A new report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the Trump administration tried to hide a report that Wells Fargo targeted college students under Chao’s leadership
WASHINGTON — Following the release of new information about the Trump administration’s knowledge of Wells Fargo’s predatory actions against college students, Restore Public Trust renewed its request for Congress to investigate Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s role at Wells Fargo while they targeted millions of Americans. A report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau acquired through a FOIA request shows Wells Fargo charged college students fees that were several times higher than its competitors during Chao’s tenure on the Wells Fargo Board.
“The cost of higher education has skyrocketed, yet new reports show Wells Fargo preyed on college students,” said Caroline Ciccone, Executive Director of Restore Public Trust. “It is appalling that Secretary Chao and the Board stood by while Wells Fargo targeted college students and charged higher than average fees to those just getting their start. This reporting is further proof that the Trump administration has failed to protect the people they serve. Americans deserve to know the truth.”
The unpublished CFPB report shows that Wells Fargo provided about one-quarter of the examined accounts but collected more than half of the fees paid by students. They also charged an average annual fee per account of nearly $50, the highest amongst examined banks. What’s more, despite this alarming news, those in the Trump administration who saw the report took no action to call for a proper investigation.
This same troubling behavior is consistent with the comprehensive report released by Restore Public Trust last week showing Chao cashed in while Wells Fargo preyed on vulnerable customers. Chao made over $2.2 million from Wells Fargo with an additional estimated total payout of $1 to $5 million in continued benefits through 2021. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo’s victims are still trying to recover their lost income. Wells Fargo took advantage of its most vulnerable customers including veterans, non-English speakers, and students. Last week, Restore Public Trust sent a letter to incoming Chair of the House Financial Service Committee Congresswoman Maxine Waters asking her committee to thoroughly investigate the role of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao during her six years as a director on the Wells Fargo Board. During her time as a Director, Chao oversaw Wells Fargo’s Corporate Responsibility Committee, Credit Committee, and Finance Committee.
Actions by Wells Fargo during Secretary Chao’s tenure that have yet to be investigated further include:
- Wells Fargo continued creating fake accounts without consumer knowledge or approval (with an estimated 3.5 million accounts eventually being opened); they targeted first-time banking customers, non-English speakers, and elderly customers with memory problems.
- U.S. military service members’ cars were improperly repossessed (specifically while Chao oversaw lending policies).
- The board ignored employee whistleblowers for years and delayed changing the sales goals they knew were leading to fraud.
Restore Public Trust is a non-partisan public interest group focused on exposing corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of government. We strive to educate the public and policymakers on these important issues. We are a critical resource for elected officials investigating public corruption; Americans looking for more information about what their government is or isn’t doing to advocate on their behalf; and journalists examining the alleged malfeasance of government officials.