person has been declared such by no less than 3 doctors and a judge.

    5. Yes my aunt was on heavy does of morphine during the last several months of her life.

    6. The woman in question has contacted the attorney (after many unanswered letters) and still claims that she is supposed to be the administrator of the estate.

    7. The woman in question was able to take my dying aunt (terminal cancer) to a notary and get power of attorney despite the fact that my aunt could hardly sign her own name (I have seen the paperwork and it is barely legible).

    8. If it were up to me, I would be calling the D.A., the media, etc., but I must be respectful of my mothers wishes. I can only hope that she decides to pursure this aggressively.

    9. Yes my mother made some mistakes during this process, such as allowing time to pass between the actual crimes and actually getting back out to NY to sit down with the NYPD.

    10. The NYPD said that BofA is not going to hand over any video footage of the woman accessing the safety deposit box (if it still exists).

    11. The woman in question has even asked to have my aun’t ashes!

  36. LAGirl says:

    we went through something similar, when my father recently passed away. he had become very ill, and couldn’t take care of himself. he had dated a neighbor off + on over the years. apparently, when his conditioned worsened, she was taking care of him. she had all of his keys, and full access to his apartment. there was also a home healthcare worker looking after him.

    my dad was also eccentric, and liked to deal in cash. he had no debts, didn’t believe in credit cards. before he died, he told my sister about some cash he had hidden in his apartment, and in a safe deposit box, to make it easier for my sister + i to handle funeral arrangements.

    the day after he died, my sister went to his place to settle his affairs. she discovered that all of the cash was gone. he also had very valuable antique coin, train, and gun collections. some of the guns + trains, and all of the coins were missing. some of these coins were very rare and extremely valuable. for insurance purposes, he kept itemized lists of everything. this list was also missing, and so were his keys + wallet.

    they knew the neighbor/lady friend had access to his place, so they asked her if she knew about any of the missing items. at first, she denied knowing anything. however, her guilt must have got the best of her, because later in the day she ended up turning over his keys and wallet!

    my sister had called the police to file a report for the missing items, hoping his insurance would cover it. the neighbor blamed the additional missing items on the home health care worker. i didn’t buy this story and was certain that this woman had taken everything.

    a few days later, i called the local police department and asked to speak with the officer who had gone out to take the report. i explained everything to him, and asked, very nicely, if he could go have a chat with the neighbor, to see if she would turn over anything else. i told him we most likely would not press charges, that we just wanted my dad’s property returned. he agreed.

    i got a call a few hours later and was shocked at what he told me. at first, the woman denied knowing anything. but he continued to question her, and let her know that our family wasn’t going to press charges. she then confessed to having some of his property, but swore up + down that my dad had given it to her. we knew for a fact this wasn’t true. before he died, he was in the process of making out his will, and had made it clear that everything was to go my sister + me. at one time, he said he even feared that if anything happened to him, that this woman would ‘clean him out’. we think she must have gone in and taken everything the night he died. who steals from the dead??? it’s disgusting.

    the cop explained to her that my dad had meant for everything to go to his family, and gave her one more chance to turn everything over. he ended up recovering most of the coins + guns. of course, she said she knew nothing about the cash.

    bottom line: keep your eye out for grifters befriending your sick relatives. also, make a will! get it notarized and make sure your attorney, or someone responsible, has a copy! my dad didn’t finish making out his will before he died, and it’s caused a lot of problems for us. do you really want that cousin you hate to get their hands on your prized Princess Diana Tea Cup Collection? or, for your stupid brother to get his grubby hands on your 1st edition ‘Catcher In The Rye’?

  37. zolielo says:

    Why was the cash in the deposit box?

  38. cgmaetc says:

    Funny, when I open my safe deposit box at BofA, I have to give two forms of ID, an electronic signature, a thumb print, sign another signature card, and a pint of blood. It is literally a 20 minute ordeal. I can’t even believe that a branch manager would be so lax as to allow this to happen.

  39. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    Ariel and LAGirl – I am so very sorry you both have had to go through this.

