Wells Fargo fires employees accused of faking keyboard activity to pretend to work

Homer Simpson was ahead of his time

Wells Fargo fired a bunch of employees accused of pretending to work, by using some tech to fake their keyboard typing, instead of doing their actual jobs, it emerged today.

The California-based enormo-bank disclosed the terminations to the US Financial Industry Regulatory Authority on May 6, saying the employees were "discharged after review of allegations involving simulation of keyboard activity creating impression of active work."

According to Bloomberg on Thursday, at least a dozen employees at Wells Fargo's wealth and investment management units got the boot after being probed.

However, there are few details surrounding the exact circumstances of the firings, such as whether the employees worked from home or in the office, and the methods that were used to fake the alleged keyboard activity.

In official documents filed by Wells Fargo, and reviewed by The Register, at least one of the axed employees worked at Wells Fargo Advisors and Clearing Services until early May, and had passed his securities exams just two years prior. He was accused of simulating keyboard typing to fool bosses into thinking he was working.

There are a few ways to pretend to be doing something on a computer, both with software and hardware. Auto-clickers and key macros have existed for years as free programs that anyone can download and set up fairly easily, and can be configured to be as simple as a looping button press or as complex as opening up programs and seemingly doing things like a normal person would, like opening up an email client to send a (fake) message off.

That said, employers can block their workers from installing and using these tools, not to mention the digital trail it would leave. But there are hardware-based alternatives, such as so-called mouse jigglers, which can be found for as cheap as $5 and can look just like a regular USB wireless mouse receiver. Robotic arms that manually press keyboard buttons are also out there, but they're more expensive and not as practical.

Depending on where these employees worked and how Wells Fargo monitored them, it's possible that all of these methods (except the robot arm, perhaps) were used by the dozen or so employees fired. It probably didn't take an ace detective to figure out what was going on, given that both software and hardware leave behind pretty damning evidence, especially if one employee took a mouse jiggler to the office.

We understand the bank's staff, since 2022, are generally in the office at least three days a week, four for management committee members, in a hybrid-WFH fashion, and branch workers are in five days.

We've reached out to Wells Fargo for comment, and we'll update if we hear back. ®

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