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Wells Fargo Bank Commits Fraud Against Its Customers

Wells Fargo Bank is facing a lawsuit from the city of Los Angeles, which alleges that the bank participated in unfair business practices by persuading its employees to engage “in unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent conduct.” According to the lawsuit, Wells Fargo workers were under a great deal of pressure to meet sales goals, and thus, were in the habit of opening accounts for their current customers without first obtaining their permission.

The city of Los Angeles refers to Wells Fargo as a “fee-generating machine” because of its efforts to compel its employees to meet unrealistic sales goals. According to the city, “Wells Fargo places unrelenting pressure on its bankers to open several accounts for each customer. “ “Wells Fargo’s bankers are thus naturally and predictably forced to use alternative means to meet quotas.”

As a result of the workers’ actions, customers were subjected to more fees and a diminished ability to obtain credit anyplace else. For example, their credit reports were affected, thereby having an adverse impact on their capacity to obtain a car loan or mortgage. Customers also felt compelled to get identity theft protection because Wells Fargo accounts were being opened in their names without the customers’ consent. wells-fargo-robbery

The city is therefore attempting to secure a court order from the Los Angeles Superior Court that would mandate that the bank act in compliance with the law. It is also seeking to have Wells Fargo penalized with a fine of $2,500 per violation in accordance with California’s unfair competition statute and restitution.

In addition, the city alleges in its lawsuit that Wells Fargo workers were dishonest with customers when they told them that they had to open more accounts in order to get a checking account. Moreover, workers incorrectly informed customers that there were no fees associated with the accounts, and pressured customers into buying extra products, such as life insurance.

Furthermore, the city claims that Wells Fargo was in violation of state and federal law when it misappropriated customers’ private information, and neglected to inform customers that their private information had been misused. In response, representatives from Wells Fargo said that they have disciplined a few employees who have misappropriated customers’ personal information in order to open accounts without their permission.

Ken Wallman, a business owner, was one customer whose private information was misused by Wells Fargo workers. Wallman told Los Angeles Times in an interview that he opened a checking account with Wells Fargo, but eventually he had a dozen additional accounts because the bank opened additional accounts without first obtaining his approval. When Wallman tried to close the accounts, Wells Fargo refused and, instead, charged him extra fees.

Unfair Competition Law

Under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), there are five definitions of unfair competition outlined in §17200. They are as follows:

  1. An illegal business act or practice;
  2. A business act or practice that is unfair;
  3. A business act or practice that is fraudulent;
  4. Advertising that is unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading; or
  5. Any act forbidden by §§17500-17577.5.

Under §17203, the court can order injunctions to prevent the unfair competition as well as order other equitable defenses. Victims of unfair competition can obtain relief through the court, which can order that money or property be returned to them. In the event that an injunction is issued in accordance with §17200, those who intentionally engage in unfair competition could be penalized up to $6,000 per day. And when a lawsuit is filed by a government agency, such as the city of Los Angeles, civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation are permitted.

EU Seeks to Extend “Right to Be Forgotten”

It’s rare for legal decisions in European Courts to affect Americans. However, the fight over the “right to be forgotten” could be the exception. Last year, EU courts created a “right to be forgotten,” mandating that Google remove links at an individual’s request.

google eu internet privacyFor example, suppose that your home was foreclosed and you were arrested for punching the sheriff who posted the notice to your door. A decade later, you’ve paid off the mortgage and the assault charges have been cleared. However, Google still has your mug shot and your foreclosure record.

If you live in Europe, you could request that Google remove links to information about your arrest and foreclosure from European servers like Google.de or Google.fr.

The main server, Google.com, however, will still retain these links, despite your request. In fact, European privacy groups believe that Europeans are turning to Google.com now that Google’s European servers have been compromised. And that’s exactly why European privacy groups are targeting Google.com next.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The problem is that Europeans aren’t the only ones who use Google.com. The .com server is the server that most Americans use. If European countries require that Google censor web links on its .com server, then that information would also be censored in the United States as well. The consequences are too vast to be predictable, but I can think of a few.

For instance, Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown, could move to Europe and convincingly erase his name from Internet archives. Or what if an American opens a business with a European investor? It’s much harder to tell whether the investor has any shady dealings. Or what if you’re trying to sue a European citizen living in the United States? Although a competent attorney would not rely on the Internet during discovery, writing that claim might be harder if the defendant can magically hide his Internet presence.

What happens if the EU tries to force Google to restrict Google.com? First, it’s debatable whether EU courts have jurisdiction over a foreign company such that the EU could affect how Google manages its website overseas. Second, if the EU did have that power, I am currently unaware of an American law that would compel Google to keep information up. Or Google could ignore EU courts and accept whatever consequences that might entail.

If Google.com is such a problem, why can’t European countries just restrict citizens to European servers? Actually, that is a solution that some countries have taken up. The most prominent country that has limited its citizen’s Internet access is China.

If you’re in China, Google.com is inaccessible and you have to use Google.cn or Google.hk. In China, the purpose of blocking Google.com and restricting access to certain web pages is to keep the state, the Communist Party, and party leaders safe from political critique. Ironically, the EU will be enforcing a type of Internet censorship based on privacy rather than political oppression, but the outcome might still be the same.

The End of Marijuana Prohibition?

The Current State of Marijuana Laws

The legalization of marijuana has been an uphill battle. Although there have been three petitions to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, the Drug Enforcement Administration has denied all attempts. However, many states are making big waves in the ongoing battle to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana LawsTwenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical uses. Colorado and Washington were able to go above and beyond and legalize it for recreational use as well.

