Financial Records Breached at Four North Carolina Banks

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp. are notifying thousands of customers that their accounts may have been breached in a theft of financial records from four banks.

The theft was exposed last month when police in Hackensack, N.J., charged nine people, including a business owner, a New Jersey state worker and seven bank workers, in a plot to steal financial records of thousands of bank customers, which were then sold to collection agencies.

The bank employees charged in the plot accessed records for customers of Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Commerce Bank, PNC Bank of Pittsburgh and Charlotte-based Wachovia and Bank of America, according to Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa.

On Friday, Wachovia spokeswoman Fran Durst said the bank was notified by Hackensack police that the seized computer disks contained the names of 14,000 active or inactive Wachovia customers.

"We sent out letters of notification to all those who were involved," Durst said. Most of the customers were from New Jersey, she said.

"In the letters, we tell them exactly what happened and our response," she said. "We told them we have placed their account on our watch list and we will monitor it for any unusual activity."

The customers also were given a toll-free number to call the bank with any questions or concerns, she said. And the bank also gave each affected customer a free year's subscription to a credit reporting service.

"This way they can monitor their account," Durst said.

o far, only 75 names of Bank of America customers have shown up on the computer disks, said bank spokeswoman Alex Liftman.

"We have conducted a thorough review of their accounts, and so far we have not found any suspicious or unauthorized activity," she said.

Bank of America also is providing the affected customers with free credit reporting services.

"If we determine there are others, we will contact them," Liftman said. "At this point there is no reason to believe anything has happened with these accounts."

Despite the alarm, Durst said Wachovia was not getting a lot of complaints.

"We are getting calls from those who are concerned, which is understandable," she said. "When we tell them what we are doing, they are relieved."

Zisa has said Orazio Lembo Jr., 35, of Hackensack, made millions of dollars through the scheme but spent most of it on a fast-paced lifestyle.

Authorities discovered the plot after they executed a search warrant at Lembo's apartment in February as part of a separate investigation. They seized 13 computers which contained details about the plan, Zisa said.

Lembo received lists of people sought for debt collection and turned that information over to the seven bank workers, who would compare those names to their client lists. The bank workers were paid $10 for each account they turned over to Lembo, Zisa said.

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