Since 2011 employees of Wells Fargo may have opened over 2 million unauthorized credit card and bank accounts without the permission of their customers. The banking giant was recently fined a whopping $185 million by regulators as a result of the investigation which reveled these and other disturbing findings.
The Scandal Is Actually Identity Theft
Motivated by the desire to meet cross selling sales quotas, a disturbingly large number of Wells Fargo employees opened accounts which were not authorized by their customers. Over 5,300 employees have been fired by the banking giant as a result of the scandal; however, that does not erase the fact that over 1.5 million unauthorized deposit accounts were potentially opened without consent and a shocking 565,443 credit card application were submitted without permission.
Stated simply, the Wells Fargo employees who participated in this shady behavior for years committed identity theft. Identity theft is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the illegal use of someone else's personal information (such as a Social Security number) especially in order to obtain money or credit." Victims of the Wells Fargo scam have been charged fees and many have faced credit score damage due to the illegal actions of another. Wells Fargo has been ordered by the CFPB to pay "full restitutions to all victims," but those funds will not undo any credit score damage which occurred as a result of the fraud.
Steps You Should Take
If you bank with Wells Fargo you should certainly consider taking steps to ensure that you were not charged any fees unfairly. You should also verify that your credit is not currently being damaged by any unauthorized accounts. Here are 3 steps to help you get started.
1. Review Your Credit Reports
In light of the scandal, the very first thing you should do if you bank at Wells Fargo is to take a long, hard look at all 3 of your credit reports. It is important to review your credit reports often, but it is especially important to review your credit reports when you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft. You should check your reports for both unauthorized credit card accounts and unauthorized hard inquiries (i.e. when your credit report was pulled by a lender as part of a loan application). You can claim a free copy of your 3 reports online each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you have already claimed your free reports or if you wish to see your credit scores then another great resource to check out is GreatCredit101.com.
If you discover unauthorized inquiries, know that they have the potential to damage your credit scores for 12 months and may remain on your credit reports for 2 years. You can alert the credit bureaus and the bank if any unauthorized inquiries occurred and ask that they be removed from your reports since they were a result of identity theft. These requests can be handled on your own, or you can hire a reputable credit repair professional to take care of the leg work for you.
2. Be Cautious When Closing Credit Card Accounts
Fraudulently opened Wells Fargo credit card accounts are not automatically going to have a negative impact upon your credit. Yes, the initial inquiry would have hurt your credit along with the fact that the new account might have lowered the average age of accounts on your credit reports. Both of these factors might have damaged your credit scores. However, oddly enough the credit card you never asked to open might actually be helping your credit scores overall.
If you discover an unauthorized Wells Fargo credit card on your credit reports, but the account is reporting a $0 balance and no late payments then the account could possibly be helping your scores by lowering your overall revolving utilization ratio. The fact of the matter is that closing the unauthorized credit card account might even potentially have a negative impact upon your scores. However, if the account is impacting your credit negatively then, just like with the unauthorized inquiries, you have the right to contact the credit reporting agencies and the bank itself to request that the fraudulent account be completely deleted from your credit reports.
3. See If You Are Owed a Refund
Unauthorized bank accounts, thankfully, are generally not going to have any impact upon your credit reports or scores. Furthermore, there is no potential danger of damaging your credit scores by closing these accounts if that is your desire. Of course you should keep in mind that although these accounts are likely not impacting your credit, you may have been unfairly charged banking fees associated with these accounts. It is a good idea to check a history (online, over the phone, or in person) of all existing Wells Fargo accounts in your name. If you discover any accounts which were opened without your consent, you can take a look at your statements (both for the individual accounts and your primary account as well) to see if you are owed a refund for wrongfully charged bank fees.
You Can Ask for Help
As is the case with any credit related problem, you have the right to try to navigate the muddy waters of repairing credit errors on your own. However, remember that you have the right to hire an expert to help you as well. You do not have to struggle through analyzing your credit reports or trying to correct inaccuracies alone.
CLICK HERE to schedule a no-obligation credit analysis with a HOPE4USA expert today.
Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with nearly a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.