wells fargo accountsThe Wells Fargo scandal which broke in 2016 surrounding fraudulent consumer accounts opened by bank employees doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, as the results of a third-party investigation have determined that an additional 1.4 million fraudulent accounts may have been opened. This brings the total of potentially fake accounts opened by employees without customers’ knowledge or consent from 2.1 million to 3.5 million. After paying fines of $185 million and firing approximately 5,300 employees involved in perpetrating the scandal, Wells Fargo has gone on to endure customer scrutiny and distrust, and this new discovery that the central scandal is much bigger than originally thought is certain to add to public mistrust. How were these additional, potentially fraudulent Wells Fargo accounts discovered, will there be more to come and how can customers protect themselves? Stay tuned as we dive in to find out.

How were these additional fraudulent Wells Fargo accounts found?

The initial estimate of 2.1 million fraudulent accounts was based on a review of Wells Fargo retail banking account data from 2011 through mid-2015, but thanks to pressure from Congress, the bank extended its research back to 2009. Utilizing a third-party firm which analyzed the data with a methodology that erred on the side of consumers, according to a Wells Fargo press release, it was determined that 1.4 million accounts from the expanded time period were possibly opened by employees without the customer’s approval. The research looked at consumer and small business checking, savings and unsecured credit card and line of credit account data, as well as online bill pay. Approximately 528,000 potentially unauthorized online bill pay accounts were discovered, resulting in a promise by Wells Fargo to refund $910,000 to customers who incurred fees or charges as a result. In total, it will be paying $6 million in refunds and credit to address these fraudulent accounts — up from the $5 million it pledged prior to these additional accounts being revealed. It should be noted that not all identified accounts are likely fraudulent; some may simply be inactive accounts that customers signed up for and forgot about. Of the estimated 3.5 million phony accounts, approximately 190,000 of them resulted in customers being charged.

Will this be the end of this scandal?

It’s likely that this scandal dates back further than 2009, as among the many lawsuits levied at Wells Fargo — which resulted in a $142-million class-action settlement — included allegations of fraud dating back to as early as 2002. A lack of technology and detailed records for those years, according to Wells Fargo’s CEO, might make it difficult to determine for sure how long this particular scandal has been happening. Additional controversies have arisen, too, such as an acknowledgement that Wells Fargo erroneously charged around 570,000 customers for auto insurance they didn’t need. This resulted in some people defaulting on their auto loans and seeing their vehicles repossessed. In other instances, Wells Fargo was accused of signing people up for insurance policies they did not agree to. Though this could be the last we hear of fraudulent activity perpetrated by employees of Wells Fargo, it’s pretty unlikely, so customers should keep their eyes peeled.

What can past and present Wells Fargo customers do to protect themselves?

First, it’s important to determine whether or not you are eligible to participate in the class-action settlement. Any person who had or currently has an account with Wells Fargo between May 2002 and April 2017 and who believes Wells Fargo opened a checking, savings, credit card or line of credit account for them without their permission is eligible. Additionally, anyone who has had identity theft protection from Wells Fargo during that time period is also eligible. An email with information regarding the settlement was sent to customers on Aug. 31 with instructions on how to register and get more information on the settlement. How much you’ll get will depend on a myriad of factors, and for those customers whose credit has been damaged as a result of this scandal, money might not be enough to make them feel whole.

Wells Fargo Email

Those who weren’t directly affected still might feel uneasy when it comes to how trustworthy Wells Fargo appears. It’s important to evaluate your options in situations like this, as nobody should stick with a company they can’t trust — especially a financial service like a bank. If you are concerned about the potential of something like this happening to you, reading our advice on how to tell if a credit account has been opened in your name can give you some good tips, as is considering signing up for a credit monitoring service. These services let you keep an eye on your credit reports and scores, as well as monitor your credit reports for unusual activity. While they won’t necessarily prevent something like this from happening, knowledge is power, and the sooner you are aware that something is fishy with your credit, the sooner you can get it taken care of. Additional safety measures you might consider include placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on all three of your credit reports.

To learn more about protecting yourself and your finances, follow our personal finance blog.