Think Wells Fargo ripped you off? Here's what to do

The $185 million that Wells Fargo agreed to pay Thursday to settle government allegations over its overbearing sales practices is one big figure.

But an equally staggering sum is the more than 2 million accounts that Wells Fargo employees may have opened for customers without their knowledge or permission.

That’s as many 565,000 credit card accounts and a shocking 1.5 million checking and savings accounts since 2011 — all in the hopes of hitting sales targets that regulators say encouraged employees to use “underhanded” tactics.

So what are current or former bank customers to do if they think bogus accounts might have been opened in their names, exposing them to fees and other expenses?

Wells Fargo to pay $185 million settlement for 'outrageous' sales culture »

Wells Fargo already has sent refunds averaging $25 to about 100,000 customers nationwide who paid fees on accounts they never wanted, but that might not cover all affected customers. 

The bank has 90 days to provide federal regulators with a plan to compensate all its customers, but California clients can follow steps the bank already has worked out with Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, who was one of three regulators who settled with the bank.

“I am certain there will be customers who have not been identified by the bank and their consultants who believe they have suffered some financial consequence,” said Feuer, whose office sued the bank last year.

Under the terms of its agreement with Feuer’s office, the bank will send notices next month to all California customers asking them to call the bank or visit their local branch and go over all of their accounts.

“We’ll also help you close any accounts or discontinue services you do not recognize or want, and discuss the process that’s been established to address any remaining concerns,” the notice will read.

The bank is required to give customers a list of all accounts in their name and, if a customer wants to close an account, provide a receipt showing that the account has been closed.

“It’s very important that Wells Fargo customers be very clear about what accounts they have and what their rights are,” Feuer said.

If the bank hasn’t already offered a refund for fees associated with unwanted accounts or won’t do so, customers still have options if they think refunds are in order.

For starters, customers should complain to Wells Fargo, either at a branch or over the phone. If that doesn’t lead to a refund, customers can go through a mediation process — one for which Wells Fargo has to pay but that will be handled by an outside firm.

While the bank’s refund process is focused on fees customers paid on accounts they didn’t open, the complaint and mediation process also provides a chance for customers to be compensated for other harm — for instance, if a customer’s credit was somehow damaged because of unwanted credit card accounts.

“There are a whole spectrum of possible additional consequences beyond fees,” Feuer said. “We’ve had people say they’ve had accounts go to debt collection because there were fees they didn’t know about. There’s your credit rating. The complaint and mediation process should pick up on those issues.”

Finally, if customers still feel they haven’t been compensated properly, mediators will refer them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which collects and acts on complaints alleging mistreatment by banks and other finance firms.

Concern over potentially fraudulent accounts is a worry for not only Wells Fargo customers. Since The Times first reported on Wells Fargo’s practices in 2013, customers and workers at other banks have said they’ve seen similar practices at their institutions.

Feuer’s office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have hotlines where concerned customers can submit complaints about any institution. Feuer’s hotline is 213-978-3393 and the bureau’s is 855-411-2372.

james.koren@latimes.com

Follow me: @jrkoren

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