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Wells Fargo ups bogus account count to 3.5 million

Independent investigators found 1.4 million more

It was almost a year ago that Wells Fargo revealed its employees had created checking and credit card accounts for a million or so customers without their knowledge or consent.

Since then, the bank has fired thousands of employees and brought in a third party investigative team to provide an independent account of what happened. The investigators have now turned in their report, revealing that there may have been as many as 3.5 million unauthorized accounts, 1.4 million more than originally reported.

Consumer groups are saying the revelation is further evidence that consumers should not be forced to give up their right to sue when dealing with financial institutions.

“Congress now has 1.4 million more reasons to protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration rule," said Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "Eliminating the arbitration rule, as some Republicans in Congress are calling for, would allow big banks and other financial institutions to continue these and other illegal and damaging practices unchecked."

Frisch said customers affected by banking scandals and errors "should be allowed to exercise their constitutional right to have their day in court, rather than being forced into a secret arbitration tribunal where big banks call the shots and individuals hardly stand a chance."

The additional unauthorized accounts turned up when investigators expanded their search back to 2009, a time period not covered by the bank's initial report. The new report, long anticipated, is part of Wells Fargo's nearly year-long effort to put the scandal behind it.

'Unacceptable sales practices'

“We apologize to everyone who was harmed by unacceptable sales practices that occurred in our retail bank,” said Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan. “To rebuild trust and to build a better Wells Fargo, our first priority is to make things right for our customers, and the completion of this expanded third-party analysis is an important milestone."

The bank has faced class action lawsuits and has already settled with U.S. regulators, paying $185 million in fines.

In recent weeks, the bank had telegraphed to employees and Wall Street that the independent investigation would likely result in more negative news for the San Francisco-based bank. While consumers might be upset with the new disclosure, it isn't going over very well on Wall Street either.

Harsh reaction

Today's disclosure moved CNBC's Jim Cramer, co-host of "Squawk On The Street," to be especially harsh in his characterization of Wells Fargo, appearing dumbfounded that the bank had discovered an additional 1.4 million unauthorized accounts.

"A million extra? I mean that's not a rounding error," Cramer said on the broadcast.

CNBC said it reached out to Wells Fargo to respond to Cramer's comments but had received no reply.

In the meantime, Wells Fargo said it will take "significant steps" in the coming weeks to compensate the latest group of consumer and small business customers who may have been harmed when accounts were set up in their name.

It was almost a year ago that Wells Fargo revealed its employees had created checking and credit card accounts for a million or so customers without their...

Wells Fargo ordered to re-hire whistle-blower

OSHA says branch manager was fired after reporting fraudulent activity

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the Labor Department, has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate a branch manager allegedly fired after she reported what she believed to be fraudulent activity at her branch.

The OSHA ruling orders the bank to rehire the unnamed executive with back pay and damages, totaling $577,000.

In a statement to Reuters, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the bank disagrees with the findings and will request a full hearing on the matter. She noted that the OSHA order is preliminary and that no hearing on the merits of the case has been held.

Unauthorized accounts scandal

This particular case goes back to 2011, but OSHA says it is connected to last year's revelations that Wells Fargo opened credit card and checking accounts in customers' names without their consent.

According to OSHA, the Wells Fargo branch manager in question raised concerns with her superiors, alleging that the bank's "private bankers" were opening accounts for customers without their permission.

The manager’s disclosures were found to be protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010. The agency suggests the manager's reports were at least a contributing factor in her firing.

“No banking industry employee should fear retaliation for raising concerns about fraud and practices that violate consumer financial protections,” said Barbara Goto, OSHA regional administrator in San Francisco. “The U.S. Department of Labor will fully and fairly enforce the whistleblower protection laws under its jurisdiction.”

Warren weighs in

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a frequent critic of banks in general and Wells Fargo in particular, was quick to react to the order. After last year's revelations of the unauthorized accounts, she pressed the Labor Department to investigate.

"Whistleblowers who come forward to call out abusive, predatory, and illegal practices in their workplaces should be applauded, not subjected to retaliation," Warren said.

Warren also said she was pleased to see the Department of Labor investigation is continuing under the Trump Administration.

While Wells Fargo has signaled its intention to appeal, OSHA says an appeal does not stay the preliminary reinstatement order.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the Labor Department, has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate a branch manager allegedly fir...

Wells Fargo agrees to pay $110 million to settle fake account scandal

The company continues to be hit hard by both regulators and consumers

Last year, officials found that Wells Fargo employees, fueled by sales incentives, had opened approximately two million accounts under customers’ names and signed them up for various financial products without authorization. In September, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) imposed its largest fine ever on the company, ordering it to pay a $100 million fine, restitution to victims, and a combined $85 million to two other agencies.

Now, the company is looking to settle a class-action lawsuit connected to the scandal. Per the Washington Post, Wells Fargo agreed on Tuesday to pay $110 million to consumers who had accounts opened without their permission, or were signed up for a product they did not agree to.

Pending court approval, the settlement would cover affected customers going all the way back to January 1, 2009. The bank said that the settlement should resolve a total of 11 class-action suits brought against it connected to the fake account scandal.

Settlement terms

Wells Fargo has also agreed not to use third-party arbitration under the settlement – a right that it has contentiously maintained allows it to take complaints to a private mediator instead of to court. The company had been invoking the right up until its announcement on Tuesday, and the change of direction was welcomed by the plaintiffs.  

“We believe this is an outstanding result obtained for the benefit of a proposed nationwide class, notwithstanding Wells Fargo’s effort to block the class action with an arbitration clause,” said Derek Loeser, partner of a firm that filed one of the class-actions against Wells Fargo.

Under the terms of the settlement, the $110 million will first go towards any out-of-pocket losses or fees that customers faced because of the unauthorized accounts. The remaining money will then be split up between all impacted customers.

“Significant harm” to consumers

In addition to the settlement news, Wells Fargo also announced on Tuesday that its rating had been lowered from “outstanding” to “needs to improve” under the Community Reinvestment Act -- a law designed to help monitor and promote banking practices to low-income and minority communities.  