    Bank of America also helps the living rip off the living. A friend of mine is going through a divorce. He was doing some consulting work and told the company to send the checks to his new address. They sent the checks (totalling over $50K) to his old address. His gold-digging soon-to-be ex-wife signed her own name to the checks (they had never co-mingled accounts, BTW) and deposited them in her bank account (at another bank) via the ATM. Bank of America cleared the checks even though the signature did not match the account records. Needless to say, he’s charging her with fraud and suing Bank of America.

    Makes me glad I’m not a BofA customer.

  40. ElPresidente408 says:

    Commerce Bank only requires a signature on a signature card to access a safe deposit box (plus their key obviously). There is no extra verification unless specified on the account. The process takes roughly 30 seconds.

  41. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    What is the con-artist woman’s name? If you’re telling the truth, it’s not defamation or libel, so the Consumerist shouldn’t have any fears about posting it.

  42. Sudonum says:

    @iMike: @indianaguy:
    The post stated that the thief showed a forged ID with the dead aunts name on it and then signed the register as herself, with the notation “POA”. Does BofA not check the ID against register the person just signed? If the purpose of the register is to keep a record of persons visiting their safe deposit boxes tell me again how BofA did nothing wrong?

  43. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I agree with the earlier poster that the key right now is getting the videotape. I would immediately have a lawyer friend draft a letter to send to BoA’s General Counsel’s office ASAP demanding a copy of the videotape.

    Now, most likely BoA is going to completely ignore this letter, however, sending this letter is necessary to show the court that a court order will be necessary to get a copy of the videotape. This is because the court usually requires that you expend at least reasonable means to get the other side to agree to comply with discovery.

    Then, assuming BoA ignores you, you need to get your lawyer to file a motion to compel discovery to get the videotape. I would act quickly, because BoA will likely try to get rid of the evidence.

  44. bhelverson says:

    Dr. Eirik asked: “For that matter, even if the woman had power of attorney, does it survive into death?”

    I specilized in Trusts & Estates in law school and learned that a power of attorney (or any other agency agreement) does not survive the death of the principal, even if the agent does not know that the principal has died. It is one of the few “bright line” rules in the law.

    I am not your attorney and this is not legal advice, but find an experienced probate attorney and sue both the “friend” and B of A on behalf of Aunt’s Estate. Let the Probate Judge sort it out. They have seen looted estates before.

  45. ivieso says:

    Oh so now you care? After your aunt died and your missing the loot? Shoulda cared a little more. When your old and vulnerable, family is all you got. But most of your family want to live out their lives and not deal with your underwear spoiling self. There is no one to rely on, but the people with bad intentions around you. But you dont know better because there is no family around to tell you so. And since your old and stupid, you think they are just nice young fellas helping a old fart. Then they jack your bank safe deposit box and your next of kin is crying foul. Sad Truth and it happen more often than not.

    Lesson learned. So when I pork out some kids. I am going to make sure they take care of my old ass and change my underwear at least once week. Plus bring me a piece of lemon pie. I dont ask for much. Then they can take all of it, or else the slightly chubby blonde girl who washes my butt is going to get all of it.

    I hope my buddy reads this. He is tool to his grandma.

  46. LukeD says:

    I think the woman in question actually deserves the money, I doubt she stole the money and infact your aunt probably wanted her to have the money. As you said “Several pieces of jewelry were also missing”, so this woman didn’t take them all? If this is the case then ask yourself why not? If this woman was stealing a bank then im sure she would take EVERYTHING of value out of the safe as it would be pointless not to!

    Something else that strikes me is the fact that you have known your aunt has been ill, possibly mentally ill and yet you did nothing until you want to collect the cash, shame on you and frankly I respect this other woman for caring for an elderly woman during her final months, Ariel I pity you and frankly you should be ashamed by your greed. I am glad your not in my family.

    Also let me just say that your mother, your aunts sister? Where was she when your aunt was dieing? Its amazing how family appear the day after she died to collect the money!

