Did Wells Fargo Target Seniors? Lawmakers Want To Find Out

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

We’ve said it countless times: those who attempt – and often succeed – at scamming senior citizens of their savings are among the worst of the worst. Now lawmakers want to know if the Wells Fargo employees who created millions of unauthorized accounts were preying upon vulnerable senior citizen customers.

Senators Claire McCaskill (MO) and Susan Collins (ME), both members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate just who Wells Fargo employees targeted when fraudulently opening more than two million accounts without customers’ permission.

In a letter [PDF] to CFPB director Richard Cordray, the senators ask that federal regulators keep tabs on Wells Fargo as it begins the process of identifying and making restitution to the consumers who were defrauded.

“We have concerns about the impact this activity has had on our nation’s senior population, especially those who do not conduct their financial business on the Internet,” the senators wrote. “Because these individuals are less likely to be tech savvy or to even be active on the Internet, they are more susceptible to all types of fraud.”

The senators then provided a list of questions the CFPB should answer, such as how many Wells Fargo victims are over the age of 65, and whether or not the investigation into Wells Fargo uncovered any characteristics about the victims in terms of who was more likely to be targeted.

While McCaskill and Collins await a reply and a meeting with the CFPB, some older Wells Fargo customers are coming forward as victims of the alleged scheme, the Los Angeles Times reports.

An 87-year-old woman tells the Times that she’s been a long-time Wells customer — starting when her Crocker National Bank account was transferred to the banking giant in 1986.

The woman reports that after years of being happy with her service, she became worried that a scammer had gained access to her account. To remedy the issue, she decided to stop by a local branch to close the account and open a new one.

While an employee at the branch was happy to help, the process became more involved, with the woman being told she needed to open a savings account and apply for a credit card.

When the employee asked if the woman would like to arrange direct deposit for her Social Security check, she declined.

To close out the process, the employee printed a stack of documents and had the woman sign them, both joking that she didn’t know what she was signing.

Much to the woman’s surprise, the following month her Social Security check was deposited to her Wells Fargo account.

The woman now believes the worker slipped the permission slip into the stack of papers she was told to sign. She chose to close the savings account and credit card last year, the Times reports, but felt it would be too much of a hassle to change the direct deposit.

Although the woman doesn’t believe the account changes resulted in extra fees, many other seniors may have paid unnecessary fees for similar issues.

However, it could be difficult to determine just how old many Wells Fargo victims are.

“While we found examples where seniors who were Wells Fargo customers were victims, we do not have information on how widespread the practice was or whether they were targeted for this practice,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer tells the Times.

Did Wells Fargo target seniors with its bogus-account scheme? [The Los Angeles Times]