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which made the decision, stated that the fraudulent sales practices were one reason for the downgrade. The effects of the move will limit Wells Fargo from opening more branches or making acquisitions in certain areas, and will open the bank up to fines or sanctions if patterns of discriminatory behavior are found in the future.

One regulator said that the deceptive sales practices that employees used already qualify as deceptive and unfair behavior, and that consumers have suffered because of it.

“These findings reflect an extensive and pervasive pattern and practice of discriminatory and illegal practices across multiple lines of business within the bank, resulting in significant harm to large numbers of consumers,” he said.

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said that he was disappointed by the Comptroller's decision, but that the settlement represents “another step in our journey to make things right with customers.”

Last year, officials found that Wells Fargo employees, fueled by sales incentives, had opened approximately two million accounts under customers’ names and...

Wells Fargo making ATM accessible with smartphones

Bank also rolls out new campaign to win back customers

Next week, if you need to withdraw money from a Wells Fargo ATM, you won't need your debit card. You can use your smartphone.

The bank ran a pilot program on the technology in several areas of the country and is now ready to roll it out nationwide. To use the new system, Wells Fargo customers who have the bank's mobile app will be able to request a code that they will enter, along with their PIN.

In an interview with Reuters, Jonathan Velline, Wells Fargo's head of ATM and branch banking, said the new system enhances safeguards against fraud.

"Security certainly was a big aspect of the cardless feature and the two-step identification helps reduce the risk of fraud," Velline told the wire service.

The ATMs will still take debit cards, but Velline says the digital access prevents thieves from installing skimmers that intercept and steal data from the inserted cards.

Repairing customer relations

The new system is being introduced as Wells Fargo continues its mission to repair relations with customers in the wake of last year's unauthorized accounts scandal. The bank got a black eye when it was revealed thousands of employees had opened checking and credit card accounts for customers without their permission, in a bid to increase fees.

In Orlando this week, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan hosted a company-wide town hall meeting to inform employees about efforts to win back trust.

“We’re making things right for our customers and our team members," Sloan said. "We are fixing problems, and we’re building a better bank for the future.”

New ad campaign

Employees also got a sneak peak at a new national advertising campaign with the theme “Building Better Every Day.” The advertising campaign will begin in mid-April across multiple channels.

Business Insider reports the bank has faced strong headwinds as it tries to reassure consumers, experiencing a pronounced decline in new accounts and an increase in closed accounts since the scandal broke last fall.

Citing company data, the publication notes that new checking accounts dropped 43% and new credit card accounts fell by 55% in February.

Next week, if you need to withdraw money from a Wells Fargo ATM, you won't need your debit card. You can use your smartphone.The bank ran a pilot progr...

Consumers still punishing Wells Fargo

Earnings report shows big drop in new bank and credit card accounts

When federal regulators discovered last fall that Wells Fargo had been creating credit card and checking accounts for its customers without their permission, simply to boost its fees, regulators punished the bank with millions of dollars in fines.

But it turns out consumers have also been punishing the bank.

When Wells Fargo reported its earnings for the latest quarter and full year, it disclosed that new credit card accounts plunged 43% year-over-year and dropped 7% from the previous month.

As for bank accounts, new checking accounts plunged 40% from December 2015. However, they were up slightly from November.

But that bit of good news was overshadowed by the revelation that some current Wells Fargo checking account customers simply stopped using their accounts without closing them. Between November and December, active checking account customers fell by 100,000.

5,300 bank employees fired

Back in September, Wells Fargo reached a settlement with federal agencies and the City of Los Angeles over revelations it had opened millions of accounts without customers' knowledge or permission. In settling with government agencies, Wells Fargo announced that it had fired 5,300 employees and changed sales practices to end incentives to open new accounts.

Regulators charged that, not only was it fraudulent to move money and open accounts without a customer's permission, the customer also incurred fees in the process, costing him or her money.

In the earnings report Friday, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said the bank is working to regain the trust of consumers, employees and other key stakeholders.

“I am pleased with the progress we have made in customer remediation, the ongoing review of sales practices across the company and fulfilling our regulatory requirements for sales practices matters,” Sloan said. “As planned, we launched our new retail bank compensation program this month, which is based on building lifelong relationships with our customers.”

It should be noted that not everyone is punishing Wells Fargo. Even after reporting its earnings, which fell short of analysts' estimates, the company's stock rose on Wall Street. CNBC reported investors are looking past the bad news and are convinced the bank's profits will still rise in the future.

When federal regulators discovered last fall that Wells Fargo had been creating credit card and checking accounts for its customers without their permissio...

Wells Fargo seeking to use arbitration clause to block lawsuits

The bank claims customers gave up their right to sue when they opened accounts

Wells Fargo faces dozens of lawsuits from angry customers over its fake accounts scandal, but it is reportedly seeking to push those disputes into arbitration.

Bloomberg News reports the bank has filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to keep one particular lawsuit from getting to court. In the motion, Wells Fargo says customers agreed to resolve disputes out of court when they opened their accounts.

The lawsuits are the result of Wells Fargo's actions, opening millions of bank and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge or permission. At the time, the bank was engaged in a sales strategy known as “cross-marketing,” where customers with one type of account were encouraged to open another type, increasing the amount of fees flowing to the bank.

Went beyond convincing

The bank offered incentives to employees who were able to convince customers with bank accounts to open credit card accounts, and vice-versa. Federal regulators charged Wells Fargo went beyond trying to convince customers to open new accounts and simply opened the accounts for them without their knowledge. The bank fired 5,300 employees and paid $185 million in fines. It's CEO, John Stumpf, after being raked over the coals by Congressional committees, took early retirement.

Bloomberg reports the motion, filed in the lawsuit brought by 80 Wells Fargo customers, points out that the arbitration clause has already been validated in another lawsuit brought in California.

Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution favored by large corporations with lots of customers. It keeps disputes out of court and, while saving in legal fees, often results in more favorable rulings. Besides banks, telecommunications companies usually require their customers to agree to arbitration.

Considering a ban

A year ago, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it was considering proposed rules that would ban consumer financial companies from using “free pass” arbitration clauses.

With this free pass, CFPB said companies can sidestep the legal system, avoid big refunds, and continue to pursue profitable practices that may violate the law and harm countless consumers.

“Consumers should not be asked to sign away their legal rights when they open a bank account or credit card,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said at the time.

Cordray said corporations are using the arbitration clause as a free pass to sidestep the courts and his agency would consider banning arbitration clauses that block group lawsuits.

Wells Fargo faces dozens of lawsuits from angry customers over its fake accounts scandal, but it is reportedly seeking to push those disputes into arbitrat...

Feds reverse course, increase oversight of Wells Fargo

Office of Comptroller of the Currency must approve any senior leadership changes

A federal regulator has revoked its earlier position and will increase its oversight of Wells Fargo, adding to the fallout from the bank's fake accounts scandal.

The Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a brief statement, saying the bank must now get OCC approval for any changes to its board of directors and senior leadership. Specifically, the OCC said it must approve any senior executive severance packages, known in the business as “golden parachutes.”

In early September, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $100 million fine for secretly opening checking and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge. Federal regulators who brought the enforcement action claimed the bank did that so it could meet its sales quota for new accounts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said the bank employees, under pressure to meet targets and earn sales incentives, opened more than two million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.

Largest CFPB fine ever

“Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said at the time. “Because of the severity of these violations, Wells Fargo is paying the largest penalty the CFPB has ever imposed.”

The bank responded by firing 5,300 employees it said were responsible for the fake accounts, but lawmakers and regulators began looking more closely at the executive suite.

The heat fell squarely on Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who was hauled before several Congressional committees to endure tongue lashings from a number of outraged lawmakers. Stumpf eventually announced his early retirement in an effort to quell the furor. The OCC announcement suggests the furor still has room to run.

Meanwhile, business at Wells Fargo has fallen dramatically. Fortune reported late last week that new accounting openings “fell off a cliff” in October. Checking account openings were down 44% from October 2015. New credit card accounts were down 50%. New CEO Tim Sloan said the decline in new accounts was expected.

A federal regulator has revoked its earlier position and will increase its oversight of Wells Fargo, adding to the fallout from the bank's fake accounts sc...

Wells Fargo under siege as anger of scandal grows

California hits the bank where it hurts

The enormity of what Wells Fargo did to many of its customers appears to be sinking in, and anger is building.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumph was back on Capitol Hill Thursday, facing lawmakers who, if anything, are angrier now than they were the week before when Stumph appeared before them to try to explain how thousands of bank employees opened accounts in customers' names, without their knowledge, just so the employees could hit their sales goals.

It may be too soon to know if the scandal will cause huge numbers of current Wells Fargo customers to look for another bank, but the scandal has already caused the state of California to do so.

“Wells Fargo’s fleecing of its customers by opening fraudulent accounts for the purpose of extracting millions in illegal fees demonstrates, at best, a reckless lack of institutional control and, at worst, a culture which actively promotes wanton greed,” said California Treasurer John Chiang, in a statement.

Losing California's business

Because of the bank's actions, Chaing announced the state will suspend its financial ties with the San Francisco-based financial institution. That means no investments by the Treasurer's Office in Wells Fargo securities.

It also means the state will stop using Wells Fargo brokerage services and will drop the bank as a managing underwriter on state bond sales. The sanctions will remain in place for at least 12 months.

That's likely to get Wells Fargo's attention, since the state Treasurer controls nearly $2 trillion in annual banking transactions, manages billions of dollars in investments, and is the largest issuer of municipal bonds in the U.S.

In a letter to Wells Fargo, Chaing said he is trying to help the bank understand that “integrity and trust matter.”

Warren not letting up

In Washington, the scandal seems to have united a divided Congress in its condemnation of Wells Fargo. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been the most vocal and most scathing, however, particularly when she confronted Stumph at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

“You haven’t resigned. You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings,” she said. “You haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, your definition of ‘accountable’ is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It’s gutless leadership.”

Warren says the bank “squeezed employees to the breaking point” in an effort to drive up the price of its stock. Some present and former bank employees, meanwhile, have sued Wells Fargo, claiming they were the biggest victims of the scandal.

Meanwhile, Warren and seven other members of the Senate have sent a letter to the Department of Labor, requesting it investigate Wells Fargo for potential violations of wage and hour laws as it pushed employees to hit sales targets.

The enormity of what Wells Fargo did to many of its customers appears to be sinking in, and anger is building.Wells Fargo CEO John Stumph was back on C...

Wells Fargo CEO to forfeit $41 million and forgo salary during company investigation

While it's a step in the right direction, lawmakers are still not satisfied

It hasn’t been a good month for Wells Fargo. The company found itself in the middle of a scandal after reports revealed that its employees engaged in fraudulent behavior by opening customer accounts without consent.

The actions resulted in multiple lawsuits, including $185 million in fines from federal regulators, the Office of the Comptroller, and the City and County of Los Angeles. It is also likely that the company will face a probe from the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Now, the company’s board has decided to penalize CEO John Stumpf by forcing him to forfeit $41 million from his compensation package. He will also not receive any bonuses for 2016 and will forgo his salary while the company performs its own internal investigation into the company’s banking sales practices. Carrie Tolstedt, the former head of retail banking, will also be denied $19 million.

“We are deeply concerned by these matters, and we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of the company’s business are conducted with integrity, transparency, and oversight,” said Stephen Sanger, lead independent director for the board, in a statement. “We will conduct this investigation with the diligence it deserves — and will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

The Wells Fargo board could potentially take further action against Stumpf, Tolstedt, and other executives depending on what they find. The members have stated that Stumpf will recuse himself of all board-related deliberations related to the investigation.