    Sickening.

  47. Jesse in Japan says:

    Have you considered making a deal with Bank of America wherein you sign a waiver releasing them from liability in return for the evidence that would allow the NYPD and District Attorney to press criminal charges? Although BoA screwed up, they’re not the ones you’re really after here.

  48. kalmakazee says:

    I want you to know how badly I feel that you had to go through all that grief.

    My wife is the one who handles all of our money and bank accounts. If we happen to have an account with bank Of America I am going to go in there and tell them they are about to lose us as a customer. Maybe if enough people mention the story to bank Of America and threaten to leave and bank elsewhere they will actually do something.

    Good Luck! My heart goes out to you. There are a bunch of sick, twisted, and selfish aholes in the world. Just remember there are caring and supportive people out there. (and rooting for you) Maybe not many caring people out there but some. I know that I am caring. I am rooting for you. :-)

  49. Ariel, your story is disheartening, to say the least. To have tragedy piled up on tragedy — especially because of someone else’s incompetence! — is disgusting.

    I find some irony in your story, though, because Bank of America recently refused to deposit a check that had been made out to my dad and signed over to me. Apparently, it’s their “policy,” although the manager couldn’t produce a document on site. Strangely enough, the reason the corporate CSR gave me when I called (go, GetHuman!) was that “family members and close friends are responsible for 90% of identity theft.”

    Sue Bank of America into the ground. I’m moving my money elsewhere. What incompetence.

  50. akyiba says:

    If the lady had POA and the aunt died the night before, the bank would be notified when? That may be the argument of BofA. Who knows? This is such a terrible story. I hope that this woman gets what’s coming to her.

  51. @zolielo: “Why was the cash in the deposit box?”

    Many older people do this; some have depression-era distrust of banks; many prefer to have a certain amount of PHYSICAL cash on hand, not trusting the bank statement to not magically disappear into the electronic ether.

    Frankly the deposit box is one of the more normal places I’ve seen stashed cash. I’ve had clients with it attached to the back of a painting, or sewn in a hem of something they don’t wear, or in the classic coffee can. And I’m sure many, many odder places they don’t tell their lawyer about. Or their kids. So it comes as quite a shock to the folks in charge of clearing out the house when they find it. (And then sometimes steal it.)

  52. enm4r says:

    @akyiba:

    This is precisely why many banks have extremely tight policies regarding POA. But the supposed charge here is identity theft, which is why her having POA really doesn’t make a difference. There are too many inconsistencies and/or unexplained details to actually form any opinion about this other than “that woman was a bad person.” I get the impression that there are key facts missing from the initial story.

  53. Kornkob says:

    It’s not a bad idea to have access to a certain amount of physical cash (although a SDB is not very accessible) for use during regional emergencies. Floods, tornados and other potentially large scale disasters can make it hard, even impossible to get at cash in banks (and power or phones beign down pretyt much halts credit card use these days– I haven’t seen a CC imprinter in years) at the very time when you might want a few hudred bucks on hand so you can get the hell out of dodge.

  54. LawyerontheDL says:

    The United States Comptroller of the Currency is your friend. They regulate the banks throughout the country. I would strongly suggest writing a letter to the corporate offices of Bank of America and copying the Comptroller. Be sure to explicitly details what happened and when. Also be sure to specifically state what you want to have happen.

    By the way, how long was the time lapse between when the person died and when the police were contacted? If the person dies recently, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  55. arieln says:

    @enm4r:

    And what facts would those be? Do you suggest that I give every detail of wha has happened in such a way that I might jeopardize any case the estate might have against this woman?

    There are actually two crimes involving BofA according to the NYPD. The first would be identity theft, the second would be grand theft larceny. This woman knew that POA ends at the time of death.

  56. arieln says:

    @ivieso:

    Considering the fact that my mother is a breast cancer survivor I think that she handled the situation with her sister as well as she could. There is a lot of history between the two of them that can only be attributed to “family issues”.


