Camco resident claims account illegally seized
By RENEE WINKLER
A Camden County man, who acknowledges he had unpaid debts that were turned over to a collection agency, on Friday sued in U.S. District Court for class-action status for hundreds of thousands of bank customers he claims were victims of unlawful debt practices.
Robert A. Jones, whose address is not included in court documents, identifies himself as a Commerce Bank customer whose records he believes were sold to a Hackensack man who then turned them over to a law firm specializing in debt collection.
The only defendant in the lawsuit is the law firm, Pressler & Pressler LLP of Cedar Knolls, Morris County.
Pressler & Pressler seized Jones' $2,000 account for unpaid bills in February, according to the lawsuit. The timing of that seizure "appears to coincide with the dates when Orazio Lembo Jr. unlawfully purchased bank account information," said Philip Steven Fuoco, the Haddonfield attorney who filed the lawsuit for Jones.
Officials say Lembo paid $10 to bank employees for each account number. None of the banks whose employees reportedly sold information, nor Lembo, is a defendant in the lawsuit.
Lembo has been charged in Hackensack with racketeering and disclosing confidential information. That information was used to build a multimillion dollar business of his own, DRL & Associates, police said.
Fuoco said the plaintiff class, which would have to be certified by a judge, could include hundreds of thousands of bank customers. His lawsuit could be expanded to include customers of other banks named in previously reported sales of personal information. The other banks are Bank of America, Wachovia and PNC.
In addition to Lembo, police in Hackensack have arrested 10 people, including eight former bank employees. The Wall Street Journal reported this week as many as 10 banks may have been victimized in the scheme. Hackensack police Capt. Frank Lomie has said there could be as many as 700,000 potential victims.
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Lembo, 35, of Hackensack, described himself as a "deadbeat locator service and collection agency." The information he obtained and sold to the law firm was not used to create new accounts, so it is not considered identity theft.
Both the Federal Fair Debt Collection Act and New Jersey statutes make it unlawful to take or use information from a computer database without authorization, said Fuoco.
Fuoco said there was no legal way for Lembo to obtain Jones' bank account information.
A telephone call to Pressler & Pressler was not returned on Friday.
In addition to seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and costs of the investigation and attorney fees, the lawsuit asks that Pressler & Pressler be barred from using confidential banking information obtained from Lembo or his company.
The lawsuit asks the courts to order that all illegally obtained information be destroyed and that people whose information was sold be told which companies were given the information.
Reach Renee Winkler at (856) 486-2455 or rwinkler@courierpostonlinecom