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This is actually a cautionary tale against spontaneous joint accounts. It really is a good idea to make sure that your funds and identity are secure and separate unless you know for a fact who you are dealing with and even then you might want to exercise caution.
So this story happened a few years ago, mid 2010 and has resulted in an issue that I still haven't resolved. I broke up with my then girlfriend at the end of April and had no idea what to do.
It came kind of as a shock and I found myself hanging out at a friend’s house trying to figure out where I was going to go to next. I didn't have to spend too much time wondering as I was introduced to a gal through an online friend of mine. She was Croatian and had been living in the states for quite some time. We got together and hit it off.
She was cool and liked me so we moved in together almost immediately. It turns out though that she was being pressured to get her green card in order to remain in the states. We had already hit it off and she was living in a better neighborhood than I was so while I was certainly not looking to get married, I saw no problem with it. So we did the whole moving in together thing for real—got a joint banking account, bought a car together, put my name on the lease and got married.
This is where it gets all messed up. It turns out that she had been making money through fraud listings on Craigslist. Apparently there is a scheme that is rolling around where a guy will send you a check, you deposit it and then withdraw a portion to send to the scammer. Rinse and repeat. Wonderful little detail that I was unaware of.
My personal bank account was seized about a month and a half into the “marriage” for the debts she had incurred. My bank account was with Wells Fargo (San Bernardino branch while our joint account was started at the Newport Beach branch). I was informed that I was now responsible for bank fraud and all of the money in our joint account was gone. All of the money in my personal account was gone (though I had only a modest amount in that account).
The majority of money was in the joint account, which was no longer available. Needless to say that I was quite frustrated with the situation and to add more pain to the situation, the radiator to my car gave up and there was no money to fix it. So, no bank accounts. No car. Living situation no longer sustainable.
The bank agents were not very helpful. I was able to demonstrate that I had essentially just met the girl and that this had been going on for longer than I had known her. That doesn't matter. As soon as you are associated in any sort of official fashion with someone, you become liable for their issues and that is what matters to them. They are like impersonal and unfeeling leeches who see only in green and can hear you if you are speaking through dollar bills.
Fast forward a little bit, I ended up staying at a friend’s house for six months on the opposite end of the state in San Francisco. They helped me out with living quarters and pretty much traded food and hanging out for my help at their dog grooming business. I file for divorce and go through the proceedings, which took several months and there is no problem because her green card issue prevents her from actually combating the divorce (she didn't want it but had no choice considering her situation and because of how things went).
I meet someone else; we hit it off for all the right reasons and moved in together. I get a real job that pays me real paychecks and I decide that it is time to get a bank account again. I decide to go to a local Credit Union to get a new bank account and start automatic deposits. Half way through the process, the bank teller returns and tells me that they are not allowed to sign me up for an account.
It turns out that Wells Fargo has the ability to prevent you from getting an account if they feel that you haven't paid enough fees. They want(ed) two hundred and fifty dollars from me to allow me to sign up for an account with a different bank!
Caught me completely by surprise and for the life of me, I have no idea where this two hundred and fifty dollars came from and at this point I am not interested. I can pay it but for me, it is the principle of the matter. I had to completely start over, rely on the kindness of friends and I am still not financially back to where I was.
There is no way, especially after having gone through a slight Occupy phase that I am going to give Wells Fargo a single dime more.
The kind of funny part is that my job at the time (evil box store) transacted through Wells Fargo and there was no issue with me taking my check to a local branch and just cashing it (each time having to listen to a sales pitch on how I should sign up for an account through Wells Fargo; I nodded each time thinking that the only reason I was there was to avoid fees from the vulturous check cashing places). I was literally screwed by Wells Fargo (in tandem with my annulled wife) and now had to rely on them to cash my check.
It was a hell of an experience. And it goes without saying that I can't stand the idea of ever doing business with a national bank ever again. Long live Bitcoin.
- By Ryan Watton
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