The Bank that Stole Its Own Customers’ Identities

You’re likely aware of identity theft, the crime of pretending to be someone you’re not in order to get cash or credit in their name. But have you ever heard of a bank pretending to be one of their own customers in order to open additional accounts? Well it appears that that very thing has been happening—for years—at some Wells Fargo branches.

Screen Shot 2016-09-09 at 5.20.35 PM

Shocking, right? According to CNN Money, investigators discovered that millions of unauthorized accounts had been opened under customer names by bankers hoping to make their numbers for the month. Things like additional checking accounts that the bank employees were incentivized to open. Rather than sell the current customer on the merits of the account, they were creating fake email addresses and secretly transferring funds to the new accounts without customers ever knowing.

How big was the scheme? Wells Fargo says that they fired 5,300 employees over the shocking behavior. But the firings actually took place over a number of years. Only now is the story getting out.

So what does this mean for you?

Lesson #1: You are the Target!

Yes, you are the target of everything from criminal identity theft to harmless advertising. But being aware is vital to navigating either situation. In Season 5 of Biz Kid$, we talked with the Truth Campaign about how advertisers target teens. Check it out:

Lesson #2: Choose Your Bank or Credit Union Carefully

Choosing the right bank or credit union is a very important decision. Put your money into the wrong hands, and you could find yourself in a news story of your own. Watch our episode, “Take it to the Bank,” to get informed about your choices. Need an inspiring story to make you believe in the financial industry again? Watch this profile of one young entrepreneur who took his money to a special bank: one made just for kids and teens. It’s name? Young Americans Bank.

Lesson #3: Read the fine print and watch your bank statements.

Of the millions of accounts that Wells Fargo employees fraudulently opened, many of them were funded with current customers’ own account balances. That means that if the customers had been watching more carefully, they would have noticed money being withdrawn from their accounts without their permission. When you view your bank statement, take a look at the transactions and make sure that everything looks familiar. If it doesn’t, take a closer look. And if you know the transactions weren’t yours, call your bank right away. They’ll open an investigation. And who knows: you may just uncover a nationwide heist!

For more about protecting yourself from scams, watch our episode, “Scam-o-Rama” from Season 4.