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SOME BANKS QUIETLY REFUNDING MONEY INVESTED IN MUTUAL FUNDS

If you bought a mutual fund from a bank and think you were misled into a losing venture, you may have a chance to break even.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and state securities regulators are receiving hundreds of complaints from customers claiming that bank representatives sold them funds that were unsuitable or misrepresented the risks involved.For many banks that began selling mutual funds to their customers over the past few years, the funds haven't proved to be much of an investment. Accusations that banks misled customers into buying uninsured mutual funds and annuities led to increased regulatory scrutiny and disclosure requirements.

Lawsuits are pending against the securities affiliates of Nations-Bank, First Union and Great Western for alleged mutual-fund sales improprieties. Now NationsBank, KeyCorp, Barnett Banks and others are quietly trying to defuse the controversy by giving some disgruntled mutual-fund investors their money back.

Some refunds include not only the customer's initial investment but also any losses incurred in 1994 and, where applicable, sales charges and redemption fees.

Banks are hoping the informal settlements will be "easier and cheaper" than arbitration or litigation, says Joy Montgomery, a bank consultant.

Customers are required to sign releases giving up the right to sue the banks or their securities affiliates and prohibiting them from discussing their settlements.

Not everyone is entitled to a refund or can expect to get one.

If you believe a bank representative sold you a fund that was unsuitable or misrepresented the risk, put your complaint in writing and provide supporting paperwork. If the broker who sold you the fund doesn't respond to your satisfaction, contact his or her supervisor or, if necessary, go up the line to the bank's compliance officer, general counsel or president.

NationsBank "will consider seriously all customer complaints, and in situations where a correction or adjustment is merited, we'll make it," says spokesman Ellison Clary.