To make matters even more optimistic, President Obama has announced that his justice department will not challenge the state marijuana laws so long as they do not conflict with the federal enforcement priorities of selling to children and trafficking drug revenues to gangs and cartels. This means that more states will be attempting to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

Incentives to Legalize Marijuana

The government has several incentives to legalize marijuana. Most importantly, the government will be able to collect tax revenues. Secondly, the government will be able to regulate the drug to make it safer. Instead of spending money to fight against cannabis, the government will be able to gain money from its sale while providing safety measure so that its harms don’t outweigh its benefits.

President Obama has already stated that marijuana is safer than alcohol. With the proper FDA regulations and public education, marijuana will be even less harmful than it is now. For example, in San Jose, California, medical marijuana is legal and the city council is concerned about children getting access to the drugs. In order to protect children, San Jose passed an ordinance to only allow the dispensaries in the industrial parts of town. A happy medium is now found between the safety of children and the people who benefit from the use of medical marijuana.

Although there continue to be many detractors to the use of medical marijuana, it has already been clearly established marijuana has positive treatment effects for multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, nerve pain, glaucoma, and other serious ailments.

The Future of Marijuana Laws

In a few years, we may look back on this time as the prohibition era for marijuana. However, as the prohibition era comes to an end, new issues are already developing for marijuana users: when marijuana becomes legal, it becomes more expensive from taxes, the quality may decrease, and big business sales tactics may even take the charm out of the whole experience.

Obamacare: A New Way of Life

A Look at the Benefits of Obamacare

obama-health-care

Health care in America has been unsatisfactory for as long as anyone can remember and is still unsatisfactory as far as anyone can tell. However, there’s nothing wrong with a little optimism for the future. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with a little optimism about Obamacare.

A quick reminder of what Obamacare hopes to fix: In the not-so-distant past, insurance companies routinely denied coverage to individuals with preexisting health conditions. A few years ago, a diagnosis of diabetes might have meant goodbye to any hope of enjoying affordable health care.

Now, here’s a look at the new health care reality that is brought about through Obamacare:

  • Young people can stay on their plans until they reach 26.
  • Insurance companies won’t be able to drop clients when they become sick.
  • Gender discrimination is prevented.
  • Insurance companies are prevented from allowing their rates to skyrocket.
  • Insurances companies cannot deny coverage for preexisting conditions.
  • People can use rapid appeal procedures to dispute adverse decisions by their insurance provider.
  • Various insurance coverage limits will be abolished.
  • The costs of health insurance will be subsidized.

Critics of Obamacare always fail to address the fact that the old system was not working. Now that Obamacare is in place, new challenges will continue to arise. While we confront these challenges, we should maintain an optimistic view of the benefits that have been brought about by Obamacare—benefits that may never have been imaginable under the old system.

Employer Discrimination with Social Media

Employers Use Social Media to Illegally Discriminate against Job Seekers

Discrimination during the job interview stage of the hiring process is very old fashioned. Instead, 21st century employers discriminate much earlier. Rather than fully reviewing professional documents that have been submitted, modern employers simply go online and review applicants’ personal information.employer discrimination

At least, that is what a Carnegie Mellon University study recently found. The study involves the typical dummy resumes and the not-so typical-dummy social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Applications were sent to technical, managerial, and analyst positions. The profiles had privacy settings consist with the average user.

The six month study in politically conservative states made a few interesting discoveries. First, Christian “applicants” received a call back 17% of the time while Muslims got called about a job interview about 2% of the time. Surprisingly, sexual orientation was not impacted, at least not at the early stages of the application process.

The study is quite significant, given that more than a third of U.S. employers claim they consult social media sites before making the final job offer. The real impact of the study, however, is that employers are not limiting their search to embarrassing photos, offensive language, or unprofessional behavior anymore. It seems employers’ Google searches of possible employees are expanding to otherwise innocent content.

Discrimination Based on Religion, Sexual Orientation, or Parenthood

Employment discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, or parenthood is illegal in many states. Detecting such discrimination in the hiring process has always been a challenge because such discrimination can be subconscious: the employer discriminates without realizing it.

The Carnegie study reveals that this kind of discrimination might be more difficult to discover than previously suspected. Imagine if an employer looks at an applicant’s Facebook page and sees a passage from the Quran, or a sonogram, or both. Suppose that said employer does not call the applicant as a result of seeing the Quran or sonogram. It will be very difficult for a job seeker to prove that the social media post was responsible for the employer’s illegal discrimination.

So should job applicants delete their online profiles and avoid social media at all costs? That’s a bad idea for at least two reasons. First, job applicants would have to avoid social media forever, since employers occasionally check their employee’s social media. Second, in an era where everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account, the absence of an online presence might also be telling about the applicant (age discrimination, etc). So far, the best solution appears to be keeping social profiles to “Friends Only” on security settings and saying “no” if an employer asks to join your friend group.

Who Should Be Responsible?

This discussion raises an interesting question: should it be the applicant’s duty to scrub his or her online presence clean of all incriminating information, or should businesses avoid looking for every little detail about an applicant’s life?

On the other hand, the Internet is an open world. If I post thousands of words about illegal business practices online, future employers shouldn’t punish me for my views. That would violate my free speech (assuming the employer is a government entity). Given that discrimination based on religion and other classifications is illegal, the burden should be on employers to prove that they didn’t do anything wrong when they rejected an applicant after visiting the applicant’s Facebook page.



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