“We will proceed with a sense of urgency but will take the time we need to conduct a thorough investigation,” Sanger said. “We will then take all appropriate actions to reinforce the right culture and ensure that lessons are learned, misconduct is addressed, and systems and processes are improved so there can be no repetition of similar conduct.”

Lawmakers remain unsatisfied

While the actions taken by the company may seem to be a start in the right direction, lawmakers say that there is much that should be done. They point out that while 5,300 employees were fired as a result of the scandal, company executives seem to have come out pretty well.

Earlier this month, CNN reported that after Tolstedt retires at the end of the year, she will be able to rake in $124 million in shares, options, and restricted stock. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has stated her disgust that low-level employees are the ones taking the blame for the scandal.

“You haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of personal earnings, you haven’t fired a single senior executive,” Warren said during the Senate hearing. “Your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low level employees… it’s gutless leadership.”

“[Wells Fargo’s] announcement is a step in the right direction but there are still dozens of unanswered questions,” added Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in a statement.

It hasn’t been a good month for Wells Fargo. The company found itself in the middle of a scandal after reports revealed that its employees engaged in fraud...

Wells Fargo agrees to pay $8 million in 11-year-old West Virginia lawsuit

The suit accused insurance broker Acordia of improper marketing practices

Wells Fargo has agreed to settle a West Virginia lawsuit that dates all the way back to 2005. The company will pay $8 million to settle allegations made against Acordia, an insurance broker that was acquired by Wells Fargo in 2001.

The suit was originally filed by then-West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw; it charged Acordia with favoring certain insurance carriers over others to the detriment of consumers. The lawsuit stated consumers were directed towards choosing these carriers “regardless of whether the insurers provided the best cost, coverage and financial security for the client,” according to Business Insurance report.

Before the lawsuit was filed in 2005, the Attorney General’s office launched a probe to gather information and evidence of any wrong-doing.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, investigators found that brokers and insurance companies had made arrangements for secret “contingent commissions,” wherein the insurance carriers would pay extra money to brokers in order to have clients directed towards their companies; these secret commissions allegedly earned brokers millions in extra fees.

$8 million settlement

Wells Fargo denies any wrong-doing in connection to this case, but has agreed to pay $8 million to the Office of the Attorney General on the state’s behalf.

Current West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced the settlement on Monday, citing it has a victory for citizens of West Virginia.

“I take very seriously my office’s obligation to protect citizens from questionable marketing practices,” he said. “This settlement is yet another example demonstrating that commitment.”

A copy of the settlement can be viewed here.

Wells Fargo has agreed to settle a West Virginia lawsuit that dates all the way back to 2005. The company will pay $8 million to settle allegations made ag...

Wells Fargo to pay $8.5 million for not disclosing that consumer calls were recorded

The state considers the suit a victory for consumer privacy

If you’ve ever called a customer service line, then you may be all too familiar with the initial spiel or automated message that you hear before talking to a human: “This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.”

While companies certainly do use these recordings for training purposes, the statement is also important because it provides a warning for consumers. Wells Fargo may be learning that lesson the hard way. The company has been fined $8.5 million for violating California’s state law which requires that all companies disclose that a call is being recorded.

The suit was filed back in February when the state accused Wells Fargo of violating sections 632 and 632.7 of its penal code. The lion’s share of the $8.5 million will be split up amongst five California counties, with $7.6 million going to Los Angeles, Riverside, Venture, Alameda, and San Diego. Wells Fargo will also pay $250,000 to two organizations – the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Consumer Protection Prosecution Trust Fund.

Victory for consumer privacy

The state considers the suit a victory for consumer privacy, saying that it is more important than ever that consumers feel safe in an increasingly technological world.

“This settlement holds Wells Fargo accountable for violating the privacy of its customers by recording calls without providing adequate notification, and ensures that the bank makes the changes necessary to protect the privacy of its customers,” said California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

In addition to the payment, Wells Fargo has stated that it will create an internal compliance program so that calls are no longer recorded without consent. 

If you’ve ever called a customer service line, then you may be all too familiar with the initial spiel or automated message that you hear before talking to...

Los Angeles sues Wells Fargo for “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent conduct”

Allegations include opening unauthorized accounts for customers, charging unauthorized fees, and more

The city of Los Angeles has filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank, alleging that the bank's policies and high-pressure sales quotas encouraged employees to engage in “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent conduct” against customers.

L.A. Prosecutor Mike Feuer filed the suit in state court on Monday, alleging that, among other things, employees would misuse customers' confidential information, open accounts in customers' names without authorization, often failed to close those accounts when the customers demanded it, and sometimes even took money out of authorized client accounts to pay for those unauthorized fees.

“The result is that Wells Fargo has generated a virtual fee-generating machine, through which its customers are harmed, its employees take the blame, and Wells Fargo reaps the profit,” the lawsuit says.

Furthermore, “On the rare occasions when Wells Fargo did take action against its employees for unethical sales conduct, Wells Fargo further victimized its customers by failing to inform them of the breaches, refund fees they were owed, or otherwise remedy the injuries that Wells Fargo and its bankers have caused.”

Gaming

Consumers rate Wells Fargo

The lawsuit also claims that Wells Fargo bankers engaged in a practice known as “gaming” -- opening unauthorized accounts in customers' names, making unauthorized withdrawals from customers' authorized accounts to pay the fees on the unauthorized ones, and reporting customers to collections and/or posting “derogatory information” in the customers' credit reports.

Wells Fargo responded with a statement saying it would fight those allegations in court, and that “Wells Fargo's culture is focused on the best interests of its customers and creating a supportive, caring and ethical environment for our team members. This includes training, audits and processes that work together to support our Vision & Values and our commitment to customers receiving only the products and services they need and will benefit from.”

