You may remember last fall when news broke that millions of fake bank and credit card accounts had been created from 2011 to 2015 by employees of Wells Fargo in the names of the bank’s customers without the customers’ permission.
Wells Fargo was subsequently nailed with $185 million in fines in response and over 5,000 bank employees were let go. Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was also, as a result, forced out in October 2016, a stunning downfall for someone who at one time was one of banking’s most powerful and influential personalities.
But while this may seem like old news now, eight or nine months later, the reality is the danger still exists, and that something like this can happen to any of us, especially since Wells Fargo is likely not the only bank that has been opening unauthorized accounts.
You see, in a September 28, 2016 report by S&P Global, “Looking For Wells Fargo-Like Risks In CFPB’s Complaint Database”, the consumer complaint database of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was analyzed, and it was found that a common complaint among consumers from various banks regarded unwanted and unauthorized credit card accounts.
Interestingly, in this report, Wells Fargo was not even number one on the list of complaints regarding unsolicited issuance of credit cards. In fact, it was all the way down to number seven. Number one was, wait for it, PayPal! Hmmm.
But, I digress. The fact that the problem stems beyond just Wells Fargo is a troubling finding because having accounts out there of which you have no knowledge can cause you significant financial problems if not dealt with promptly and forcefully. Because of this, it’s vitally important that you be proactive in uncovering any such potential accounts.
So, just how to do this?
First, begin with your own bank and other financial institution relationships. You can, of course, review your accounts on those institutions websites and statements to look for accounts you don’t recognize.
But that may not go far enough, since accounts could be created using fake email addresses, PIN numbers, etc. even while using your real name and other information. To combat this, another suggestion is to simply call the institution, ask them to look up any account listed under your name, and then investigate any that you don’t recognize or didn’t authorize.
Another important step is to periodically check your credit report for unfamiliar accounts.
In the Wells Fargo case, hundreds of thousands of unauthorized credit card applications where submitted. These applications would no doubt be reflected on our credit report, serving as a red flag to fraudulent activity.
Such false applications could also affect negatively your credit score, as could any charges or fees assessed to that account that go unpaid. Checking your credit report at least annually can help you uncover these things, allowing you to take steps to correct them before they become an even bigger problem.
Remember, by federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from the big three reporting agencies, those being Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Your report can be accessed through www.annualcreditreport.com.
(Lane Keeter, CPA is Office Managing Partner of the Heber Springs Office of EGP, PLLC, CPAs & Consultants)