Wells Fargo ’rounded up’ undocumented workers in account scam, lawsuit claims
SAN FRANCISCO — Wells Fargo employees were ordered to “round up” undocumented immigrants and other workers and then herd them into branches so residents could be coaxed into opening checking accounts, court papers filed Wednesday claimed.
The allegations — revealed in documents obtained Wednesday night by this newspaper — claimed that Wells Fargo employees fanned out into neighborhoods and business districts to seek out immigrants and other residents at convenience stores, construction sites, factories and social security offices and then usher them into bank branches so they could open accounts.
These accusations are the latest anecdotes to paint an unsettling picture of high-pressure sales tactics at Wells Fargo that ultimately led to a scandal linked to bogus bank accounts. Bank employees opened up to 2.1 million accounts without the permission of customers.
Because the allegations are included in an shareholder lawsuit, they could be used by the plaintiff attorneys to pressure Wells Fargo to meet their demands.
“A former banker in California routinely observed his branch management instruct employees to ’round up’ undocumented day laborers waiting for work at the local 7-Eleven and to bring them back to sign them up for accounts in exchange for ‘waiving’ check-cashing fees,” according to a allegations contained in a lawsuit brought by Burlingame-based law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo stated that the assertions are “offensive” because they “run counter” to what the bank expects of its employees and culture.
“These allegations are inconsistent with our policies, values and the relationships we work hard to build with all parts of our community,” Ruben Pulido, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said Wednesday night. “Wells Fargo has long been committed to providing banking services to immigrants in a manner that complies fully with the law, and we have controls in place to ensure we comply with requirements.”
A former teller and branch manager in Pennsylvania said a “Hit the Streets Thursday” featured other alleged examples of unsavory bank practices.
“Management directed tellers of Latino descent to patrol the streets and local social security offices to ‘force’ random people off the streets and into branches to open unauthorized accounts,” according to allegations from Wells Fargo employees in Pennsylvania.
Federal regulations oblige banks to obtain two pieces of identification from prospective customers in order to open a bank account. The lawsuit and supporting affidavits provided no evidence that Wells Fargo violated these rules.
“Undocumented workers at nearby construction sites and a factory” were targeted to create additional accounts, according to claims by a person who was formerly employed at a Wells branch in Utah.
During an annual meeting of shareholders disrupted by shouts from investors, Wells executives acknowledged the bank had lost its way with its sales culture. The scandal resulted in the termination of 5,300 employees, including bank managers.
“We have made a number of changes to ensure that Wells Fargo’s culture is committed to the best interests of our customers, providing them with only the products they want and value,” Pulido said. “We also are committed to having a supportive, caring, and ethical environment for team members. We continue to make additional improvements in our retail bank operations.”