Think financial crooks are much smarter than you are? Usually not. They can be lazy, looking for the simpler ways to make a buck like many of us. And like home burglars they are seeking the easiest way to loot. The open basement window is a quicker way to get in and come out not empty handed than the dead-bolted front door.
For a Wells Fargo representative, wide-open basement windows were Navajo Indians who were both elderly and didn’t speak English. CNN reported the Navajos sued Wells in 2017, claiming workers from the financial giant stalked basketball games and other community events from 2009 to 2016 to prey on its members by selling them unnecessary accounts. To settle the claims of fraud, Wells paid the Nation $6.5 million.
In announcing the settlement in a press release, the Nation said Wells had conducted a long campaign of predatory and unlawful practices. The Nation originally filed a suit against Wells in December 2017. After a judge in that case dismissed it on the grounds Wells Fargo had settled with U.S. federal authorities in 2016, the Nation filed a separate lawsuit in Navajo Nation District Court during November 2018 reasserting its tribal and common law claims.
The elderly have always been prime targets for fraudster brokers and financial advisers because of the diminished ability to think and comprehend even long before dementia would possibility set in. Immigrant elders are particularly vulnerable because they don’t understand basic English and the particularly complex language of modern financial products and risk.
Regulators like NASSA and FINRA have warned for years about the targeting of elderly client and the various investment scams perpetrated on them. Affinity related scams target members of a certain group for various investments. When elderly members of a specific group are mixed together, the temptation for fleecing brokers becomes to great to ignore. The investors often get left holding the bag.
Wells Fargo has a long history of taking advantage of its customers and then paying fines once its fraudulent conduct is discovered. The firm’s CRD maintained with FINRA and state securities regulators disclosed 142 regulatory events. The firm has paid millions for various fines to regulators for its fraudulent conduct. For example, the firm paid $3.4 million to settle a regulator’s claims that brokers recommended certain investment products they did not fully understand. On the same day, FIRNA also cited Wells Fargo for failing to adequately supervise sales of the volatility-linked exchange-traded products.