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.

In Wells Fargo’s Bogus Accounts, Echoes of Foreclosure Abuses

The New York Times | September 21, 2016         John Stumpf, the chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, won a dubious achievement award from one of his interrogators during Tuesday’s scorching hearings on Capitol Hill. The bank’s yearslong practice of opening bogus accounts for customers and charging fees to do so, said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, had united the Senate Banking Committee on a major topic for the first time in a decade. “And not in a good way,” he added.

But this was not the first time problematic and pervasive activities at Wells Fargo succeeded in uniting a disparate group. After observing years of abusive mortgage loan servicing practices at the bank, an increasing number of judges hearing foreclosure cases after the financial crisis grew to understand that banks could not always be trusted in their pleadings.

This was a major shift: For decades, the nation’s courts had been largely pro-bank when hearing foreclosure cases, accepting what big financial institutions produced in documentation and amounts owed by borrowers.  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.