Wells Fargo hit false figures with a lawsuit over robocalls

, (Reuters) – A proposed class action lawsuit in San Francisco federal court accuses Wells Fargo of making tens of thousands of automatically dialed or "robo" calls to cell phones without consumer consent.

A Wells Fargo ATM will be shown in Los Angeles, California, on October 19, 2018. REUTERS / Mike Blake

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in the name of a state-wide class, accuses Wells Fargo of having called false numbers with automatic dialers and a request to stop fulfilling them. The complaint claims triple damages under the US Phone Consumer Protection Act or up to $ 1,500 for each phone call.

A spokesman for Wells Fargo could not be reached immediately for a comment.

The lawsuit is based on a recent 9th ruling by the US District Appeals Tribunal in Marks Crunch San Diego, a consumer class lawsuit against a fitness studio operator. This decision has expanded the definition of automatically dialed calls that are blocked by the TCPA when they are sent to mobile phones.

So far, autodialers have been defined as devices that randomly generate and call phone numbers. But the 9th Circuit on September 20 decided that the definition also includes equipment that automatically dials numbers stored in a list.

The 9th Circuit's decision triggered an outcry from business groups urging the Federal Communications Commissions to adopt a ruling that restores a narrower definition of autodial.

In a comment to the FCC on October 24, the American Bankers Association said the ruling of the 9th Circuit ignored Congress's intention to restrict automatic voting when it passed the 1991 TCPA. Congress was supposed to ban mass phone calls on random numbers to lists of a company's customers or similar stored numbers, the ABA said.

Citing the decision of the 9th Circuit, the lawsuit on Thursday stated that Wells Fargo's equipment complies with the definition of an automatic dialing system by automatically dialing numbers from stored lists. Wells Fargo often leaves pre-recorded messages on mobile phones, which according to the lawsuit are also blocked by the TCPA.

The lawsuit was filed by Michigan-based Lisa Barnes, who claimed Wells Fargo had started calling her cell phone in 2016 to speak with a Richard Loutman, a man Barnes did not know.

Barnes was never a customer of Wells Fargo and did not agree to be called. Barnes asked Wells not to call anymore, but the phone calls went on, the lawsuit said.

The Federal Communications Commission has revised its auto-dialer rules since May when it issued a communication requesting comments.

The case is Barnes v Wells Fargo Bank, US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 18-6520

Reporting by Dena Aubin; Editing by Dan Grebler

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