What to Know
- Since 2011, more than 500 Wells Fargo customers have filed complaints against the bank for missing / lost certificates of deposit
- Wells Fargo says it does not consider a paper "certificate of deposit" proof that a CD was not withdrawn
- Most banks keep records for only seven years; consumer advocates say that needs to change
A San Jose widow who entrusted her late husband's life insurance payout to Wells Fargo says the bank has lost her $30,000 investment.
It's the latest in a series of complaints against the San Francisco-based banking giant, and public records show a pattern of similar disputes dating back at least seven years.
Among those who say the bank misplaced their money is Phung Aldis. The recently-retired senior says Wells Fargo refuses to find her $30,000 certificate of deposit, or CD.
"I trusted them," Aldis said. "I gave my money to them, and suddenly, it disappeared."
Aldis made the deposit in 1996, after her husband died unexpectedly. She had only come to the U.S. a little over a year earlier, from France, after growing up in Vietnam. Alone in a country that she hardly knew, Aldis used money from her husband's life insurance policy to purchase a CD.
"He left that money for me so I can use that later," she said. "And so, I worked, and I paid for my school. I paid for everything."
Aldis worked multiple jobs while paying her own way through school, eventually earning three college and university degrees. For twenty years, she believed her CD was earning interest. The printed certificate Wells Fargo gave her states it "automatically renews".
Phung didn't expect any problems when she went to collect the money for her retirement, in March of this year. But the bank's answer left her stunned: it had no records of her deposit.
"They said, 'We don't have any paperwork from you,'" Aldis said. "'After seven years, all of the paperwork, we destroyed.' I said, 'What! What are you talking about?' Nobody told me, after seven years, all of the paperwork will be destroyed."
"At one point, they tried to tell me the CD never existed," Wentz said. He had purchased a CD for his daughter in 1983, but when he tried to redeem it in 2009, he was told they had no records of it.
Haskell faced a similar situation when he found a CD in his name from his late grandmother. Wells Fargo told him there were no records — and no funds.
"Wells Fargo can't tell me what happened to the money," Haskell said.
NBC Bay Area reviewed federal records, and found hundreds of similar cases. Since 2011, 568 bank customers have filed formal complaints against Wells Fargo with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Seventy of those complaints came from customers in California.
Many of the complaints echo what we heard from Craig Haskell, Mike Wentz, and Phung Aldis:
"They told me they cannot find any record anymore and the account was closed." -San Bernardino customer
"[The] branch manager as well as corporate office have no information / record on this account or where [my] money went." -San Diego customer
"They could find no history of my CD as they only keep records for 7 years." -Oceanside customer
NBC Bay Area brought each viewer's story, as well as our research showing the national scope of the CD complaints, to Wells Fargo corporate headquarters in San Francisco. The bank declined our repeated requests for an on-camera interview.
Wells Fargo did provide a written statement, which can be found in full at the end of this article. It reads in part:
When it comes to old certificates of deposit, simply having the paper certificate is not sufficient evidence that a CD has not already been redeemed.
San Francisco consumer attorney Ingrid Evans says banks keep most records for only seven years, because that is the minimum required by law.
"It's astonishing to me that banks aren't taking responsibility and keeping records as they should," she said.
Evans said it may be up to state lawmakers to broaden protections for bank customer deposits.
"We need to push our legislatures to make a change," Evans said. "We should ask them to request that banks be compelled to keep consumer records open for ten, 15, 20 years."
Evans says customers have few options if their bank can't find a deposit. They might have to sue. Aldis say she'll consider that to get her money — it's what she says her late husband would want her to do.
"He told me, never give up," Aldis said. "So, I carried that. I'll never give up."
If you have a certificate of deposit, visit your bank as soon as you can. Ask for updated records. Request written statements from your bank at least once a year. Keep hard copies of all long-term investments.
If your bank tells you it cannot find your money, file complaints with these agencies:
- California Department of Business Oversight
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
- U.S. Federal Reserve
- U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Full statement from Wells Fargo, provided to NBC Bay Area:
While we can’t address the specifics of a customer’s situation because of privacy and customer confidentiality, below is the process of old certificates of deposit.
• When it comes to old certificates of deposit, simply having the paper certificate is not sufficient evidence that a CD has not already been redeemed.
• Financial institutions are required to keep records of issued CDs for a period of at least five years under federal law. Wells Fargo retains statement copies and other records for up to seven years for most deposit accounts, including certificates of deposit.
• Additionally, financial institutions are required to report and transfer to the appropriate state when an account (including a CD) has been inactive or dormant for a certain period of time. Each state specifies the length of the inactivity or dormancy period, and activity must generally be customer generated, such as the making of a deposit, a debit to an account, or acknowledging the account when a letter is received from the bank.
• Subject to specific state law, some activity may be bank-generated, such as the mailing of a federal Form 1099-INT where such form is not returned by the postal service.
• A holder of the inactive property, including a bank, must make a reasonable effort to contact the account owner prior to reporting and transferring the property. If the owner cannot be contacted, the holder escheats (turns over to the state) the property as “unclaimed property.” Customers must thereafter file a claim with the state for the return of the CD subsequent to transfer.
• Also, while a CD may be considered “automatically renewable,” customer activity is still required to prevent the CD from becoming dormant and having the CD balances escheated to the state.
• A CD becomes subject to escheat only after the following conditions are satisfied: (a) no detectable customer activity on the CD or any linked account; (b) the applicable escheat period has run during such inactivity; and (c) the bank has attempted to send letters to their last known address (if phone numbers or addresses are available) and the customer has not responded to such communications. Each state has its own processes and time frames. These time frames vary from 3 to 15 years after detectable customer activity ends.
• In short, if a CD is dormant for a given period of time, and the bank can’t contact the customer who owns the CD, the bank is required to turn the funds over to the state. In cases of long-closed CDs, where the bank no longer retains the original records and could not successfully contact that customer, that is often the case.
In other words, when a customer finds a very old CD, it’s possible that the CD was actually redeemed by the person who opened it (generally prior to their death), and if that isn’t the case, it was likely escheated to the state. Either way, we don’t have records after 7 years, at most.