Tag Archives: bad banks

FinCEN Penalizes California Bank for Egregious Violations of Anti-Money Laundering Laws

Merchants failed to establish and implement an adequate anti-money laundering (AML) program

OnlineEd Blog

gavel money(February 28, 2017) – WASHINGTON—The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today announced the assessment of a $7 million civil money penalty (CMP) against Merchants Bank of California of Carson, CA for willful violations of several provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the primary federal regulator of Merchants, has identified deficiencies in the Bank’s practices that resulted in violations of previous consent orders entered into by Merchants, as well as other violations. The OCC simultaneously assessed a $1 million CMP against Merchants for these violations.

Merchants failed to (a) establish and implement an adequate anti-money laundering (AML) program, (b) conduct required due diligence on its foreign correspondent accounts, and (c) detect and report suspicious activity. Merchants’ failures allowed billions of dollars to flow through the U.S. financial system without effective monitoring to adequately detect and report suspicious activity. Many of these transactions were conducted on behalf of money services businesses (MSBs) that were owned or managed by Bank insiders who encouraged staff to process these transactions without question or face potential dismissal or retaliation. Bank insiders directly interfered with the BSA staff’s attempts to investigate suspicious activity related to these insiderowned accounts.

“The banking of money services businesses is important to the global financial system, and we believe that banks can mitigate the risks associated with such businesses, just as they do with other customers,” said FinCEN Acting Director Jamal El-Hindi. “But here we had an institution run by insiders essentially to provide banking services to MSBs that the insiders owned, combined with directions from Bank leadership to staff to ignore BSA requirements with respect to those MSB customers and others. It is certainly not an acceptable way to bank MSBs.”

Merchants specialized in providing banking services for check-cashers and money transmitters. However, it provided those services without adequately assessing the money laundering risks and without designing an effective AML program. Merchants also provided its high-risk customers with remote deposit capture services without adequate procedures for monitoring their use.

Merchants failed to provide the necessary level of authority, independence, and responsibility to its BSA officer to ensure compliance with the BSA as required, and compliance staff was not empowered with sufficient authority to implement the Bank’s AML program. Merchants’ leadership impeded BSA analysts and other employees from investigating activity on transactions associated with accounts that were affiliated with Bank executives, and the activity in these accounts went unreported for many years. Merchants’ interest in revenue compromised efforts to effectively manage and mitigate its deficiencies and risks.

In addition, Merchants banked customers located in several jurisdictions considered to be highrisk but did not identify these customers as foreign correspondent customers and therefore did not implement the required customer due diligence program. In a three-month period, Merchants processed a combined $192 million in high-risk wire transfers through some of these accounts.

The Bank’s payment of the $1 Million OCC penalty will be credited towards the satisfaction of the FinCEN penalty. FinCEN’s settlement with a financial institution does not preclude consideration of separate enforcement actions that may be warranted with respect to any financial institution or any partner, director, officer, or employee of a financial institution.

FinCEN seeks to protect the U.S. financial system from being exploited by illicit actors. Its efforts focus on compromised financial institutions and their employees, significant fraud, thirdparty money launderers, transnational organized crime and security threats, and cyber threats. FinCEN has a broad array of enforcement authorities to target both domestic and foreign actors affecting the U.S. financial system.

[Source: FinCEN media release]

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CFPB Fines Wells Fargo $100 Million for Opening Covert Credit Card Accounts

Spurred by sales targets and compensation incentives, employees boosted sales figures by covertly opening accounts and funding them by transferring funds without consumer consent

By Jeff Sorg, OnlineEd Blog

(September 8, 2016) – In a press release today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that is has fined Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. $100 million for the widespread illegal practice of secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts. Spurred by sales targets and compensation incentives, employees boosted sales figures by covertly opening accounts and funding them by transferring funds from consumers’ authorized accounts without their knowledge or consent, often racking up fees or other charges. According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened more than two million deposit and credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Wells Fargo will pay full restitution to all victims and a $100 million fine to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund. The bank will also pay an additional $35 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and another $50 million to the City and County of Los Angeles.

“Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Because of the severity of these violations, Wells Fargo is paying the largest penalty the CFPB has ever imposed. Today’s action should serve notice to the entire industry that financial incentive programs, if not monitored carefully, carry serious risks that can have serious legal consequences.”

According to today’s enforcement action, thousands of Wells Fargo employees illegally enrolled consumers in these products and services without their knowledge or consent in order to obtain financial compensation for meeting sales targets. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act prohibits unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices. Wells Fargo’s violations include:

  • Opening deposit accounts and transferring funds without authorization:According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened roughly 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Employees then transferred funds from consumers’ authorized accounts to temporarily fund the new, unauthorized accounts. This widespread practice gave the employees credit for opening the new accounts, allowing them to earn additional compensation and to meet the bank’s sales goals. Consumers, in turn, were sometimes harmed because the bank charged them for insufficient funds or overdraft fees because the money was not in their original accounts.
  • Applying for credit card accounts without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, Wells Fargo employees applied for roughly 565,000 credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. On those unauthorized credit cards, many consumers incurred annual fees, as well as associated finance or interest charges and other fees.
  • Issuing and activating debit cards without authorization: Wells Fargo employees requested and issued debit cards without consumers’ knowledge or consent, going so far as to create PINs without telling consumers.
  • Creating phony email addresses to enroll consumers in online-banking services: Wells Fargo employees created phony email addresses not belonging to consumers to enroll them in online-banking services without their knowledge or consent.

The full text of the CFPB’s Consent Order can be found at:http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/092016_cfpb_WFBconsentorder.pdf

[Source: CFPB press release]

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For more information about OnlineEd and their education for real estate brokers, principal brokers, property managers, and mortgage brokers, visit www.OnlineEd.com.

All information contained in this posting is deemed correct as of the date of publication, but is not guaranteed by the author and may have been obtained from third-party sources. Due to the fluid nature of the subject matter, regulations, requirements and laws, prices and all other information may or may not be correct in the future and should be verified if cited, shared or otherwise republished.

OnlineEd® is a registered Trademark