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Navajo Nation Sues Wells Fargo for 'Predatory' Banking

Last year, news broke that Wells Fargo salespeople had been setting up fraudulent accounts for customers for years in order to meet sales quotas, and charging customers fees on those accounts as well. The victims included small businesses as well as individuals, and employees even sued the bank over the fraud.

On top of that, a new lawsuit claims that Wells Fargo used "predatory and unlawful practices" to defraud members of the Navajo Nation, to the tune of $50 million. "Under intense pressure from superiors to grow sales figures," the suit claims, "Wells Fargo employees lied to Navajo consumers, telling elderly Navajo citizens who did not speak English that in order to have their checks cashed they needed to sign up for savings accounts they neither needed nor understood."

Illegal Targeting

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico, also claims that "former Wells Fargo employees have stated in sworn statements that they were told to target Native Americans," opening unnecessary accounts, setting up debit or credit cards without consent, and collecting unauthorized fees. According to the suit, former Wells Fargo senior executive in Arizona Pam Conboy "drove Arizona from last place to first in regional sales performance within two years of taking her position by employing intense sales pressure and a very heavy emphasis on rankings and sales performance."

"Over the past year," Wells Fargo said in a statement, "we have taken significant steps to make things right for our customers, including members of the Navajo Nation, who may have been affected by unacceptable retail sales practices." The suit claims otherwise, and is seeking $50 million in damages.

False Accounts

Elder financial abuse like that alleged in the complaint is, as the Navajo Nation's attorney general Ethel Branch put it, "despicable." But elders weren't the only demographic targeted by the bank:

Wells Fargo representatives stalked local events like basketball games and flea markets to sign up consumers for unnecessary accounts en masse, especially targeting Navajo women who sold native crafts and products. They opened accounts for underage Navajo citizens, going so far as to falsify birth dates to avoid obtaining necessary parental consent.

But targeting elders can be a federal crime. The Elder Justice Act prohibits any "fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized, or improper act . . . that uses the resources of an elder for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an elder the rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets."

If you think a bank or other financial institution is defrauding an elder loved one, contact a local elder law attorney.

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