Hennepin County’s property tax office this week fielded an unusual number of calls from alarmed residents who were notified by Wells Fargo’s mortgage unit that they owe property taxes — only to find out from the county that they didn’t.
“There’s been a flurry of activity,” County Auditor Mark Chapin said.
The mix-up happened when the company, after obtaining a routine update of data on its customers from the county late last year, determined that some who make direct payments to the county had underpaid their 2016 taxes. The company offered in the notices to set up escrow accounts to recover the amounts and keep future payments on track.
In many of the cases, the amounts owed came to less than $5, a threshold that the county nets out at the end of the year rather than pursue as delinquent.
Scott Loomer, the county’s property tax manager, said it routinely sees errors from a small percentage of taxpayers who make direct payments rather than use escrow. “People may transpose a number, or they round up or down instead of paying the precise amount,” he said.
Over time, a quarter one month and a dime the next month adds up. On the first business day of the new year, county officials net to zero the accounts of people who have underpaid or overpaid their taxes by $5 over the past year. After that, officials determine who is delinquent and who is owed a refund.
Wells Fargo said it sent the notices to about 40 of its customers on Dec. 30, the last business day of 2016 but before the county netted out the balances of taxpayers with small debts or overages. It said its calculation was based on balances as of Oct. 16.
The company told the county it is changing its processes so it doesn’t alarm customers again, Loomer said.
John Hobot, a Minnesota-based spokesman for Wells Fargo, said via e-mail it was “reaching out to these customers to let them know no further action is needed on their part.”
Wells Fargo said customers in Hennepin County who have questions on their real estate taxes can call the company at 1-866-234-8271.
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which operates Minnesota’s largest bank and bases some of its mortgage operation in Minneapolis, has come under greater scrutiny by customers, regulators and the media since the revelation in the fall that employees felt pressured to open false accounts under customers’ names to meet internal sales goals. The company paid a fine and the controversy also led to the departure of its chief executive.
Staff writer Evan Ramstad contributed to this report.