Wells Fargo goes from bad to worse

Wells Fargo bank may just win the worst PR of the year award for the announcement last year that many of its employees had set up huge numbers of fake accounts using the information of real customers. Now, though, it seems the company has followed that up by having to admit it may have accidentally closed or restricted real accounts as well.

Customers who own these accounts reported not being able to access funds that rightly belonged to them, according to a report in Reuters. This information was taken from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filing that admitted Wells Fargo has found “several instances of customers reporting financial hardships” due to the unexpected closure of freezing of their account. Once again, these were accounts in good standing, apparently mistakenly blocked.

The reasons given for the closures in the complaints were broad, from identity theft reports to strange deposits. In some cases, the complaint wasn’t that Wells Fargo suspended the account due to suspicious activity, but that the bank refused to re-open the account – or open a new one – even though the customer was real and the account was later deemed legitimate.

Nearly all of the complaints about closed or frozen accounts had two things in common: confusion and frustration. Customers didn’t understand why their accounts remained closed, and they expressed frustration at the news that the accounts in question could not be reopened.

Reuters quoted one customer as explaining the complaint this way:

“I moved money from my mother’s savings account into her checking account the day before she passed away… This checking account has been ‘locked’ by the fraud department for almost 3 months … Now her debts are delinquent and mortgage about to go into foreclosure.”

All this person apparently wants to do is pay their deceased parent’s bills so they can move forward with the estate and property issues. Still, they can’t, and it appears they have yet to receive any remedy for the situation.

Speaking to Reuters, Wells Fargo spokesman Kristopher Dahl, said: “We continue to work with our regulator on this matter. As always, our goal is to protect our customers and the bank from fraud, and we want to do so in ways that minimize the risk and impact on our customers…”

At this point, though, there doesn’t appear to be any ideas forthcoming as to how Wells Fargo may deal with these complaints or any other similar issues. If this situation is allowed to continue to snowball, they could be right back where they were, or at least a close approximation to where they were, after the fake account scandal.

If the company wants to regain customer loyalty and prove the truth of what Dahl said, they need to act on this quickly, putting a clear and positive message out and dealing with the issues at hand.

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States.

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