    My aunt was a difficult person even before her cancer. I am no quite sure whether I should be offended by you comment or just agree and say that it would have been better if one of us were living with her in her 500 square foot apartment in Manhattan where the boxes were piled so high that you could see the walls.

  57. lotusblossom says:

    First of all, there a few holes in this story… Did the woman access the SAFE (not safeTY) deposit box posing as your aunt, or with a POA FOR your aunt? You contradicted yourself there at least twice. Next, I am very familiar with the process at Bank of America regarding entry to safe deposit boxes, as anyone with a box with them is, and what you described is not the proper procedure. Anyone accessing a box MUST already be on the account. Their names, signatures, and ID information is recorded on their ENTRY CARD, not a “ledger”, and EACH and EVERY time they access their box, they must present a valid photo id and sign their own, personal entry card. You cannot access one with a POA, unless the POA specifically grants you rights to that box. If a box-holder has died, anyone entering the box must present an original certificate of death ALONG with a COURT ORDER. As for entering with a false id, that might be possible if you were also able to forge the sig of the box-holder AND no one at the bank actually knew the identity of the box-holder, but it would certianly be no fault of the bank’s, as they would have been following the proper guidelines. If there is some truth to this story, I am sorry for your loss, but it has been horribly skewed, but it is my guess that the only crime here is one called “slander”.

  58. arieln says:

    **——–** UPDATE **——–**

    My mother just got a copy of a letter (through her attorney) written
    by “the woman”. Here are a few items that were mentioned in the
    letter…

    1. The woman in question claims that someone has told her (we don’t
    know who) that my mother (or someone in the family) has made a threat
    on her life and that she is going to file a restraining order against
    the entire family.

    2. She is claiming that if my mother reports the jewelry taken as
    lost/stolen that she is committing a crime because my mother knows
    where the jewelry is and therefore it is not missing.

    3. She is claiming that my mother has offered to pay one of my aunt’s
    friends $50-60k in exchange for testimony against her.

    4. She takes a final stab at my mother by claiming that my mother
    abandoned her sister during the last and “gravest” part of her illness. (my mother was scheduled to arrive in New York to attend to my sister, sadly my aunt died the night before she arrived)

  59. arieln says:

    @lotusblossom:

    I find it interesting that you would take this tone. Have you ever illegally accessed somone’s safety deposit box before? You know the old saying that “laws are for people who follow them”?

    As to the “holes” that you pointed out… what I have written about is exactly what I have been told by my mother and what I saw/did/heard first hand while I was in New York cleaning out my aunt’s apartment.

    The woman in question walked into BofA and was able to access my aunt’s saftey deposit box by walking in and showing an ID and signing her name. I have no idea whether or not BofA uses a ledger, a card, a registery, or a man with a stamp. What I do know is that one of the BofA employees insisted that my aunt had been at the BofA earlier that morning (the day after she died) and accessed the safety deposit box.

    You are also making an assumption that all BofA branches follow procedure 100% of the time. You also seem to think that BofA is infallible. This woman did not have a death certificate. Those were not available at the time that this woman cleaned out the saftey deposit box.

    Oh… and slander only applies when what you are saying isn’t true. Like it wouldn’t be slander if I called you a jerk.

  60. enm4r says:

    @arieln:

    I think it’s very clear that, at the very least, there is key information lacking. I don’t know what you saw/did/heard, and this may be extremely reflective of that. Still, there is obviously more information necessary before anyone can even understand what exactly is going on (Is it identity theft? or is it negligence? Fraud? Elderly abuse?) and it would be wrong to all throw our arms up and picket BoA with such important questions unanswered.

    I have accessed (legally) more than one safe deposit box, BoA included, and I find it hard to believe that even a team that was relaxed on the access proceedures would let someone sign a different name than they presented in the form of ID, and that they simply did not care and could not show with clarity who had access to the box at precisely the times in question. Please continue to update, as the facts come to light.