Yet many consumers — from all over the country, not just California — have written reviews that sound remarkably similar to some of the allegations mentioned in Feuer's lawsuit. Consider this sampling of complaints we got about Wells Fargo, just during the month of April 2015. Dan from Bozeman, Montana wrote us on April 1 to say:

Over the past several years, I have become more and more frustrated with Wells Fargo as a whole. I have kept my personal and business bank accounts with Wells Fargo and just about every month they find a way to charge some kind of fee for some random reason. Their accounts are set up with such complex sets of terms and conditions that you cannot possibly keep track of all of them. If you don't watch your accounts daily - you can be assured they will be siphoning money. The bankers will always assure you that your accounts are free.. just know that they are not.

"Misled in the beginning"

Tawnya from Alexandria, Alabama went into more detail about those fees. She visited her local Wells Fargo branch seeking “ANOTHER temporary check card since the company failed to send me the new card, although I did receive an email [assuring me] it was sent out.” While she spoke to one employee about her check-card problems, another one overheard her mention that she had an at-home business, and encouraged her to open a business savings account.

He quickly went over the benefits and had me transfer $150 from my checking on that day, explaining to me $150 must be deposited into the business savings monthly. He did not specify it had to be an automatic transfer set up for a specific date.... [the following month] I made a deposit of $150 in the Lenlock, AL branch and no worries, until I see they took out a $14 service charge from my business checking and $6 from my business savings. As I looked further, there was another $6 charge to my business savings in Feb. … Not only was I charged a $5 service fee for years to have a checking account after the Wachovia/Wells Fargo takeover, but now I am getting service fees for trying to build a business when I was mislead in the beginning by the representative ….

John from Chicago said that “Wells Fargo small business account reps gave me a personal credit card I did not ask for and charged me fees for that.”

But Octavia from New Jersey offered a view from the employees' side of the table:

.... [O]ur finances hit the toilet when my husband switched jobs and began working for Wells. The amount of stress and pressure that he had to endure to sell and open accounts was too much for him. ... My husband has since left but reiterates that it is the worst to its customers and employees alike!

The city of Los Angeles has filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank, alleging that the bank's policies and high-pressure sales quotas encouraged employees to e...

Lawsuit claims Well Fargo managers open phony accounts to keep their jobs

Lawsuit charges that new-customer quotas drive managers to create bogus accounts

Everyone denies having quotas. The police insist they don't but ask yourself how often you've gotten tickets late in the month. Telephone solicitors say they don't have quotas but how often have you been signed up for something you never heard of?

David E. Douglas says Wells Fargo Bank is up to the same shenanigans. In a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Douglas charges that employees of three different Wells Fargo branches opened new accounts in his name and his business' name without his knowledge.

Douglas says branch employees are under so much pressure to sign up new customers that they use the information they already have on existing customers to open phony new accounts. Douglas claims the individual defendants opened at least eight accounts in his name and forged his signature on the applications without his knowledge, Courthouse News Service reported.

Consumers rate Wells Fargo

Given the demands Wells Fargo makes on its employees, it "should have known that its employees and bank managers routinely use the account information, date of birth, and Social Security and taxpayer identification numbers of defendant Wells Fargo's existing bank customers to use the existing bank customers' money to open additional accounts in the existing customers' names without their knowledge or consent and by forging the signature of their existing customers without their knowledge or consent to open said additional accounts, including purported business accounts for businesses that do not exist," Douglas' suit charges.

Even after being alerted to the issue, Wells Fargo did nothing, Douglas alleges. He says in the suit that when he found out about the unauthorized accounts, he contacted a fraud investigator at the bank's Beverly Hills branch. She assured him that Wells Fargo would "conduct a thorough investigation and make him whole," but he never heard back from her or anyone else at the bank, so he was forced to sue, Douglas says in the complaint.

Everyone denies having quotas. The police insist they don't but ask yourself how often you've gotten tickets late in the month. Telephone solicitors say th...

Government Sues Wells Fargo for 'Reckless' Lending

Suit charges the FHA picked up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bad mortgages

The Justice Department has sued Wells Fargo, the nation's largest mortgage lender, accusing it of "reckless" lending and sticking the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) with the tab for loans that went bad.

Prosecutors say they are seeking "hundreds of millions of dollars" in damages on behalf of the FHA.  The complaint, filed in New York City, alleges that for more than a decade, Wells Fargo engaged in "reckless" underwriting of government-backed loans.

“As the complaint alleges, yet another major bank has engaged in a longstanding and reckless trifecta of deficient training, deficient underwriting and deficient disclosure, all while relying on the convenient backstop of government insurance," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "As also alleged, Wells Fargo’s bonus incentive plan – rewarding employees based on the sheer number of loans approved – was an accelerant to a fire already burning, as quality repeatedly took a back seat to quantity.

"What’s more, even after concerns were raised internally at the bank, Wells Fargo began self-reporting bad loans in a significant way, as required, only after this Office issued a subpoena last year. Now a jury will have to weigh the facts to determine the bank’s liability and the scope of the damages it must pay,” Bharara said. 

At issue are more than 100,000 FHA-backed loans. Wells Fargo said the loans met federal lending guidelines when half of them didn't, the government alleges.

Consumers rate Wells Fargo Mortgage

“As the complaint alleges, yet another major bank has engaged in a longstanding and reckless trifecta of deficient training, deficient underwriting and deficient disclosure, all while relying on the convenient backstop of government insurance,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a prepared statement.

The Justice Department's case is similar to those filed earlier against Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and other lenders. Deutsche Bank has agreed to pay $202 million and Citigroup is paying $290 million. A suit against Allied Home Mortgage is still pending. Bank of America has said it reached an agreement to resolve claims for FHA-insured loans made by Countrywide Mortgage.

In July, Wells Fargo paid $125 million and set up a $50 million assistance fund to settle federal allegations that it discriminated against minority borrowers.

The Justice Department has sued Wells Fargo, the nation's largest mortgage lender, accusing it of "reckless" lending and sticking the Federal Housing Admin...

