St. Petersburg, FL -- A Tampa Bay woman is suing Wells Fargo for what she calls years of harassing if not cruel phone calls from debt collectors contacting her, on occasion, several times a day, asking to speak with her deceased mother about paying off her mortgage.
Karen Hicks hopes her lawsuit sends a message to what she calls, "banks behaving badly."
"Continued, relentless pursuit of torment," is how Hicks describes her 6½-year experience with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Hundreds of badgering phone calls, made to her home and cell phone, demanding to speak with her late mother, Donna, even after Karen had asked them to stop.
"She's deceased," Hicks would tell them. "I'll make a note, we won't call you anymore," she says they would respond. But then? "Five minutes later I would get another phone call," she says.
LEARN MORE:Read the lawsuit, exhibits
When Donna Hicks passed away in 2008, Karen says she decided to keep the family home by paying off the mortgage. About $67,000.
But, according to the allegation made in court documents, Wells Fargo would not deal with Karen, the trustee of her mother's estate, even though her name was now on the deed. Callers would speak only with the person named on the loan, Karen's deceased mother.
"Each one of those calls reopened wounds and made it very difficult to cope and grieve," said Hicks' attorney, David Mitchell, with the law firm of Maney & Gordon.
Despite sending a death certificate and other relevant documents, Wells Fargo declined for years, says Hicks, to negotiate with her to settle the loan.
The home fell into foreclosure, racking up insurance costs, fees and penalties.
By January 2015, that $67,000 balance had ballooned to more than $200,000.
That lead Hicks to conclude the bank wanted more than the $67,000 it would have gotten from her if she had paid off the loan.
"They were out for the property," she said, "That was their sole goal."
Documents show Wells Fargo eventually acknowledged what it called its "oversight," but Hicks says the bank would not back down from its now far-higher cost to pay off the loan.
The bank did, however, issue a letter addressed to "Donna Hicks Deceased," offering to discontinue the telephone calls.
The letter thanked Donna Hicks for her clearly impossible, recently-made phone call, and it also required a signature from Karen's dead mother.
"I'm sorry, she's in heaven," Hicks said she told them when they tried to call for her mom. "If you have got a line to there, I'd be grateful to talk to her, too."
Hicks says she was trying anything at that point to get through to the people calling.
"From tears to humor, in the sense of – of just having some human compassion," said Hicks.
Mitchell says he's dealt with clients who've also received relentless phone calls, but in this case, he says, his client wasn't even the person named on the loan.
"You have rights, and you have the right to tell them to stop calling. And if they keep calling, it's a violation of federal law," said Mitchell.
In January 2015, Hicks finally sold her mother's house for $255,000.
Most of it, she says, went to Wells Fargo.
She could just put this episode behind her, now. But instead, Karen Hicks is suing for the money she feels she should not have had to pay, plus legal penalties of up to $1,500 for each call she received after she had told the bank to stop contacting her.
"It's the principle of the thing, now," said Hicks.
In a response to the suit now filed with the court, Wells Fargo argues that Karen's mother was party to a class-action lawsuit settled last year, and so Karen should be precluded from making a claim stemming from the foreclosure.
Wells Fargo spokesperson Michelle Palomino also responded to a request for comment with the following written statement: "We were in contact with Ms. Hicks between 2010 and 2014 for a legitimate business purpose related to a property in an estate for which she was the trustee. However, due to active litigation we are unable to comment further at this time."
To see the lawsuit and related exhibits, click here.