5,300 Wells Fargo employees created 2 million phony bank accounts and racked up huge fees, raking in commissions from their employer for being such great salespeople for the bank's services; meanwhile, the fees associated with the 2 million fake accounts created the appearance of much greater earnings for the bank, which it trumpeted to its investors.
Wells Fargo says that it has been rooting out employees who ran this con for the past two years, having caught 5,300 of them so far (the bank employs 265,000 people). The fake accounts — savings, checking, credit/debit cards — were opened in the names of existing Wells Fargo customers, who had their accounts raided to create balances in the new accounts, and were then hit with fees that cleaned them out.
The bank is paying a $185M fine and reimbursing known victims to the tune of $5M.
Wells Fargo has the highest market valuation among any bank in America, worth just north of $250 billion. Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA), the investment firm run legendary investor Warren Buffett, is the company's biggest shareholder.
Of the total fines, $100 million will go toward the CFPB's Civil Penalty Fund, $35 million will go to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and another $50 million will be paid to the City and County of Los Angeles.
"One wonders whether (the CFPB) penalty of $100 million is enough," said David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor and former director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "It sounds like a big number, but for a bank the size of Wells Fargo, it isn't really."
5,300 Wells Fargo employees fired over 2 million phony accounts
[Matt Egan/CNN Money]
(Image: Wells Fargo ATMs lit at night, Ildar Sagdejev, CC-BY-SA)