Wells Fargo Takes Its Hits, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Next in Line

Cyber attacks are tied to online video that insults the prophet Muhammad

The online video that insults the prophet Muhammad has sparked a crisis in the Middle East and isn't doing much to make life easier for banking customers in the U.S. either.

Cyber attacks blocked Wells Fargo's site in much of the country today and U.S. Bancorp and PNC are said to be next on the list.  Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were all hit earlier. 

The disruptions were caused by what are known as denial of service attacks, in which massive numbers of computers hit sites simultaneously, flooding them with requests that cause the sites to either go down or operate at a crawl.

Consumers rate Wells Fargo

A group calling itself the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for the attacks and says they will continue until that controversial video is taken down.

The Wells Fargo site was completely unreachable for much of today, creating cries of anguish and outrage from many of its 21 million online customers.

Many customers have blamed the banks for the attacks, although experts say there is little that anyone can do to defend against massive distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, so called because they use thousands of computers all around the world to mount simultaneous attacks that overwhelm not just the targeted sites but, in many cases, other sites hosted within the same data centers.

Wells Fargo issued a statement apologizing for the outage. 

"We are working to quickly resolve this issue. Customers can still access their accounts through our ATMs, stores and by phone," the bank said in a statement.

The online video that insults the prophet Muhammad has sparked a crisis in the Middle East and isn't doing much to make life easier for banking customers i...

Wells Fargo Settles Federal Fair Lending Case

The settlement means more than $175 million in relief for homeowners

The second largest fair lending settlement in Department of Justice history has been filed, resolving allegations that Wells Fargo Bank engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified black and Hispanic borrowers in its mortgage lending from 2004 through 2009.  

The settlement provides $125 million in compensation for wholesale borrowers who were steered into subprime mortgages or who paid higher fees and rates than white borrowers because of their race or national origin. 

Wells Fargo, the largest residential home mortgage originator in the United States, will also provide $50 million in direct down payment assistance to borrowers in communities around the country where the department identified large numbers of discrimination victims and which were hard hit by the housing crisis.  

Additionally, the bank has agreed to conduct an internal review of its retail mortgage lending and will compensate African-American and Hispanic retail borrowers who were placed into subprime loans when similarly qualified white retail borrowers received prime loans.   

Compensation paid to any retail borrowers identified in the review process will be in addition to the $125 million to compensate wholesale borrowers who were victims of discrimination. 

“The department’s action makes clear that we will hold financial institutions accountable, including some of the nation’s largest, for lending discrimination,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. “An applicant’s creditworthiness, and not the color of his or her skin, should determine what loans a borrower qualifies for. 

“With today’s settlement,”, he continued, “the federal government will ensure that African-American and Hispanic borrowers who were discriminated against will be entitled to compensation and borrowers in communities hit hard by this housing crisis will have an opportunity to access homeownership.” 

The complaint 

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in conjunction with the department’s complaint, which alleges that between 2004 and 2008, Wells Fargo discriminated by steering approximately 4,000 black and Hispanic wholesale borrowers, as well as additional retail borrowers, into subprime mortgages when non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans.   

All the borrowers who were allegedly discriminated against were qualified for Wells Fargo mortgage loans according to Well Fargo’s own underwriting criteria. 

The government also alleges that, between 2004 and 2009, Wells Fargo discriminated by charging approximately 30,000 black and Hispanic wholesale borrowers higher fees and rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers because of their race or national origin rather than the borrowers’ credit worthiness or other objective criteria related to borrower risk.  

“By reaching a settlement in this case, African-American and Hispanic wholesale borrowers who received subprime loans when they should have received prime loans or who paid more for their loans will get swift and meaningful relief,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “As one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country, Wells Fargo’s commitment to conduct an internal review of its retail lending and compensate African American and Hispanic retail borrowers who may have been improperly placed in subprime loans is significant. We will continue to work aggressively to ensure that all qualified borrowers have access to credit on an equal basis.” 

Race a factor 

The United States’ complaint alleges that black and Hispanic wholesale borrowers paid more than non-Hispanic white wholesale borrowers, not based on borrower risk, but because of their race or national origin.   Wells Fargo’s business practice allowed its loan officers and mortgage brokers to vary a loan’s interest rate and other fees from the price it set based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors.   

This subjective and unguided pricing discretion resulted in black and Hispanic borrowers paying more. The complaint also alleges that Wells Fargo was aware the fees and interest rates it was charging discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers, but the actions it took were insufficient and ineffective in stopping it.  

In addition, the complaint contends that, as a result of Wells Fargo’s policies and practices, qualified black and Hispanic wholesale borrowers were placed in subprime loans rather than prime loans even when similarly-qualified non-Hispanic white borrowers were placed in prime loans.   

The discriminatory placement of wholesale borrowers in subprime loans, also known as “steering,” occurred because it was the bank’s business practice to allow mortgage brokers and employees to place a loan applicant in a subprime loan even when the applicant qualified for a prime loan .   

In addition, Wells Fargo gave mortgage brokers discretion to request exceptions to the underwriting guidelines, and Wells Fargo’s employees had discretion to grant these exceptions.         

The department began its investigation into Wells Fargo’s lending practices in 2009 and received a referral in 2010 from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) which conducted its own parallel investigation of Wells Fargo’s lending practices in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas.  

The OCC found that there was reason to believe that Wells Fargo engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination in these metro areas on the basis of race or color, in violation of the FHA and ECOA.

The second largest fair lending settlement in Department of Justice history has been filed, resolving allegations that Wells Fargo Bank engaged in a patter...

Suit: Wells Fargo Forced Borrowers to Take Out Too Much Insurance

Bank overcharged home-loan customers for insurance, then pocketed the commissions, suit charges

A federal class action claims Wells Fargo Bank forces borrowers to take out too much flood insurance on their homes, then takes kickbacks and commissions on the insurance it takes out on their behalf. 

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on behalf of Desiree Morris, of Washington, Pa., who said Wells Fargo acquired a $115,000 mortgage on her home in 2009. She currently owes about $113,000.

