When Wells Fargo finally admitted what some had been alleging for years — that bank employees had opened up fake, unauthorized accounts in customers’ names — it estimated the total number of bogus accounts at around 2.1 million. However, recently filed court documents contend that there could be as many as 1.4 million additional bogus accounts.
Wells Fargo is currently hashing out the details of a class-action settlement that it hopes will resolve the dozen or so pending federal lawsuits brought by customers in recent years. The settlement — originally valued at $110 million, before swelling to $142 million a month later — involves a lawsuit brought by a Wells Fargo customer in 2015, more than a year before the bank admitted that employees were creating these fraudulent accounts to game the Wells Fargo system of sales quotas and incentives.
The revelation of the potential higher number of fake accounts actually comes from a memorandum [PDF] filed by plaintiffs’ attorneys in support of the settlement.
“Based on public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery, the parties estimate the number of unauthorized accounts for the period 2002-2017 is approximately 3.5 million,” explains the document.
Wells claims that this figure of 3.5 million accounts is “based on a hypothetical scenario and [has] not been verified,” and even the plaintiffs’ attorney caution that “This number may well be over-inclusive.”
Whatever the final number of bogus accounts turns out to be, it seems likely that it will be larger than the 1.5 million deposit accounts and 565,000 credit card accounts that Wells admitted to when it reached a $185 million deal with federal, state, and local regulators in Sept. 2016.
At the time, the bank was only acknowledging that this bad employee behavior went back as far as 2011. However, after repeated reports from bank regulators, and former employees, and even the bank’s internal investigation made it clear that this fraud had been going on for much longer, the bank expanded the settlement to cover customers all the way back to 2002. It would seem impossible that Wells could include nine additional years of fake accounts and not significantly increase that original 2.1 million figure.
The settlement still needs to be approved by the court. Even though both Wells and the plaintiffs’ attorneys appear to agree that the $142 is a sufficient amount, the judge could determine that it is not adequate or that a more precise accounting of the number of potential class members is needed.