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Updated on Tuesday, July 23, 2019
The Wells Fargo settlement is still being distributed to eligible customers, but the deadline for customers to get a piece of the settlement passed as of July 2018. So the short answer is no, you cannot still get a piece of the Wells Fargo settlement.
That said, the Wells Fargo settlement is an important example of people working together to bring a big institution to justice for its bad actions. Studying it can provide lessons in case you ever find yourself eligible to take part in a similar class-action lawsuit.
“Class actions are an important tool to compensate harmed consumers and hold companies accountable,” said Matthew Preusch, attorney at Keller Rohrback LLP, part of the team that represented consumers in the Wells Fargo lawsuit. “You should always be on the lookout for official court-approved notices advising that you be entitled to compensation.”
What is the Wells Fargo settlement?
The Wells Fargo settlement exists to compensate current and former Wells Fargo customers who were victims of fraud when the bank’s employees opened up accounts in their names without consent. Some customers who purchased identity theft protection were also part of the suit.
“Wells Fargo employees opened unauthorized lines of credit, savings accounts and checking accounts for a lot of customers ,” explained Ken Tumin, founder and editor of DepositAccounts, a subsidiary of LendingTree. “They did it to meet their sales targets.”
All in all, Wells Fargo employees opened more than two million deposit and credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Once it was discovered, a class-action lawsuit was launched to go after Wells Fargo on behalf of the customers affected. This means there are just a few plaintiffs who sued Wells Fargo, but additional “class members” can join the suit.
In July 2017, Wells Fargo settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay $142 million to victims in the form of cash benefits. This amount was intended to reimburse any fees that people were charged for the unauthorized accounts, and compensation for any potential harm done to people’s credit related to the unauthorized accounts. Any leftover money will pay additional compensation on a per-account basis.
In addition to the settlement for the victims, Wells Fargo was also hit with a $100 million fine to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Civil Penalty Fund; an additional $35 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; and another $50 million to the city and county of Los Angeles.
Besides the troubles stemming from the fraudulent accounts scandal, in December 2018, Wells Fargo also agreed to pay a $575 million settlement with the attorneys general of all 50 states and Washington, D.C. for tricky practices with their auto loan and mortgage products.
Who was covered by the Wells Fargo settlement?
According to the official Wells Fargo settlement website, there are three main qualifications for people to be a part of the settlement:
- If you had one or more unauthorized Wells Fargo accounts opened in your name between May 1, 2002, and April 20, 2017.
- If you had one or more unauthorized Wells Fargo accounts applied for in your name between May 1, 2002, and April 20, 2017, regardless of whether that account was opened.
- Or, if you obtained identity theft protection services from Wells Fargo between May 1, 2002, and April 20, 2017.
How do you get restitution under the Wells Fargo settlement?
The deadline to file a claim was July 7, 2018, so only those who are already signed up will be part of the settlement. If Wells Fargo had a record of a complaint about Unauthorized Accounts that you made to Wells Fargo, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency or the CFPB, you might have been automatically enrolled in the class-action settlement. (If you’re not sure if you were included in the settlement, you can request more information by calling 1-866-431-8549.)
“For this case, Wells Fargo did send out letters to many that were affected with instructions about how to file claims,” said Tumin. The lesson here is that “[….] it makes sense to pay attention to what you receive from your institutions,” he added.
For those who did pay attention to their mail, or for those who were automatically enrolled, getting cash in hand from the settlements is expected to take a very long time. “There won’t be anything paid out until appeals have been exhausted, and that can take many years,” said Tumin.
What’s more, payment to class members can be made only after class members’ damages are calculated in accordance with the settlement. Then, the claims have to be processed and the damages must be determined based on credit bureau data analysis. At that point, checks can begin to go out to all eligible class members at the same time.
Do I need to hire a lawyer to participate in the Wells Fargo settlement?
The courts have already appointed Keller Rohrback LLP to represent all class members as “Class Counsel.” Anyone who is part of the lawsuit will not be charged a fee. If you did participate in the settlement, however, that also means you gave up your right to sue Wells Fargo and related parties on your own for related claims.
Those who opt to hire their own lawyers or pursue their own lawsuits will be treated separately from the class-action suit.
Lessons learned from the Wells Fargo settlement
Whether or not you’re involved in the Wells Fargo settlement, it’s a good reminder that keeping tabs on your financial life is important. “It shows how beneficial it can be to get online access to your accounts and keep track of them,” said Tumin. That way, you can quickly spot anything that is amiss, such as an additional, unauthorized account with one of your banking institutions.
The other big takeaway is that when your consumer rights are on the line, there are protections in place and by going through the appropriate channels, there will be consequences for the offending institution.
Should you ever find yourself in the situation of receiving a notice that you may be eligible for a class-action lawsuit, take the time to review it carefully, says Tumin. “Claims forms can be a hassle and the benefit is often small in terms of money victims sometimes see,” he said. “But, you can look at it as an indication that a megabank did something wrong and you were able to have a little bit of justice.”