NEW YORK — Attention, Wells Fargo customers: It’s time to sit down and make sure no funny business went on with your accounts.
Wells Fargo, which has been fined $185 million by regulators who said bank employees opened millions of unauthorized accounts to meet sales goals, has promised to contact all customers and invite them to review their accounts.
But don’t wait around for a phone call.
“You must be proactive,” said Pamela Banks, the senior policy counsel at the nonprofit advocate Consumers Union. That means going through several years of statements, credit reports and accounts on your own.
After reviewing more than 90 million accounts, Wells Fargo said more than 2 million bank and credit card accounts may have not been authorized.
Any unauthorized accounts may have racked up fees. And credit card accounts opened in your name may affect your credit score, the all-important number that determines what kind of interest rate lenders will charge you for a home or car loan.
Wells Fargo has been ordered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to refund customers going back to 2011, and the company said it has already given back $2.6 million in fees for products that were sold without authorization.
Here’s what all Wells Fargo customers should do:
1. CHECK YOUR ACCOUNTS
Call Wells Fargo, or head to a nearby branch, and ask to review all accounts opened in your name. You can also do this online if you’ve set up online banking for your Wells Fargo accounts. If there is any issue, let the bank know quickly. Make sure to go through your account history carefully for at least the last five years. Look for any unusual transactions or fees, since employees were transferring money between accounts without permission from customers, according to the CFPB. If you didn’t get a refund you feel you deserve, report the issue to the CFPB on its website , or call 855-411-2372.
If you have a private student loan from Wells Fargo, scrutinize those statements as well, said Banks. In August, the CFPB fined Wells Fargo $3.6 million for charging its student loan customers illegal fees, not correcting errors on credit reports and other violations.
2. SCOUR CREDIT REPORTS
Everyone should check their credit reports at least once a year. But if you haven’t been doing that, now is the time, especially if you’re a Wells Fargo customer. You can get free credit reports once every 12 months from each of the major reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, TransUnion — at AnnualCreditReport.com .
The reports list all your creditors, so review them for any unauthorized credit cards that may have been opened or unpaid fees that may have been reported to the credit agencies. You should also look for inquiries made by Wells Fargo for new credit cards. Those inquiries stay on credit reports for 24 months and can slightly hurt credit scores for 12 months, said John Ulzheimer, who used to work at a credit bureau and is now president of The Ulzheimer Group, a credit consulting firm.
If you spot any Wells Fargo-related problems on your credit reports, ask the bank and the credit agencies to fix them.
3. THINK BEFORE CLOSING CREDIT CARD ACCOUNTS
According to bank, Wells Fargo employees applied for about 565,000 credit cards that consumers may not have authorized. Wells Fargo said it will contact those people to see if they want to keep the credit card accounts open.
Your immediate reaction may be to just close such an account, but a credit card account that was opened and never used may have actually helped your credit score, said Ulzheimer. That’s because having more unused credit available boosts a credit score — and so closing that account may hurt it. Higher credit scores can mean paying lower interest rates, so if you plan to apply for a mortgage or another loan soon, it may be best to keep it open until then, said Ulzheimer.
Bank accounts, however, have no effect on credit scores, so those can be closed.
4. CONSIDER DITCHING WELLS FARGO
The scandal is a good excuse to shop for other banks, said Ken Tumin, founder and editor of bank comparison site DepositAccounts.com . “This shows you that loyalty doesn’t buy you anything,” he said. Research other banks and credit unions — you might find that they are offering lower fees or paying higher interest rates, Tumin said.
Going forward, Wells Fargo said it has reformed its practices so the issue will not recur. Among the changes: It will automatically email or send a letter to customers when an account is opened or a credit card application is filled out. The bank also said it will end its sales quota system at year’s end.