Longer than was previously thought
This story has been updated with Wells Fargo’s reply.
The practice of opening fraudulent accounts in the name of customers who didn’t want them—often forging their signatures in the process—reportedly began at Wells Fargo as far back as 2005, if not earlier.
In 2005, a Wells Fargo secretary named Julie Tishkoff wrote to the HR department to report that she had seen bank employees creating fake accounts with forged signatures, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, Tishkoff continued to complain about the practice until she was fired in 2009. In a wrongful termination suit she filed against the bank in 2011, she claimed that two of her supervisors knew about the complaints but did nothing. Those two are now regional presidents at the bank, the Times reports.
Tishkoff was not alone. Other employees have claimed that the “boiler room” mentality was a widespread—and longterm—part of Wells Fargo’s culture.
“Everybody knew there was fraud going on, and the people trying to flag it were the ones who got in trouble,” Ricky Hansen Jr., a former branch manager in Scottsdale, Ariz., told the Times.
Hansen was reportedly fired after he contacted HR and a company ethics number to report fraudulent account opening.
Wells Fargo says that it does not ignore reports of fraud, though it may seem so to employees who report them via the bank’s ethics hotline.
“We investigate all allegations of improper sales practices we receive through the EthicsLine or any other avenue. Some investigations are completed quickly; some take more time to review,” the bank said in a emailed statement to Fortune. “Many of the complaints received through the EthicsLine are anonymous, so in those cases there is no way to let the individual who raised the concern know the way in which it was handled.”
This is not the first report that questions the claim Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf made to congressional committees that he and other Wells Fargo executives knew nothing of the fraud until around the time the Los Angeles Times wrote about it in late 2013. But in going back to 2005, this is the earliest concrete report of fraudulent account misconduct at the bank.
The $185 million fine Wells Fargo received in September for opening up some 2 million accounts without permission from customers covered activities that went back to 2011. At the time, Wells Fargo said it had fired 5,300 employees found to have defrauded customers.
Later, Stumpf said the bank was reviewing employee practices dating back to 2009, and at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said that she had evidence of Wells Fargo misconduct going back at least to 2007, the year that Stumpf took over as CEO.
In a statement to Fortune, Wells Fargo reiterated that it had extended the review period back to 2009, and added, “As always, if there are issues raised prior to the review period, we will look into them and make things right with customers.”
On Monday, Wells Fargo CFO John Shrewsberry told 500 senior Wells Fargo execs in a conference call that the scandal would not affect third-quarter earnings “much.” While that may be true, it appears that this scandal is not going away any time soon.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that John Stumpf became CEO in 2005.