Wells Fargo Plans to Refund Some Mortgage Customers

April 13, 2018 | USA Today        Wells Fargo outlined plans Wednesday to refund customers who were charged extra fees to extend rate locks on mortgages because of delays that were caused by the bank, not the customers.

The San Francisco-based bank, which is still working to repair its reputation following last year's fake account scandal, said it will refund customers who paid fees to extend interest rate locks between Sept. 16, 2013, through Feb. 28, 2017 but "who believe they shouldn't have paid those fees."

In a rate lock, the lender guarantees that it will provide the borrower with a mortgage at a specific rate, say 4%, for a specific time period, such as 60 days. There is often a charge to extend the rate-lock period.

In the Wells Fargo case, borrowers were hit with additional fees for allegedly getting their loan paperwork in late. But the bank, after a review of its rate-lock fee policies, acknowledged that the delays in some cases were caused on its end.

In a statement, the bank said its rate-lock extension policy put in place in September 2013 was "at times, not consistently applied, resulting in some borrowers being charged fees in cases where the company was primarily responsible for the delays that made the extensions necessary."

Effective March 1, 2017, Wells Fargo changed how the company manages the mortgage rate-lock extension process.

The company said it would reach out to customers and start issuing refunds in the final months of this year.

While roughly $98 million in rate-lock fees were assessed to about 110,000 loan applicants in the nearly two-and-a-half-year period in question, the company believes a "substantial number" of those fees were "appropriately charged."

As a result, Wells Fargo said "the amount ultimately refunded likely will be lower, as not all of the fees assessed were actually paid and some fees already have been refunded."

The move was the latest attempt by the bank to rebuild trust with customers, its CEO Tim Sloan said in a statement.

"We want to serve our customers as they would expect to be served, and are initiating these refunds as part of our ongoing efforts to rebuild trust," Sloan said.

U.S. Bank Cited by Federal Authorities for Lapses on Money Laundering

February 15, 2018 | The New York Times       U.S. Bank, the fifth-largest commercial bank by assets in the United States, was charged by the federal authorities on Thursday with failing to guard against illegal activity and, in at least one instance, even abetting it.

The Justice Department accused U.S. Bank, which is based in Minneapolis, of severely neglecting anti-money laundering rules, helping a payday lender operate an illegal business and lying to a regulator about its plans for tracking potential criminal activity by bank customers.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan reached an agreement with U.S. Bank to defer prosecution as long as the bank could show it had improved its monitoring of customer transactions. To settle the Justice Department charges and cases brought by other regulators, the bank agreed to pay various fines and penalties totaling $613 million.  Read more here.

Wells Fargo Says 3.5 million Accounts Involved in Scandal

AP via Houston Chronicle | August 31, 2017           The scope of Wells Fargo's fake accounts scandal grew significantly on Thursday, with the bank now saying that 3.5 million accounts were potentially opened without customers' permission between 2009 and 2016.

That's up from 2.1 million accounts that the bank had cited in September 2016, when it acknowledged that employees under pressure to meet aggressive sales targets had opened accounts that customers might not have even been aware existed. People may have had different kinds of accounts in their names, so the number of customers affected may differ from the account total.

Wells Fargo said Thursday that about half a million of the newly discovered accounts were missed during the original review, which covered the years 2011 to 2015.  Read more here.

New Wells Fargo Scandal Over Modifying Mortgages Without Authorization

CNN | June 15, 2017          Christopher and Allison Cotton had 16 years remaining on their mortgage when family medical expenses forced them into bankruptcy in 2014.

Wells Fargo went ahead and modified the North Carolina couple's mortgage several times without their authorization, according to a class action lawsuit. The bank extended the term of the mortgage by nearly 26 years, documents say.

If the "stealth" modifications hadn't been caught, the Cotton family's total interest payments would have nearly tripled to more than $140,000, the lawsuit said.

"I anticipate Wells Fargo has done this to thousands of customers," said Theodore Bartholow III, a lawyer who represents the Cottons and last week launched the class action.

News of the latest legal trouble facing Wells Fargo (WFC) was first reported by The New York Times. It comes as Wells Fargo continues to dig out of a scandal over unauthorized account openings and alleged worker retaliation.

Bartholow described an "insidious" process where Wells Fargo uses a routine, but little-noticed form to "sneak through" mortgage modifications on unsuspecting homeowners.  Read more here.

Wells Fargo to Pay $50 Million to Settle Home Appraisal Overcharges

The New York Times | November 1, 2016       In the latest hit to the battered bank, Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $50 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the bank of overcharging hundreds of thousands of homeowners for appraisals ordered after the homeowners defaulted on their mortgage loans.

The proposed settlement calls for Wells Fargo to automatically mail checks to more than 250,000 customers nationwide whose home loans were serviced by the bank between 2005 and 2010.

The checks will typically be for $120, according to Roland Tellis, a lawyer with Baron & Budd, the law firm that represented Wells Fargo’s customers. If a judge signs off on the settlement, as expected, the checks will be distributed next year.

When a borrower falls behind on a loan, mortgage contracts typically let the lender order an appraisal of the home’s current value. The cost of that appraisal, known as a “broker price opinion,” can be passed on to the borrower, but Wells Fargo used one of its own subsidiaries to conduct appraisals and then routinely marked up the cost, according to the lawsuit.

Borrowers would be charged $95 to $120 for a service that cost the bank $50 or less, the complaint said. The charges were then listed cryptically on mortgage statements, with vague descriptions like “other charges” or “other fees.”

“People who are behind on their loans are the people who can least afford to be charged marked-up fees, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened,” Mr. Tellis said.

Several homeowners filed suit against Wells Fargo in 2012 in a Northern California federal court. Last year, a judge granted class-action status to a portion of the claims related to racketeering charges.  Read more here.

Wells Fargo Fined $185 Million for Fraudulently Opening Accounts

The New York Times | September 8, 2016         For years, Wells Fargo employees secretly issued credit cards without a customer’s consent. They created fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services. They set up sham accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees.

On Thursday, these illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such penalty the agency has issued.

Federal banking regulators said the practices, which date back to 2011, reflected serious flaws in the internal culture and oversight at Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks. The bank has fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved.

In all, Wells Fargo employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorized by customers, the regulators said in a news conference. The bank has 40 million retail customers.

Some customers noticed the deception when they were charged unexpected fees, received credit or debit cards in the mail that they did not request, or started hearing from debt collectors about accounts they did not recognize. But most of the sham accounts went unnoticed, as employees would routinely close them shortly after opening them. Wells has agreed to refund about $2.6 million in fees that may have been inappropriately charged.  Read more here.