  61. LawyerontheDL says:

    @arieln:

    To be the administrator of the estate, the woman would have to receive an order from the Surrogate’s Court appointing her as such and she was unlikely to get them within a few hours of the person’s death. More importantly, it’s absolutely not true that

    “NY law only protects elder (apparently) people who unable to make sound decisions only after the person has been declared such by no less than 3 doctors and a judge.”

    There is no “3 doctor” rule at all. There is a proceeding necessary to protect people from having their families hijack them, but there is no magic number. The process is rather straightforward – it’s called a guardianship proceeding.

  62. arieln says:

    @LukeD:

    Luke, since my first response got lost in cyberspace, let me try this again.

    1. My aunt probably did want her to have “some” money. Not all of it.

    2. Let’ see… “If this woman was stealing the bank then im sure she would take everything of value…” Really? Did you come up with that one by yourself? Let’s see. What she left had little value, but the $75k in cash seemed to be enough for her. I guess she wasn’t totally greedy! Gee… you managed to find some good in this woman! She is your kinda gal eh?

    3. How do you know how much time I, or my family members spent with my aunt? How do you know we did nothing? Do you know something I don’t?

    4. Yes my aunt left me some money. She also left money for some of her closest friends. However, since much of that money is now in the posession of this woman I doubt they will get it. My mother trying to get the money back so she can fufill my aunt’s wishes is truly a greedy thing.

    5. You say you respect this woman for caring for my aunt in her dying days. At what point did I state that this woman took care of my aunt? Again, do you know something I don’t?

    6. My mother was scheduled to fly out to NY to visit her sister. Sadly, my aunt died the night before my mom was to arrive in NY. Hmm… I guess if my mom travelled back in time, she could arrive before my aunt died. Wow! Can we borrow your time machine?

    Luke. How do you like the view from up there on your horse (pony)? Gee whiz! Your words of wisdom have proven two things.

    1. Not every Consumerist reader is intelligent

    2. You are made an ass of yourself without trying. Now that takes skill!

  63. arieln says:

    @LawyerontheDL:

    Interesting. The NYPD detective told my mother and I (yes in person) that there needed to be 3 findings (by Dr.’s) and a judge in order for my aunt to be ruled unable to make sound decisions.

    Perhaps I should have my mother contact the NYPD again.

  64. arieln says:

    @enm4r:

    You find it hard to believe that BofA would be so lax? How do you think my mother felt when she went into BofA (after having been to the funeral home) and they told her that her sister had just been in the bank!

  65. arieln says:

    Some thoughts…

    If it were up to me (and it isn’t), I would…

    1. Sue Bof A

    2. Sue the woman who manipulated and stole from my aunt

    3. Press charges against this woman

    4. Press charges against the other people who stole from my aunt as she was dying (yes there were others, but they took much less than $250-300k)

    But, since I am not the administrator of the estate I don’t have any legal right to pursue these things in court (I think). Besides, my mother would be very angry if I tried to do that kind of thing(s) without her consent.

    and…

    1. Yes I am angry that this woman stole from my aunt

    2. Yes I am angry that there is less (much less) money to go around

    3. Yes I wish that we had done more for my aunt

    4. Yes I wish I could have forced my aunt to listen to her Doctors when she was first diagnosed. Maybe things would have turned out differently

    5. I am not surprised that this woman is now claiming to have heard that a threat has been made on her life and is not filing for a restraining order. Her father was an attorney, she conducts herself in a way that would make it seem like she has done this before.

    6. Yes I have actually spoken on the phone with this woman. Either she genuinely believes that she is doing the right thing (by taking all of the money earmarked for others and keeping for herself) or she is a greedy thief who took advantage of a dying womans fears and trust.

  66. zolielo says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Thank you for the reply I thought might be the case. Foolish…

  67. mac-phisto says:

    i wouldn’t worry too much about the tape being destroyed. almost all financial institutions have digital recording systems in place now…they can almost certainly call up any date over the last year or more. in larger banks, this isn’t even controlled at branch level – they may have a regional security office that could access this information for you.

    also, if this woman signed as POA, the bank should have a copy of the POA on file. if it were me, i would like to see if that truly exists.

    finally, sorry for your loss. i experienced a similar issue on a much smaller scale when my grandmother died. it’s sad that the greatness of a person is lost in instances such as this.

    my mom has the right idea: don’t save things for people until after you die. give it to them while you are still alive & watch them enjoy it. pass on with enough money in the bank to pay for your final services.

