financial scandalsWhen it comes to financial scandals, 2016 was no stranger. While the headlines of the past year, thankfully, didn’t quite compare to the ones from 2008, there were some major issues that came up in the financial sector this year. From a JP Morgan bribery settlement to fines over a multi-year, international interest rate rigging cartel, 2016’s financial news makes it seem like scandals are simply a part of business for some banks. Despite the number of scandals revealed this year, it’s the ongoing Wells Fargo scandal which was the most emblematic of the ways bad banking directly harms consumers. Whether you were a victim of the Wells Fargo scandal or just a bystander, we detail four lessons all consumers should learn from this and other financial scandals of 2016.

Don’t allow the prestige of an institution to cloud your judgement

Consumers should make sure to not let the age of a bank or its reputation alone dissuade them from acting against bad or seemingly unprofessional behavior. If you feel you have reason to suspect foul behavior from your bank, don’t dismiss it, regardless of how prestigious the institution is. Although it may seem like you have no voice, as a consumer, you can bring your problem forward to the FDIC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or Federal Trade Commission, as all three take consumer complaints seriously.

Another thing to remember is that you’re not tied to one bank — if you only have one bank account, nothing is stopping you from opening another at a different bank. As such, if you feel your bank is no longer a fit because of policy changes or something you don’t agree with, you can always move to another bank, financial institution or credit union.

Monitoring your accounts and credit reports can help

In the case your bank commits fraud against you, as was the case for Wells Fargo customers, aside from reaching out to watchdogs and protection agencies like the ones we linked above, there’s not much you can do until the fraud is discovered. That said, the sooner you catch this behavior, the easier it’ll be to deal with. Being in the know with your credit reports is the easiest way to catch such fraud, as you’ll be able to identify and report any accounts before they wreak havoc on your credit scores. Read our guide to checking your credit reports to learn about all the ways you can keep up with your reports, including how to check them once per year for free through

Equally as important is checking your bank account and credit card statements for fraudulent transactions and maintaining strong cybersecurity habits, as it can help you keep your online accounts secure. Finally, be on the lookout for any strange mail or emails addressed to you, as these are often tell-tale signs that your information was breached or a new account was opened in your name. Even if your bank isn’t committing fraud against you, these are things you should be doing regularly, as they’ll help protect you from fraudsters.

Read your bank’s clauses carefully

One aspect of Wells Fargo’s policies that critics are derailing is its usage of forced arbitration clauses. Hidden in the sign-up documents customers were given are clauses that allow for the bank to dispute legal issues via private arbiters as opposed to public juries in a courtroom. While arbitration isn’t itself a shady practice, sometimes it can be applied in situations where it becomes unfair to consumers. Critics argue that this is one of those times, given that Wells Fargo already admitted to wrongdoing. Nonetheless, until Wells Fargo is mandated to do otherwise, it technically has the right to use arbitration to protect itself.

Although this is a somewhat unique case, Wells Fargo’s usage of arbitration illustrates the more extreme consequences of hidden clauses in banking contracts. Customers should look for clauses that may place them into situations where they’re essentially giving away valid rights, like the right to a legal class action or lawsuits, in the instance that they’re legitimately wronged. Even though agreeing to something like this in the beginning may not seem detrimental, it can be huge deal later down the road if you ever decide to practice these rights.

Beware of upselling

The banking industry over the last few years has been criticized for excessive cross-selling, which is when customers are recommended other products that an institution might offer. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with cross-selling, if not done with the customer’s needs in mind it can be at best an absolute nuisance and at worse, it can mislead customers into acquiring products they don’t need or those that might even harm their finances. If your bank constantly upsells you on new products, especially after you’ve communicated your needs and made it clear you didn’t want any other product, you may want to consider reporting the excessive cross-selling to the organizations we linked above.

For more information about identity theft and customer safety, follow our personal finance blog.