An escrow officer initiated a wire transfer for sale proceeds in the amount of $536,000. Her assistant served as the counter–signature on the outgoing wire form. After the form was signed, the escrow officer scanned and emailed the form to the accounting center to initiate the wire using the online banking system.
Later that day the seller called complaining he had not received his proceeds. The escrow officer looked up the federal reference number and gave it to the seller to provide to his bank to trace the wire transfer. The bank traced the wire, but unfortunately the funds were deposited to another account – not the account of the seller.
The seller called back to let the escrow officer know the wire was sent to the wrong account. The escrow officer pulled her file and compared the posted wire information against the wire instructions provided by the seller. Sure enough, the account number posted by the escrow officer on the outgoing wire form had one duplicate digit: "22"!
The escrow officer began working with the accounting center to recall the wire. The accounting center representative contacted the sending bank representative at Bank of America, who recalled the wire from the receiving bank (Wells Fargo Bank). Wells Fargo Bank requested authorization from the account holder to recall the wire. In the meantime, the escrow officer filed a loss for the proceeds so she could pay the seller, who was anxiously awaiting the money.
The recall request remained unanswered for more than a week. The escrow officer and her management team assumed the account holder was out of town for spring break, but after a week the accounting center followed up with Bank of America regarding their recall request. Bank of America contacted Wells Fargo Bank and their representative informed them the account holder had died!
The Bank of America representative, the accounting center representative and the escrow officer were shocked! How could they obtain account holder authorization when the account holder was deceased? Wells Fargo agreed to attempt to contact the account holder's wife, since they could not release the account holder's name or contact information to the escrow officer.
Now weeks later, the branch is still out the $536,000 loss and has not recovered the funds initially wired. Luckily, the account is frozen and the deceased person's heirs cannot access the money sent to the account in error. The Company has retained outside counsel to petition the bank, as well as the heirs to the deceased person's estate, to return the funds.
MORAL OF THE STORY
The person providing the counter–signature on a check or a wire transfer should:
- Review the wire instructions to ensure the check or wire form matches in all respects to the wire transfer instructions provided by the payoff lender, seller or any other party receiving funds from our trust account.
- Check the account name, account number, bank name and bank routing number, keeping in mind banks do not match account holder names on incoming wires. Incoming wires are posted automatically by account number only.
- Take the responsibility seriously. It is a policy put in place to ensure accuracy and guard against defalcation.