Upon taking out the loan, Morris said she bought flood insurance in the amount of $118,000. In November 2010, the policy was renewed and the coverage was increased to $129,800, a 10% increase from her previous level.

Morris argues that the higher amount exceeds federal requirements by more than $14,000.

She notes that federal law requires that homes which, like Morris', are in a flood plain must have insurance “in an amount at least equal to the outstanding principal balance of the loan or the maximum limit of coverage ...whichever is less.”

But that was only the beginning.

The month after her insurance was increased to $129,800, Morris received a letter from Wells Fargo which claimed that her flood insurance coverage was "less than the coverage required" and claimed that she was required to have insurance that would provide the full replacement cost for her home, up to $250,000.

Wells Fargo said in the letter that if Morris did not take out more insurance, the bank would do so for her, taking out a "lender-placed policy" and charging her for it. The letter said Wells Fargo had purchased $94,000 worth of additional flood insurance on a 90-day binder and said it would bill her escrow account for the $893 cost.

The demands in the letter were "fraudulent, deceptive and misleading," Morris' suit claims and it charges that Wells Fargo was "unfairly, unjustly and unlawfully enriched by the kickbacks, commissions or other compensation."

The suit seeks class action status on behalf of anyone who had a loan or line of credit with Wells Fargo who was required to purchase flood insurance.

It charges Wells Fargo with violating the Truth in Lending Act, breaching its agreement, violating the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and misappropriating funds held in trust, among other allegations.

Suit Charges Wells Fargo Forced Borrowers to Take Out Too Much Insurance. Bank overcharged home-loan customers for insurance, then pocketed the commissions...

Wells Fargo Shutters Subprime Unit

Part of consolidation effort that will close more than 600 offices

By Mark Huffman
ConsumerAffairs.com

July 9, 2010
Wells Fargo is getting out of the subprime mortgage business, announcing plants to consolidate its Consumer Finance division.

The company said it expects 638 independent consumer finance offices will be closed as a result. In closing the offices, Wells Fargo said it is "exiting the origination of non-prime portfolio mortgage loans."

Subprime loans, often offered with low "teaser" rates, were the first to go bad, triggering a wave of foreclosures and precipitating the credit crises in late 2008.

The remaining consumer and commercial loan products offered through Wells Fargo Financial will be realigned with those offered by other Wells Fargo business units and will be available through Wells Fargo's expanded network of community banking and home mortgage stores, the company said.

The consolidation is also the result of Wells Fargo's 2008 merger with Wachovia. The bank says its customers now have access to its 6,600 Wells Fargo and Wachovia community bank stores and its 2,200 Wells Fargo Home Mortgage locations, eliminating the need for a separate network of Wells Fargo Financial local offices.

Fewer than two percent of all Wells Fargo's real estate loans were originated in Wells Fargo Financial stores in the first quarter of 2010, the company said.

"Our network of U.S.-based consumer finance stores, which have historically operated as an independent sales channel from our bank operations, have served customers well for more than 100 years," said David Kvamme, president of Wells Fargo Financial, "but the economics of a separate Wells Fargo Financial channel are no longer viable, especially now that our customers have access to the largest banking and mortgage store network in the United States."

The company said the restructuring of Wells Fargo Financial will not affect the number of community banking or home mortgage stores currently in operation. Customers with existing Wells Fargo Financial consumer loans and clients of Wells Fargo Financial's commercial businesses will continue to be served without disruption.

Consolidation

FHA home loans, auto loans and credit cards previously offered by Wells Fargo Financial will be consolidated with similar products across the company and will be offered through the company's network of community banking stores, mortgage stores, phone banks and wellsfargo.com. Wells Fargo Financial's commercial businesses will be realigned with business units within Wells Fargo over the next 12 months. However, Wells Fargo will no longer originate non-prime portfolio real estate loans.

Wells Fargo said it will also eliminate approximately 2,800 positions during the next 60 days, and 1,000 positions will likely be eliminated during the next 12 months.

Wells Fargo Shutters Subprime Unit...

Wells Fargo Reportedly Closing Some California Branches

Ongoing Wachovia consolidation continues

Nearly a year after purchasing Wachovia, Wells Fargo may be prepared to consolidate the operations of the two banks.

The Los Angeles Times reports Wells Fargo will close 122 branches in California, as part of that consolidation. The paper quotes a bank official as saying that it will mostly be current Wachovia branches -- smaller and located near larger Wells Fargo branches -- that will be closed.

Even with the downsizing, Wells Fargo will remain one of the larger banks in California, with more than 1,000 branches in the state.

Wells Fargo brokered a deal to purchase Wachovia in the wake of last year's banking sector meltdown, when it suddenly became evident that a number of institutions were insolvent, because of their investment in mortgage backed securities.

In October 2008, The Charlotte Observer reported Wachovia experienced a "silent run" as large customers closed out their accounts, fearful of a collapse. As a result, there were real concerns the bank wouldn't be able to remain open.

The situation became urgent after Wachovia executives noticed an unusual number of withdrawals the day after the Washington Mutual failure. Many of the withdrawals were made by large corporate depositors, who had more than $100,000 in the bank. As a result, the bank's operating capital fell to dangerously low levels.



Wells Fargo Reportedly Closing Some California Branches...

Illinois Sues Wells Fargo Over Subprime Loans

Claims lender discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit against Wells Fargo and Company, charging the bank discriminated against African American and Latino homeowners by selling them high-cost subprime mortgage loans while white borrowers with similar incomes received lower cost loans.

As a result of its discriminatory and illegal mortgage lending practices, Wells Fargo transformed our cities predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods into ground zero for subprime lending, said Madigan. The dreams of many hardworking families have ended in foreclosure due to Wells Fargos illegal and unfair conduct.

Madigans lawsuit, which is the result of an investigation into possible violations of fair lending and consumer fraud laws, cites marked disparities in Wells Fargos lending data. In 2005, according to an analysis of Chicago-area data, approximately 45 percent of Wells Fargos African-American borrowers and 23 percent of the lenders Latino borrowers received a high-cost mortgage. That same year, only about 11 percent of the lenders white borrowers received high-cost mortgages.

