Feds Investigating Wells Fargo After Employees Open 2 Million Fake Accounts

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Financial regulators recently ordered Wells Fargo to pay $185 million to resolve allegations that the bank’s sales quotas and incentives pushed employees to open millions of unauthorized accounts, but that my not be the end of Wells’ troubles, with the U.S. Department of Justice now looking into the matter.

Federal prosecutors in U.S. attorney’s offices in New York and San Francisco are in the early stages of an investigation related to the bank’s alleged improper sales tactics that started in 2013, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The investigation centers on whether someone in senior management within the bank directed employees to falsify documents in conjunction with the opening of more than one million accounts and other banking products without customers’ knowledge.

The probe, sources say, could eventually lead to criminal or civil charges. So far, prosecutors have issued a subpoena for documents and materials related to the sales practices.

Reps for Wells Fargo and the U.S. attorney’s offices declined to provide the WSJ with comment on the matter.

The investigation increases the stakes for Wells Fargo, as it could result in more severe penalties or charges for individual employees — both former or current.

The new probe comes less than a week after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Los Angeles city attorney announced a joint enforcement action putting an end to the years-long probe into Wells Fargo’s practices involving cross-selling products to customers – for example, coaxing a checking account holder to open a credit card.

The consent order [PDF] notes that, since Jan. 2011, Wells Fargo employees regularly misused customers’ personal information, opening nearly two million unwanted accounts and failing to close the unauthorized accounts despite complaints from customers.

These actions, allege the government, were taken as a result of sales targets and compensation incentives offered by the bank.

In order to meet these goals and receive bonuses, employees boosted sales figures by covertly opening accounts and funding them by transferring funds from consumers’ authorized accounts without their knowledge or consent, often racking up fees or other charges.

In all, Wells Fargo opened roughly 1.5 million deposit accounts and 565,000 credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers.

As part of the enforcement action Wells Fargo was ordered to pay more than $185 million in refunds and penalties. It also fired more than 5,300 employees who allegedly took part in opening the fraudulent accounts.

CEO John Stumpf, who will testify at a congressional hearing next week, tells the WSJ that those fired included bankers, managers, and managers of managers, but declined to name any of those involved.

Federal Prosecutors Investigating Wells Fargo Over Sales Tactics [The Wall Street Journal]

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