Wells Fargo has been caught up in a massive scam perpetrated by its employees, resulting in fraudulent charges to thousands of customers. The company set up an “incentive” program for its employees, which in reality were strict quotas requiring bankers to open up a certain number of accounts per day. Desperate employees, unable to meet the bank’s unrealistic demands, opened more than two million unauthorized accounts for their customers. In many cases, these fake accounts resulted in fraudulent charges to bank customers, including annual fees, overdraft protection, interest, late fees.
The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CPFB) has imposed fines of $100 million against Wells Fargo, while all told, the bank will pay $185 million in fines as a result of its employees’ illegal actions. According to CPFB Director Rob Cordray, the watchdog’s investigation “found that employees of the bank created unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts across the country in order to collect financial bonuses for themselves.”
According to past employees, the lack of foot traffic in Wells Fargo bank locations made it mathematically impossible to achieve their employer’s quotas. Khalid Taha, one former Wells Fargo banker, said he “faced the threat of being fired if [he] didn’t their unreasonable sales quotas every day.” Other employees reported that Wells Fargo managers would constantly “hound, berate, demean and threaten” employees, and that bankers were told to do whatever it took to reach the quotas.
Wells Fargo employees “requested and activated debit cards without consumers’ knowledge or consent, going so far as to create PINs for consumers without telling them,” said Cordray. They did this in order to secretly sign up existing clients for services they had not requested. Some even went so far as to set up phony email addresses to enroll customers in services without their knowledge.
The CFPB’s investigation indicates that roughly 85,000 accounts incurred $2 million in unauthorized charges. Wells Fargo has refused to admit or deny the scheme, but claims it will compensate customers who incurred fees. And despite knowing of the CFPB’s investigation, it did not disclose this fact to stockholders in its recent regulatory filings.
If you are a Wells Fargo customer, you should carefully examine your account statements and documents, as well as your credit card statements. If you find unauthorized charges, you may want to consider taking legal action. While Wells Fargo says it will pay refunds, that is far from certain. Moreover, customers may have had damage to their credit rating and may have suffered other negative consequences.
The CPFB and other entities are collecting massive fines for the wrongful conduct of Wells Fargo. But that money is not going back in the pockets of wronged consumers. If the bank’s customers are going to be fully compensated for the wrongdoing they suffered at Wells Fargo’s hands, it is going to require them to take action individually, by hiring a private attorney.
While $185 million seems like a lot of money, Wells Fargo is worth $250 billion. For them, these fines are a drop in the bucket. The punishment should fit the crime—so that neither Wells Fargo nor any other bank is willing to perpetrate a fraud like this again. To achieve true deterrence, the bank must face the wrath of the individual customers they wronged. It’s up to you.