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Ex-Bank of the West broker suspended for $34K wire transfer to customer impostor

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A former Bank of the West broker who was duped into getting the bank to wire $34,000 to an individual posing as a customer was suspended from the industry last week for 30 days, according to the settlement she reached with FINRA.

Corinne Renae Mittag of Omaha, Nebraska, purportedly received an email from the impostor in January 2015 requesting that she sell securities in his account to fund the wire request to a third-party in the United Kingdom. Mittag never confirmed the request with the customer by telephone as required, FINRA claimed in the settlement.

In a series of three emails, Mittag first allegedly agreed to submit trades to sell two corporate bond positions held in the customer’s account without contacting the customer. FINRA scolded Mittag for making the unauthorized trades as she did not have written authorization from the customer to exercise discretion in his account.

When Mittag asked the customer for a telephone number to execute the wire transfer, he said that he could not be reached by phone and requested that the transaction be completed via email, according to FINRA.

Mittag purportedly spoke to her supervisor and an operations manager to seek exemptions to requirements regarding wire transfers to third parties in foreign jurisdictions. Bank of the West requires brokers to verify a customer’s identity using an automated system that contacts customers by telephone. It also requires that certain disclosures about the wire be read to the requesting customer over the phone.

Her superiors granted the exemptions because Mittag falsely represented that she had spoken to the customer about the sale of the corporate bonds and the wire request, FINRA alleged.

FINRA chided Mittag for causing Bank of the West to sign an attestation form that inaccurately stated that it had verbally confirmed the wire request with the customer, a violation of FINRA rules.

The impostor was about to make off with another $130,000 a few weeks later when his scheme was uncovered by the customer. Just as Mittag was getting ready to complete a wire request form for a second third-party wire to the United Kingdom, the customer called Mittag, inquiring about the sudden decline in the value of his account. He informed Mittag that he never authorized the sale of his securities or the wire transfer.

As part of the second attempted wire transfer, Mittag had submitted trade orders to sell the customer’s remaining four corporate bonds and mutual fund in his account, according to FINRA.

Bank of the West stopped the second wire request and reversed all the trades but was unable to recall the $34,000 wire from the United Kingdom, FINRA said.

Mittag declined to accept a call from Bank Investment Consultant when reached at COR Clearing, an independent securities clearing firm where she works as an IRA specialist. She agreed to the 30-day suspension without admitting or denying FINRA’s allegations.

FINRA opted not to impose monetary sanctions on Mittag due to her financial situation and demonstrated inability to pay, according to the settlement.

Mittag was assigned to work with customers whose local Bank of the West branch did not have a rep working onsite at the branch. Because of this, Mittag’s interactions with customers occurred mainly by phone and email, rather than in person, FINRA said.

Mittag worked for both BancWest Investment Services and Bank of the West in Omaha, Nebraska, from May 2013 to February 2015, when she was discharged for “policy violations related to proper trading authorization and client verification,” according to BrokerCheck. She started in the industry with TD Ameritrade in 1996 and remained with the company for eight years.

Anita Fox, a spokeswoman for Bank of the West, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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