Wells Fargo said it may have misinterpreted some customers' intentions when it paused mortgage payments for some accounts, after customers accused the bank of placing their accounts in forbearance without their knowledge.
The alleged practice came to light last week, after NBC News reported some Wells Fargo customers in Chapter 13 bankruptcy said they were placed in a CARES Act program for struggling borrowers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic without their consent. Wells Fargo said customers placed in forbearance received notices of that action through multiple channels, and the bank removed customers from forbearance upon their request.
"In the spirit of providing assistance, we may have misinterpreted customers' intentions in a small number of cases," Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda told Banking Dive. "In those limited cases, we are working directly with customers to ensure they are receiving the assistance they need and make any corrections to their accounts that may be required."
Reports that Wells Fargo took action on accounts without customer consent is a troubling look for the San Francisco-based bank, which is still working to repair an image damaged by a series of highly publicized consumer abuse scandals.
In 2016, Wells Fargo employees were found to have created roughly 3.5 million fake accounts to receive sales-based incentives. Additional scandals include questionable business practices tied to the bank's auto insurance, mortgage and wealth management divisions.
Wells Fargo customer Tammi Wilson claims her mortgage was placed in forbearance after she clicked a link to coronavirus relief information on the bank’s website and input her contact information to receive related program materials.
Days later, she learned she no longer had an active account when she logged on to make a payment on her loan.
"I click this button and next thing I know, I'm getting a thing that says I'm deferred and I can't reverse something I didn't even want," Wilson told NBC News. "If you're going to help people, there is a super simple first step — just ask, 'Do you need our help?'"
Wilson said she continued to make mortgage payments, and on July 1, the bank sent her a letter confirming her request to opt out. A July 18 credit report, however, shows Wilson’s mortgage is "in forbearance" and that April and May payments weren't credited to her account, according to NBC News.
"Any payments made by a customer while in forbearance are applied to their principal, interest and escrow, when applicable," Goyda said, calling some statements in the NBC story misleading. "That information can be seen on their monthly statements and in their online accounts."
The bank's latest scandal is attracting attention in Congress.
"Once again it seems that Wells Fargo's sloppy service and shoddy management are hurting consumers," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement, according to NBC News. "Wells Fargo should immediately address each of these complaints and make changes to ensure that no borrower finds themselves worse off from actions that their servicer takes without their consent or notice."
Wells Fargo said it has deferred 2.5 million payments for consumer and small business customers since the start of the pandemic.