In this July 14, 2014 file photo, a man passes...

In this July 14, 2014 file photo, a man passes by a Wells Fargo bank office in Oakland, Calif. Credit: AP

The news that employees of Wells Fargo created some 2 million sham deposit and credit card accounts for customers who didn’t need, understand or ask for them is alarming. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hit the bank with a record $185 million penalty for its sales practices, and some are calling for a criminal investigation.

After you shake your head in disgust, then what? What’s the lesson here?

  • Don’t be naive. While sometimes it’s advantageous to have more than one account at one bank, “be on the watch for pushy people at the bank,” says Mitchell Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy in Melville. There could be an ulterior motive.
  • Ask questions. Understand your options before signing up for tempting new services and products, says Keith Costello, CEO of First Green Bank in Fort Lauderdale.
  • Read your statements. “I know bank mail pretty much looks the same, but you have to open the envelope or the email and see what’s there — the assets, cashed checks and account numbers,” says Goldberg.
  • Review your credit report. (Do so for free once a year at Look at all your open and closed credit card accounts. “If there are any cards that you don’t use or recognize, contact the credit card company and cancel them,” says Rakesh Gupta, a business school professor at Adelphi University in Garden City.

Lastly, says Goldberg, “It’s a terrible shame for those who were hurt by this mess. We all have to put ourselves in the victims’ shoes and realize how upset we’d be if this happened to us. They’ll be compensated financially, but that’s the least of it. The trust is gone. It hurts everyone.”

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