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Are You Sure You Meant to Open That Wells Fargo Account?

Credit Cards
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New account email

From now on, opening a Wells Fargo credit card or bank account will trigger a very simple security check — an email to the account holders confirming that they authorized their new accounts.

This measure is a response to the scandal that broke in September when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau revealed that Wells Fargo employees had opened unauthorized accounts for existing bank customers.

The bank will also “require an applicant’s documented consent” before their credit is pulled, according to a report issued Monday by independent members of the bank’s board. The bank also is reclaiming an additional $75 million paid to two top executives, including former CEO John Stumpf, the latest round of penalties imposed since September.

What does this mean for you?

The clawbacks

About those big bucks — that $75 million in recovered money will not land directly in consumers’ pockets. But people who ended up with a new Wells Fargo account they never asked for may be reimbursed for fees and other damages as part of a class-action lawsuit.

The new-account email

This email likely will be similar to the ones you already receive from some financial institutions when you log into an account on a new electronic device. You probably will be informed that a new account was opened in your name. If you did not ask for a new account, you’ll need to contact Wells Fargo right away. If you did, you may not have to do anything.

Permission to check credit

The credit card accounts opened by Wells Fargo employees without the permission of the account holders could have damaged the credit scores of more than a half-million people. That’s because hard credit checks can lower your score slightly and so can opening a new credit account. Additional verification before pulling your credit is a good idea for Wells Fargo or any issuer of credit.

Other ways to protect yourself

Pulling your credit report yourself on a regular basis will help you spot new accounts you didn’t open. Logging into your existing financial accounts once a month also is wise. You would be looking for unfamiliar charges, but if you see any unfamiliar accounts under your profile? Ask for an explanation.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.