California Attorney General Investigating Wells Fargo on Allegations of Criminal Identity Theft

A month after the national news broke that 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired for opening two million phony accounts, the California Department of Justice just announced it is investigating the bank on allegations of criminal identity theft over the creation of these accounts. The California DOJ sent over a search warrant to Wells Fargo’s San Francisco headquarters on October 5. The New York Times, through a public records request, has discovered that California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, in the final weeks of a run for U.S. Senate, has joined the growing list of public officials and agencies investigating Wells Fargo for the scandal.

Harris’ office has demanded the bank turn over the identities of California customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names, information about fees related to those accounts, the names of the Wells Fargo employees who opened the accounts, the names of those employees’ managers and emails, and other communication related to those accounts. The search warrant says that there is probable cause to believe Wells Fargo violated two sections of the state penal code — one outlawing identity theft, and the other outlawing the unauthorized use of personal information. Both are felonies.

It is unclear whether Harris will be pursuing criminal charges against individual bank employees or the bank itself. Federal regulators had revealed last month that bank employees had been secretly creating unauthorized bank and credit card accounts without their customers’ permission or knowledge since 2011. The phony accounts earned the bank boosted fees and sales figures to make the bank more money and to make employees bonuses. The bank has agreed to pay $185 million in fines along with refunding their customers $5 million.  $50 million of those fines were paid out to Los Angeles County.

California Credit Card Fraud

California Penal Code §§ 484(e-j) prohibits any type of fraudulent activity involving credit cards or any information related to the credit card. It is a violation of Penal Code § 484 if you:

  • Steal someone’s credit card or number and use it;
  • Forge or alter a credit or debit card (including your own);
  • Sign someone else’s name during a transaction without that person’s authorization;
  • Knowingly use a stolen, altered, forged, expired, or revoked card.

It is also a violation when a retailer rings up charges for goods that are not received by the customer (called retailer credit card fraud). Violations of Penal code §484 can range from a petty theft misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the circumstances.

San Diego White Collar Crime and Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing or arrested for white collar crime charges such as identity theft, money laundering or fraud, it is crucial to work with an attorney who is qualified to handle these complex types of cases. The Law Office of David M. Boertje is licensed to practice in federal court and state court and can represent you in your white collar crime case during the entire process. Contact our office today and ask for a free, confidential consultation.

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