National Consumers League

Consumer / activist groups and Wells Fargo victims target Wells Fargo over forced arbitration

February 27, 2017

Groups release letter to Wells Fargo CEO Sloan, call on Wells Fargo to stop forcing customers and workers to surrender Constitutional rights

Contact: Rosemary Shahan, CARS Foundation, 530-759-9440; Joe Ridout, Consumer Action, 415-777-9648 ext. 705; Carol McKay, National Consumers League, 412-945-3242, carolm@nclnet.org

Washington, DC, Sacramento, CA, San Francisco, CA--In news events across the nation, in Washington, DC, and at Wells Fargo’s headquarters in San Francisco, consumer and activist organizations closed their accounts with Wells Fargo, to protest the bank’s refusal to stop imposing a “rip-off clause” forcing its customers and workers to surrender their constitutional rights, to obtain services or employment.

The organizations also released a letter from a broad-based coalition of groups calling on Wells Fargo’s CEO Sloan to cease forcing its customers and workers to submit to forced arbitration. The bank continues to resist calls from pro-consumer leaders such as Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA),  and the editors of leading newspapers for the bank to free its customers and employees to pursue cases before a court of law, particularly regarding millions of accounts set up without their permission, through identity theft, forgery, and fraud.

“After six years of banking with Wells Fargo, we’re switching to another bank that respects the the constitutional rights of its customers and workers,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, based in Washington, DC. The League already established a new account at Bank of Labor, which does not impose forced arbitration, and  is closing its account at Wells Fargo, withdrawing its working capital, of approximately $1.8 million.

The GOP-controlled Congress and the Trump administration are threatening to fire Richard Cordray, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who has a long record of protecting consumers.  Under his leadership, the CFPB has succeeded in forcing  banks to refund over $11.8 billion to consumers who were wronged. 

“They want to replace Richard Cordray with someone who will let crooked banks like Wells Fargo get away with charging consumers billions of dollars through engaging in illegal practices. So it’s up to each of us to act, to protect ourselves and also send the message we won’t tolerate crooked bankers,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety  (CARS) Foundation. The group unveiled a new website, at “We DO Count.org” focusing on the campaign to make the switch from Wells Fargo to more consumer-friendly banks or credit unions.

“Wells Fargo opened up a credit card account without my authorization, and it ended up harming my credit and making many purchases, like a car, and even utilities a lot more expensive, for about five years,”  said Aaron Brodie, who was a freshman college student when Wells Fargo opened a credit card account without his permission, then refused to close it, after he requested that it be closed. He has sued Wells Fargo, and instead of doing what is right, Wells Fargo is seeking to force his case into arbitration.

"As long as Wells Fargo requires mandatory arbitration, there is nothing to stop Wells Fargo from violating the privacy rights of its customers and engaging in fraud," said Byron Cooper, who closed his accounts with Wells Fargo as soon as he discovered the bank had opened two new accounts and shifted $25,000 from his checking account to his savings account -- all without his authorization, and despite his insistence he did not want the new accounts. The bank also changed his "free" checking account to one that charged $30 per month and required a minimum balance of $25,000 -- also without his permission.

Joe Ridout, Consumer Services Manager for Consumer Action, personally hand-delivered the letter to the bank’s headquarters in San Francisco. Consumer Action also provided tips for consumers about how to find a banking institution or credit union that does not impose forced arbitration on its customers and workers, and also how to make the transition smoothly so that no payments are missed. “We believe many consumers will be pleasantly surprised to discover the higher interest they earn, and the fewer fees and abusive practices they face, once they switch to a more honest financial institution,” said Ridout.

Most credit unions don’t require arbitration. In 2015, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report that provides comparisons of banks, including whether they impose forced arbitration. While some of the policies may have changed, that report provides helpful guidance for choosing options that don’t impose arbitration.

Links to relevant documents:

Coalition Letter to Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan

“Wells Fargo Victims Deserve Their Day In Court,” Sacramento Bee Editorial, December 8, 2016

“Wells Fargo Blocks the Courthouse Door,” Des Moines Register Editorial, December 4, 2016

Consumer Action’s Tips for Consumers: How to Make the Switch from Wells Fargo

“Checks and Balances” by Pew Charitable Trust, May 2015

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.