  68. shdwsclan says:

    Get one of those, if we win…you win lawyers…..
    Then you have no loss if you loose…..

    Its sounds like an easy case, in the absence of a will, all possesions to next of kin, or closes living relative….

  69. shdwsclan says:

    Thanks for the info, i should probably cancel ALL my lasalle accounts and transfer my student loans and morgate away from BOA….

  70. Hackoff says:

    @shdwsclan:

    Actually there was a will. However the original mysteriously disappeared sometime in late November.

    Since the State of NY doesn’t recognize a copy of a will (which my mother had) she had to petition the state to become the administrator of the estate.

  71. Hackoff says:

    Yes my original Consumerist name is Hackoff. Arieln came about after the posting about my family’s experience with BofA and the woman who took the money and jewelry.

  72. lotusblossom says:

    @arieln

    If by “slander”, you mean *Slander is a spoken defamation. Defamation or “defamation of character,” is spoken or written words that falsely and negatively reflect on a living person’s reputation.* or *The common law origins of defamation lie in the torts of slander (harmful statement in a transitory form, especially speech) and libel (harmful statement in a fixed medium, especially writing but also a picture, sign, or electronic broadcast), each of which gives a common law right of action.* then you would be right. You would also be guilty by relaying the information as you have, without having facts to support your statements. If you are simply repeating what your mother said, and it is your mother’s story that sounds wishy-washy, then one would think that the responsible adult would gather his own information prior to spreading rumors. If you did no research on this yourself, then how do you know it is not slander? You are… um… “brave” (irresponsible?) to make such a bold and defamatory statement based upon, admittedly, second-hand information.

    If by “jerk”, you mean someone intolerant of ignorance or immaturity (like stooping to the very adult level of name-calling), then I would be said jerk! And proud of it.

    I have to wonder if it has ever occurred to you that your aunt, in her state of loneliness, actually added this woman to her account? If that is the case, then the bank would not only be innocent of error or negligence, but would be following their Privacy Policy by not sharing that information with you OR your mother, since their obligation is to ensure the privacy of their current customer… unfortunately in this situation, that would be your con artist.

    Perhaps you should focus on the actions of this woman, rather than the SUPPOSED actions of Bank of America?

    Even as an indifferent party, I still cannot help but wonder where your aunt’s loved ones were while she was developing this bond with this con artist?? (This statement, by the way, is PURELY rhetorical.)

    Now, excuse me as I go off to assuage my bruised ego.

  73. pbeller says:

    Ariel,

    Contact me if you want. I’m a reporter at Forbes magazine. Maybe I can help. Interested to know what company this woman runs and whether she’s done this before.
    Pbeller@forbes.com

  74. Krossbones says:

    Something seems fishy about this post. There’s probably some really important facts missing, and I still don’t understand why she used PoA if she was impersonating the actual owner of the box. That probably would have caught someone’s attention.

  75. ikarl67 says:

    Here is my issue, why weren’t any of Ariel’s family with the aunt while she was sick or when she died?
    That is what family is for! Ariel seems pissed that she missed out on what she was “untitled” to, but what was her Aunt entitled to? One would think that the aunt would have wanted to be near someone who cared for her and saw after her needs.

    Family does not have to be blood and by no means does it mandate entitlement.

    Ariel and her family deserve nothing from the Aunt. It seems nothing is all they gave her.

  76. ikarl67 says:

    @LAGirl: Why did you8r sister wait to go to your fathers until the day after he died? Another example of people misplaced sense of entitlement.

  77. E-Bell says:

    Take the law into your own hands. Do whatever it takes to get that money back. Then let the woman sue you and prove that she is entitled to the money.