Don't let it get away!
Keep track of the stocks that matter to you.
Help yourself with the Fool's FREE and easy new watchlist service today.
Robo-signing is in the news again, and in a big way. For one thing, the New York Attorney General's office is suing Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) for allegedly failing to follow the conditions of the $26 billion settlement over shabby foreclosure practices, which featured the mindless signing of foreclosure documents.
The second thing is just as odious: Banks have apparently been using the same robo-signing techniques in the collection of credit card debt -- and further investigation may find other credit card issuers are involved, too.
Robo-signing, "sewer service"
The Attorney General's office announced late last week that it is bringing charges against JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) for using a slew of illegal maneuvers to wring non-existent debt from at least 100,000 credit card users in California. Among the dastardly procedures used by JPMorgan, the AG's office alleges, are the famous robo-signing of fraudulent documents, while neglecting to notify targeted consumers of the fact that they were being sued -- a tactic known as "sewer service."
Regulators have been eyeballing JPMorgan for some time now, ever since the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency got wind of these shenanigans from former employees. Those involved noted discrepancies such as computer databases showing different card balances than the bank was alleging, and work of dubious quality by the outside attorneys used in the debt collection process.
Last summer, The New York Times published a story about this very issue, noting that Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , American Express (NYSE: AXP ) , and Discover Financial were also being scrutinized for similar behavior. The accounts of consumers being sued for amounts that they claim they do not owe are harrowing, particularly since the article notes that, in credit card cases at least, many defendants don't show up in court -- resulting in an automatic win for the credit card issuer. Considering the fact that JPMorgan is accused of being remiss in notification of these suits, it's no wonder consumers aren't defending themselves.
A far-reaching problem
Doubtless, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with sanctions against Citi, American Express, and Discover sure to follow. Bank of America is likely to get tagged, as well: American Banker noted early last year that B of A sold credit card debt acquired with its MBNA purchase to a collection agency back in 2009 and 2010, even though there was evidence that the debt had dicey paperwork attached.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that approximately 160 million citizens used credit cards last year, and Nerdwallet notes that indebted households chalked up over $15,000 of their overall debt to credit cards. Obviously, this type of problem has the potential to touch many more consumers than did the mortgage fraudclosure scheme.
Banks aren't doing a very good job of regaining Americans' trust, and this brewing scandal certainly won't help. I would include investors in that group, as well, as many might feel increasing discomfort with the notion that some of their bank's profits are acquired in this manner. I know I would.
Wells Fargo's dedication to solid, conservative banking helped it vastly outperform its peers during the financial meltdown. Today, Wells is the same great bank as ever, but with its stock trading at a premium to the rest of the industry, is there still room to buy, or is it time to cash in your gains? To help figure out whether Wells Fargo is a buy today, I invite you to download our premium research report from one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts. Click here now for instant access to this in-depth take on Wells Fargo.