A former Wells Fargo & Co. customer accused the San Francisco banking firm in a lawsuit of fostering a high-pressure sales culture that ended up deceiving and defrauding him and customers nationwide.
Shahriar Jabbari of Campbell, Calif., asked a federal court in the suit filed Wednesday to certify his complaint as a class action on behalf of consumers across the country who allege they were victims of Wells Fargo's tolerance and encouragement of abuses by workers in its branches.
It mirrors accusations in a state lawsuit filed last week by Los Angeles City Atty. Michael Feuer, who said the San Francisco bank's pressure tactics amounted to a "fee generating machine" that encouraged employees to misuse customer information to open unwanted accounts.
Feuer's suit said employees at Wells Fargo, the largest California-based bank, hid fees, refused to close accounts on request and forged signatures and addresses. Some customers never realized they had accounts until collection agencies came calling, Feuer said.
His accusations echoed a 2013 Los Angeles Times investigation that found that Wells Fargo employees across the country feared for their jobs unless they cheated to meet quotas passed down from regional executives to branch managers.
Wells Fargo said last week that it would defend itself vigorously, describing its culture as "focused on the best interests of its customers and creating a supportive, caring and ethical environment for our team members."
Spokesman Ancel Martinez said Wednesday that the bank would not elaborate on that statement.
But it did challenge Jabbari's new assertion that a Wells Fargo database called ClientTrack makes sensitive customer information accessible to all bank employees, enabling them to open new accounts for existing clients without the customers' authorization.
"We do not have a system that matches the description in the complaint," Martinez said. "And all our systems are designed to comply with applicable laws, including privacy laws."
Jabbari alleged that bill collectors badgered him to pay fees on Wells Fargo accounts that were opened without his knowledge. His lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeks restitution from the profits Wells made on "its unfair and unlawful practices." It also seeks triple damages.
The complaint includes detailed allegations about Wells Fargo's so-called gaming of customers and alleges that a current Wells Fargo employee saw bank employees open unauthorized accounts on a "nearly daily basis."
"We have heard from Wells Fargo customers in multiple states who have been charged fees or faced collection actions for accounts they did not sign up for," said Matthew Preusch, a lawyer for Jabbari.
Preusch's law firm, Keller Rohrback, said the bank's practices "have caused significant stress to, and hardship and financial losses for, its customers." The suit alleges that bank employees:
-- Withdrew money from customers' authorized accounts to pay for the fees assessed by Wells Fargo on unauthorized accounts opened in customers' names without their knowledge.
-- Placed customers into collection when fees and other debts accumulated in unauthorized accounts and went unpaid.
-- Placed derogatory information in credit reports when unauthorized fees went unpaid.
Jabbari said he began banking with Wells Fargo in 2011 and, like many customers, never wanted more than one checking account and one savings account.
The suit alleged that he soon noticed "some anomalies, such as unwanted fees." Then in 2013, it said, he visited the Wells Fargo branch in Los Gatos to inquire about an unauthorized charge. That's when an employee showed him how accounts had been opened in his name using a signature that was not his, according to the suit.
Jabbari said he discovered that seven accounts had been issued without his permission. A few months later, the lawsuit alleged, he received a change of address notification showing several accounts that he had not opened and that he thought had been closed.
The suit alleges unfair enrichment and violations of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and California unfair competition and consumer protection laws.