Wells Fargo has fired over a hundred employees for allegedly defrauding a Small Business Administration (SBA) relief program.
The Economic Injury Disaster Loan is an SBA program intended to assist business owners who are struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. Among the major appeals of the loan is a $10,000 advance that does not need to be repaid.
But the inspector general for the SBA reported in July that his agency had been inundated with complaints about potential fraud. As a result, Wells Fargo kept an eye out for suspicious transactions among its own staff.
While financial institutions like Wells Fargo do not play a role in approving or dispersing such loans, they can monitor loans once the SBA has deposited them into bank members’ accounts. Thus, the bank was able to identify suspicious activity regarding the bank accounts of its own employees.
Now, a source close to the company reports that as many as 125 employees may have fraudulently received such loans. In a Wednesday memo, Wells Fargo alleged that these employees falsely represented themselves when applying for the relief funds. That led to the mass firing.
“We have terminated the employment of those individuals and will cooperate fully with law enforcement,” wrote the bank’s HR head, David Galloreese. “These wrongful actions were personal actions, and do not involve our customers.”
“We have zero tolerance for fraudulent behavior and will continue to look into these matters,” Galloreese added. “If we identify additional wrongdoing by employees, we will take appropriate action.”
A Year of Fraud
Still, Wells Fargo, which has had a recent history of wrong-doing, is being very careful. But its employees are not unique when it comes to abuse of government relief funds. Just last month, JPMorgan Chase reported over 500 employees received pandemic relief assistance. Among that lot, Bloomberg reported dozens had sought the funds improperly.
Furthermore, there have been numerous cases of relief fraud resulting from SBA enacted programs to assist those in need during the coronavirus crisis. The feds have already made multiple arrests in connection with the Paycheck Protection Program, for instance. That program offered loans to small businesses for the purpose of keeping employees on the rolls, but certain fraudsters spent the money on personal indulgences instead.
But unlike most employers, banks are in a position to see whether employees have deposited relief funds into their accounts. Hence, the SBA has encouraged banks to keep tabs on any suspicious deposits related to the disaster relief program, both among customers and staff members.