Wells Fargo accused of unlawfully repossessing service member's car while deployed

41 Investigators discover hundreds of cases
Posted at 6:33 PM, Sep 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-27 13:44:41-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's been six years since Army Sgt. Jin Nakamura was serving in a combat zone in Iraq.

While fighting for his country, Nakamura learned he was about to be taking on a whole new battle back home.

"I was checking my credit history and saw that my car, I thought I was making payments to, was [repossessed]," Nakamura said. "I thought there was a mistake."

When Nakamura discovered the issue on his credit report, he said he contacted his lender, Wells Fargo, immediately. 

"I tried to make the payment so I could have my car back when I got home," Nakamura said. "But, I found out they [Wells Fargo] auctioned my car a few days before."

Prior to deployment, Nakamura said he set up direct payments for his auto loan through Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo didn't follow law, lawyer said

According to Nakamura, he was not given any warnings or notice that the payments were not going through.

Regardless of why Nakamura's auto loan defaulted, he and his attorney Bryce Bell said Wells Fargo broke the law by seizing his car.

"They were not doing the basic searches," Bell said.

Banks, like Wells Fargo, have access to a database that indicates when a member of the military is on active duty.

Under the Service Members Civil Relief Act, an active member of the military cannot have his or her car repossessed unless the bank has obtained a court order.

Bell said not only did Wells Fargo fail to check the system to see if Nakamura was active duty, it also didn't have a court order to repossess his car.

"If there's not fundamental checks and balances, these things are liable to happen and get out of control until someone puts their foot down," Bells said.

Nakamura filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for unlawfully repossessing his car.

You think your country is going to take care of you...

After learning of the incident, Nakamura said he was forced to pay the $4,600 left on his auto loan in addition to spending another $4,000 to buy a new car. 

Once he arrived home from Iraq, Nakamura said he watched as his fellow service members left the airport to be reunited with their families while he stayed back to find a rental car.

"It was pretty devastating," Nakamura said. 

The abrupt repossession of his car while serving overseas still leaves Nakamura visibly upset when talking about it. 

"It's one of those things where you think your country is going to take care of you," Nakamura said. "You can't forget that."

Wells Fargo pays out $4 million after DOJ investigation

The 41 Action News Investigators found Nakamura is just one of hundreds whose cars were repossessed by Wells Fargo while serving overseas.

In 2015, the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into Wells Fargo after an Army National Guardsman's car was repossessed while he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. 

"After Wells Fargo repossessed the car, it sold it at public auction and then tried to collect a deficiency balance of over $10,000 from Singleton and his family," a DOJ news release stated.

During its investigation, the DOJ discovered Wells Fargo unlawfully repossessed 413 cars owned by service members without a court order.

Wells Fargo paid out $4 million in settlements.

Too late to make it right

Catherine Pulley, spokersperson for Wells Fargo, admits Nakamura was identified as a part of "our remediation."

Pulley said Wells Fargo reached out to Nakamura on three occassions, but that Nakamura didn't respond. 

Nakamura said Wells Fargo offered him $10,000 as part the settlement. 

However, Nakamura said he didn't take the money because he wants people to know how often this type of thing is happening to service members.

Instead, he filed a lawsuit of his own.

Nakamura said he remembers a conversation he had with a Wells Fargo representative when he first learned his car was repossessed.

"What they told me was, 'It's too late, it's been done.'"

Now, Nakamura said it's too late for Wells Fargo to make it right.

"The public should know what Wells Fargo has done."

Wells Fargo issued the following statement:

We take our responsibilities under the SCRA very seriously and apologize that protections and benefits weren’t appropriately applied to some service member accounts.

Beyond completing remediation, we are committed to making significant improvements to how we deliver SCRA protections and benefits and we have been working over the last several years to improve our processes. Specifically, Wells Fargo:

  • Created a Consumer Lending Group SCRA Center of Excellence in 2015 to create a consistent experience for our service member customers.
  • The COE is staffed with Team Members who focus completely on SCRA and our military customers.
  • Focuses proactive enrollment for any accounts believed to be eligible for SCRA benefits.
  • Conducts daily checks of the Department of Defense’s database to identify eligible service members for SCRA benefits and protections.

We believe these changes, along with the other benefits Wells Fargo provides that exceed SCRA requirements, will better serve our military customers and demonstrate the great honor we have to serve those who serve our country.

Wells Fargo at center of fake account scandal

Wells Fargo is also paying out more than $100 million after it created fake bank and credit card accounts.

Thousands of real accounts were hit with unnecessary fees as a result. 

State and federal authorities, including the Justice Department, are still investigating.