Navajo Nation sues Wells Fargo for alleged predatory tactics, seeks damages

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The Navajo Nation on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo, alleging that the embattled company engaged in unlawful banking practices and purposely misled Navajo elders.

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In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe's lawyer has been directed to seek restitution, damages and civil penalties based on Wells Fargo's alleged violations of federal, state and tribal law.

The tribe alleges employees at Wells Fargo branches on the vast reservation "routinely misled customers into opening unnecessary accounts and obtained debit and credit cards without customers' consent."

They also allege Navajo elders "were purposely confused and deceived into purchasing products to help employees meet banking quotas."

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in New Mexico, said "since at least 2009 and continuing through 2016, Wells Fargo employees at branches on the Navajo Nation routinely opened unauthorized savings and credit accounts, misled customers into opening unnecessary accounts, obtained debit cards without customers' consent, and enrolled customers in online banking without proper consent."

The lawsuit comes days after President Donald Trump warned that penalties against Wells Fargo for its “bad acts” could be “substantially increased.” Trump’s tweets on the subject were posted after Reuters reported that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was reviewing whether Wells Fargo should pay tens of millions of dollars to settle mortgage lending abuse claims.

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The suit alleges Wells Fargo employees told elderly Navajo citizens who didn't speak English that in order to have their checks cashed, they needed to sign up for savings accounts they neither needed nor understood.

The tribe also alleges Wells Fargo representatives stalked basketball games and flea markets to sign up consumers for unnecessary accounts and "opened accounts for underage Navajo citizens, going so far as to falsify birthdates to avoid obtaining necessary parental consent."

Wells Fargo in a statement said it had received the tribe's lawsuit, but declined comment about ongoing litigation.

Wells Fargo has five bank branches across the Navajo Nation — which covers more than 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) over portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico — plus 12 other branches within a 30-minute drive of the reservation.

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Last year, U.S. and California regulators fined Wells Fargo $185 million, saying bank employees trying to meet sales targets opened up to 2 million fake deposit and credit card accounts without customers' knowledge.

Regulators said they issued and activated debit cards, and signed people up for online banking without permission. The abuses are said to have gone on for years, unchecked by senior management.

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