The numbers at the heart of the scandal at Wells Fargo (WFC) are staggering. Over 5,300 employees were fired for creating millions of accounts without customers’ permission, under intense corporate pressure to meet high sales targets.
Zoomed out to a massive scale like this, and with lawmakers focused on finding and chewing out the higher-ups who might be responsible, it’s easy to forget this fraud ensnared actual human beings.
Yahoo Finance spoke to a few of them to get their stories about their relationships with Wells Fargo, and how they learned they had accounts created without their knowledge or permission. We also learned about what it was like to deal with credit bureaus to make sure the bogus accounts didn’t blemish their credit reports.
A surprise $30,000 line of credit
Take Micheline Maynard, a journalist and author based in Boston, one of the millions of Wells Fargo victims. “The only contact I’d ever had with Wells Fargo was when the bank briefly owned the mortgage on the house that I was selling,” Maynard told Yahoo Finance.
Unbeknownst to her, she said, that brief interaction with Wells Fargo had resulted in a $30,000 line of credit created in her name. When she was in the financing process of relocating to Boston from Michigan, her mortgage broker called and said one of the underwriters had raised concerns over the amount of outstanding lines of credit in her name. “It was the first I’d heard of it,” she said.
After this shock, Maynard calmed down and went to action, doing all the right things. First, she checked her credit report to see for herself. Sure enough, there was a $30,000 line of credit in her name. She called Wells Fargo’s customer service department, which apologized and closed the account. Then, she followed up with the credit reporting agencies, asking them to include notes explaining the situation.
Besides illustrating the textbook way you should handle this type of situation, Maynard’s experience shows the most insidious part of this whole story: This can happen to customers who had the most limited interaction with Wells Fargo, not just to long-time Wells Fargo customers with multiple accounts.
Even if you only had minor contact with the bank, it’s possible you have account in your name.
“Why is the onus on me to prove this wasn’t my account?”
The story is much the same for Frank W., a digital marketer from Minneapolis who asked that we not use his full name. In 2014, he opened an account for his daughter’s Girl Scout troop, whose policy mandated the bank be Wells Fargo. Two years later, when taking out a mortgage, he discovered a credit card in the his name. Favoring the simplest explanation, he assumed his wife had opened the account without telling him—not that the bank had opened it without asking.
After an argument with her, he discovered what had really happened. “I come to find out with a little more digging it’s one of the fraud accounts,” he says. But when Frank contacted Wells Fargo on Twitter, the only response he got was to call the number on his card or statement, which he can’t do. “I don’t have [a card or statement],” he says. “Because I was never given anything.”
Eventually he found an 800-number to call. Again, however, he didn’t know what account number to say, not having received any card or statement. Normally this might not have been a problem, since Social Security numbers are connected to bank accounts, but Frank doesn’t feel comfortable giving that critical information to a bank that betrayed hundreds of thousands of customers. “I really want them to give them my Social,” he says, sarcastically. “It’s really frustrating to call.”
Frank gave up on Wells Fargo and went directly to the credit bureaus make sure a note was added in his reports. But it was a frustrating experience because of the time, effort, and stress he put in trying to figure this out.
“Why is the onus on me to prove this isn’t my account?” he says. “If Wells Fargo was able to identify the 5,300 individuals, why didn’t they come to me and send me a letter?” To date, Frank says, Wells Fargo has not acknowledged the situation with him, and the accounts may still be open, although the credit reporting bureaus have letters from him.
Reached for comment, a Wells Fargo spokesperson noted that people who had one or more of the 115,000 unauthorized accounts that had been charged a fee had been notified and reimbursed by a check or a credit to an existing account. However, like Frank, many of the owners of the approximate 1.9 million other accounts have not yet been notified.
Wells Fargo plans to contact deposit customers beginning in October, and according to the spokesperson, is “currently reaching out to all the credit card customers who were part of the 2 million accounts to confirm if they need and want their credit cards.”
Would someone actually accept a credit card created in their name and without their permission? Not Frank, at least, who called the idea “laughable at best.”
“At this point, I don’t want them to touch the account, but instead let me get it pulled off by the bureaus,” he says. “I don’t want their ‘closing’ it to adversely affect my score.”
Fortunately for consumers who do make contact with the bank, Wells Fargo confirmed with Yahoo Finance that it would not only ask customers whether they would like the unauthorized cards closed, it would also work with the credit bureaus to make sure people’s scores won’t be hurt.
However, Wells Fargo may not be able to make its customers whole simply by refunding fees and annulling unauthorized accounts. While fees may be refunded, unauthorized credit cards and deposit accounts that were overdrafted due to the fees could have raised red flags with lenders long before the public learned of the scandal.
If there’s one useful thing that can come out of the ordeals created by the unauthorized 2 million accounts, it’s that it serves as a good reminder for consumers to check their credit report on a regular basis.
“Checking your credit report is good hygiene, just like going to the dentist,” says Sean McQuay, a credit card and banking expert at NerdWallet. “And, just like going to the dentist, you should do it about twice a year.”
Are you a Wells Fargo customer who was impacted by the unauthorized accounts? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumerism, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.