5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired this past week for their involvement in a massive credit card fraud scheme between 2011 and July 2015. An organized white collar criminal operation that had employees secretly issuing credit cards to consumers without the customer’s consent.
Their goals were simple. To make more money in fees, meet internal sales targets and receive bonuses for their crimes.
According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened approximately 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers allowing the bank to earn fees and the employees to earn additional compensation and to meet the bank’s sales goals. Consumers go the banking shaft because they were charged for insufficient funds or overdraft fees because the money was not in their original accounts.
Wells Fargo employees also applied for roughly 565,000 credit card accounts that any consumers incurred annual fees, as well as associated finance or interest charges and other fees. In addition, employees requested and issued debit cards without consumers’ knowledge or consent, going so far as to create PINs without telling consumers.
To cover up the scam, they created fake email accounts to sign up customers, and set up fake accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees.
All the while, Wells Fargo managers had turned a blind eye to the fraud that was happening in broad daylight right under their noses.
“I had managers in my face yelling at me,” Sabrina Bertrand, who worked as a licensed personal banker for Wells Fargo in Houston in 2013, told CNNMoney. “They wanted you to open up dual checking accounts for people that couldn’t even manage their original checking account.”
Currently a middle school teacher, Bertrand said she believes the sales targets were set by managers who were higher up: “The sales pressure from management was unbearable.”
This past week, federal banking regulators announced that the bank would be fined $185 million for their banking ponzi scheme, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which is the largest fine they have ever issued. Wells also paid $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and $50 million to the City and County of Los Angeles.
The settlement was approved last week by U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman for the Southern District of New York.
“This settlement is another step in the Department of Justice’s continuing efforts to hold accountable FHA approved lenders that unlawfully submitted false claims at the expense of American homeowners and taxpayers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
“In addition to today’s resolution with Wells Fargo, the department has pursued similar misconduct by numerous other lenders, returning more than $4 billion to the FHA fund and the Treasury and filing suit where appropriate. We remain committed to protecting the public fisc from all who seek to abuse it, whether they do business on Wall Street or Main Street.”
“This Administration remains committed to holding lenders accountable for their lending practices,” said Secretary Julián Castro for HUD. “The $1.2 billion settlement with Wells Fargo is the largest recovery for loan origination violations in FHA’s history. Yet, this monetary figure can never truly make up for the countless families that lost homes as a result of poor lending practices.”
“Today, Wells Fargo, one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the world, has been held responsible for years of reckless underwriting, while relying on government insurance to deal with the damage,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York. “Wells Fargo has long taken advantage of the FHA mortgage insurance program, designed to help millions of Americans realize the dream of home ownership, to write thousands and thousands of faulty loans.
Driven to maximize profits, Wells Fargo employed shoddy underwriting practices to drive up loan volume, at the expense of loan quality. Even though Wells Fargo identified through internal quality assurance reviews thousands of problematic loans, the bank decided not to report them to HUD. As a result, while Wells Fargo enjoyed huge profits from its FHA loan business, the government was left holding the bag when the bad loans went bust. With today’s settlement, Wells Fargo has finally resolved the years-long litigation, adding to the list of large financial institutions against which this office has successfully pursued civil fraud prosecutions.”
“Misconduct in the mortgage industry helped lead to a destructive financial crisis that spanned the globe,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch for the Northern District of California. “American Mortgage Network’s origination of FHA-insured loans that did not comply with government requirements also caused major losses to the public fisc. Today’s settlement demonstrates the Department of Justice’s resolve to pursue remedies against those who engaged in this type of misconduct.”
“This matter is not just a failure by Wells Fargo to comply with federal requirements in FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender program – it’s a failure by one of our trusted participants in the FHA program to demonstrate a commitment to integrity and to ordinary Americans who are trying to fulfill their dreams of homeownership,” said Inspector General David A. Montoya for HUD.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray had said this about the scheme:
“Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses. Because of the severity of these violations, Wells Fargo is paying the largest penalty the CFPB has ever imposed. Today’s action should serve notice to the entire industry that financial incentive programs, if not monitored carefully, carry serious risks that can have serious legal consequences.”
The nation’s biggest banks have paid billions of dollars in fines over the last decade for various fraudulent schemes that they have been caught red handed in. Wells Fargo is definitely no stranger to fraud and is just the latest banking perpetrator to get their greedy hands slapped by federal regulators.
You and I would be in jail if we lied about our credit, and decided to open a fake credit card account. But when you are too big to fail and jail like Wells Fargo, you just get fined, say sorry and life goes on.
Wells Fargo who is immune from criminal prosecution said: “We regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request.”
Full text of the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) can be found @ https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wells-fargo-bank-agrees-pay-12-billion-improper-mortgage-lending-practices