The trend continued in 2006, with approximately 58.5 percent of Wells Fargos African-American borrowers and 35 percent of its Latino borrowers in the Chicago area receiving high-cost mortgages, compared with only 16 percent of white borrowers. In 2007, approximately 49 percent of Wells Fargos African-American borrowers and 25 percent of Latino borrowers were sold a high-cost loan in the Chicago area, compared with only 15 percent of white borrowers.

The lawsuit also follows a recent Chicago Reporter analysis of mortgage data submitted by Wells Fargo to the federal government. That study found that, in 2007, Wells Fargo sold high-cost, subprime loans more often to its highest-earning African-American borrowers in Chicago than to its lowest-earning white borrowers. According to the study, in 2007, about 34 percent of African Americans earning $120,000 or more received high cost mortgages from Wells Fargo in the Chicago metro area, while less than 22 percent of white borrowers earning less than $40,000 received high-cost mortgages from the lender.

These disparities indicate that something is very wrong with Wells Fargos mortgage lending, said Madigan. They strongly suggest that the predictor of whether a borrower would receive a high-cost home loan from Wells Fargo was race, not income.

Madigans complaint alleges that Wells Fargo established highly discretionary lending policies and procedures with weak oversight that permitted Wells Fargos employees to steer African-Americans and Latinos into subprime loans. As cited in the complaint, Wells Fargos discretionary policies and procedures included a compensation structure that rewarded employees for placing borrowers into high-cost mortgages.

The complaint also alleges that Wells Fargo targeted African-American borrowers for the sale of high-cost loans by hosting a series of wealth building seminars in cities throughout the country, including Chicago.

Madigan noted that high-cost, subprime loans of the kind sold by Wells Fargo are defaulting and going into foreclosure in record numbers, and are largely responsible for triggering the worst economic recession in recent memory. The Attorney Generals complaint comes as the home foreclosure crisis continues to affect hundreds of thousands of homeowners in Illinois and across the nation. Illinois saw almost 69,000 foreclosure filings in the first half of 2009, up nearly 30 percent from the first half of 2008. In Cook County alone, it is anticipated that mortgage foreclosure filings will top 52,000 by the years end, compared with 43,876 in 2008.

By targeting African-Americans for the sale of its highest-cost and riskiest loans, Wells Fargo drained wealth from families and neighborhoods and added to the stockpile of boarded-up homes that are an open invitation to criminals, Madigan said.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Wells Fargo Financial Illinois, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo and Company that primarily originated subprime loans, engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by misleading Illinois borrowers about their mortgage terms, misrepresenting the benefits of refinancing, and repeatedly refinancing loans, also known as loan flipping, without any real benefit to consumers.

Also, the complaint maintains that Wells Fargo Financial used deceptive mailings and marketing tools to confuse borrowers as to which division of Wells Fargo and Company they were doing business with prime or subprime. As a result, borrowers believed they were doing business with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which offered mainly prime loans, when in fact they were dealing with Wells Fargo Financial, a predominantly subprime lender.



Illinois Sues Wells Fargo Over Subprime Loans...

Wells Fargo Suit Charges Appraisal Price Gouging

Hundreds of thousands of homebuyers may have been victimized

A class action lawsuit alleges that lending giant Wells Fargo profited off an unholy scheme with an appraiser owned by Wells Fargos parent company.

According to the suit, Wells Fargo requires borrowers to use Rels Valuation, an appraisal service owned by the same company that controls Wells Fargo. In turn, Rels, which uses third-party appraisers to perform the work, forces these vendors to come back with an appraisal that meets Wells Fargos expectations, and pays the appraisers well below market value for their services.

Despite the bargain that Wells Fargo receives on the appraisals, it continues to charge consumers the full amount for the service, and pockets the difference.

As described in the suit, Wells Fargos alleged scheme is exceedingly clever and complex. According to the suit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, Wells Fargo pressures subcontracting appraisers to report back with a price that will allow Wells Fargo to underwrite the loan without significant obstacles, regardless of whether the figure is accurate.

Additionally, Wells Fargo allegedly informs the appraiser that they will pay them drastically less than the going market rate for their services. If the appraiser refuses to comply with either of these conditions, they are placed on Wells Fargos exclusion list, and are not considered for future appraisals.

Because of Wells Fargos giant stature — it is the number one mortgage lender in the nation — refusal to acquiesce in these demands could mean a drastic drop in appraisers business and significant damage to their reputation.

Under the rules laid out in the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), no company is allowed to require consumers to use another company, as such arrangements practically invite the kind of price gauging alleged here. However, the Act makes an exception for lenders, since appraisals are ostensibly done to protect their interests, and allowing them to choose a trusted appraiser helps further this purpose.

Under RESPA, however, when a lender requires the use of a certain appraiser, they must inform the consumer both of the relationship and of the amount they were charged by the appraiser. According to the suit, Wells Fargo sometimes disclosed the relationship between themselves and Rels, but never disclosed the price they paid for the appraisals, giving consumers no indication that they were paying as much as twice what Wells Fargo had for the service.

The suit estimates that, given Wells Fargos size and influence, tens or even hundreds of thousands of homeowners have been victimized by the scheme.

It brings claims under both RESPA and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), since the scheme was allegedly carried out across state lines via U.S. mail and interstate wire facilities. The suit also alleges unjust enrichment against Rels and breach of fiduciary duty and unfair competition against Wells Fargo.

Reader response

I would like to applaud Jon Hood for his bravery in telling the truth. I would also like to thank whatever Attorney(s) are involved and to lend support for their cause. Our business as honest, ethical appraisers has been derailed by these greedy companies. Did you know the CEO for Wells sat on the recent HVCC comittee to determine policy?

RC, Colorado Springs, CO

Wells Fargo Suit Charges Appraisal Price Gouging...