DALLAS -- What do you do when someone wanders into a branch and demands $23 million in gold that he says is owed him?

If you worked at BankAmerica Corp.'s Houston branch last week, you would have called the home office. At least that's what one branch official did when confronted by a man claiming the bank was part of a secret government deal to return to the gold standard and to distribute the precious metal directly to Americans.

The man said "that today was the day we were switching back to the gold standard and that he was there to pick up his," said Randy Hicks, a spokesman at Bank of America Texas headquarters in suburban Dallas.

The nation's second-largest bank received three inquiries over two days. Mr. Hicks believes they were from one person. He said the man, who was not a BankAmerica customer, claimed to be affiliated with We the People, a populist antigovernment group that claims the Federal Reserve Bank is illegal.

The man said three other institutions were also part of the government's gold plan, but he would identify only Banc One Corp. as a participant. A bank official replied that he was not aware of any such contacts and noted that branches did not generally carry a stock of gold.

Some members of We the People have been linked to a fake money-order scheme that has cost U.S. banks an estimated $40 million in spurious claims. Mr. Hicks said the unusual request was not reported to an investigative agency.

"I told him that if he had a legal claim we would consider it, but that he could not just walk into a branch and get $23 million in gold," Mr. Hicks said. "I guess he thought he'd show an ID and we'd just pile it into his car."

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