NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Everyone hates paying bank fees. But imagine paying fees on a ghost account you didn’t even sign up for.
That’s exactly what happened to Wells Fargo customers nationwide.
On Thursday, federal regulators said Wells Fargo employees secretly created millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts — without their customers knowing it — since 2011.
The phony accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money.
“Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses,” Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in a statement.
Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that it had fired 5,300 employees related to the shady behavior over the last few years. Employees went to far as to create phony PIN numbers and fake email addresses to enroll customers in online banking services, the CFPB said.
The scope of the scandal is shocking. An analysis conducted by a consulting firm hired by Wells Fargo concluded that bank employees opened up over 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized, according to the CFPB.
The way it worked was that employees moved funds from customers’ existing accounts into newly-created accounts without their knowledge or consent, regulators say. The CFPB described this practice as “widespread” and led to customers being charged for insufficient funds or overdraft fees — because the money was not in their original accounts.
Additionally, Wells Fargo employees also submitted applications for 565,443 credit card accounts without their knowledge or consent, the CFPB said the analysis found. Many customers who had unauthorized credit cards opened in their names were hit by annual fees, interest charges and other fees.
The CFPB said Wells Fargo will pay “full restitutions to all victims.”
Wells Fargo is being slapped with the largest penalty since the CFPB was founded in 2011. The bank agreed to pay $185 million in fines, along with $5 million to refund customers.
“We regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request,” Wells Fargo said in a statement.
Wells Fargo confirmed to CNNMoney that the firings represents about 1% of its workforce.
“At Wells Fargo, when we make mistakes, we are open about it, we take responsibility, and we take action,” the bank said in a memo to employees on Thursday.
It’s not clear when Wells Fargo hired a consulting firm to investigate the allegations, nor what triggered the response. Wells Fargo did not respond to a request for comment on this.
The CFPB declined to comment on when the investigation began and what sparked it, citing agency policy. “We don’t comment on how we uncover these matters,” a spokesman said.