BY ALEXANDRA CLINE Richmond Times-Dispatch
Some consumers affected by the Wells Fargo debit card fraud issue of the past several months are not only fed up – they’re taking action.
To date, two complaints have been filed with the Virginia Attorney General’s office about the fraud issue, said spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer.
Another consumer also has filed a complaint with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The complaints come in the wake of reports from more than a hundred Wells Fargo customers in Virginia who have said that their debit cards were charged fraudulently from Amazon. Many said they continued to experience the fake transactions after receiving new debit cards, some of which had been compromised even before being issued to the customer.
“If they’re getting a hold of the card before the customer even gets them, there’s not much you can do,” said Colin Glover, a principal at Sera-Brynn, a Suffolk-based cybersecurity audit and assessment firm.
The problem also appears to be ongoing, though Wells Fargo has reimbursed customers who have reported the fraudulent charges. The fake Amazon charges have appeared on their debit cards, usually in the $14 range.
The issue first came to light last month, but it has been occurring for months, Wells Fargo customers say. The fraud doesn’t appear to be taking place on debit cards from other financial institutions.
A Wells Fargo spokeswoman has declined to comment further on the fraud issue and would not say if customers were still experiencing fraudulent charges on their debit cards.
Customer William Wheeler of Chesterfield County, who first noticed a fake charge on his wife’s Wells Fargo account in April, said Friday that his account at the bank is hit with an Amazon Prime charge at least once a week. The most recent fraudulent charge on his checking account appeared July 9.
The Virginia Attorney General’s office declined to provide more details about the content of the Wells Fargo fraud-related complaints the office received or when they were filed. Typically, Gomer said that when a complaint is received by the office, the first step is to provide a copy of the complaint to the company in question and invite its response.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau did not respond to repeated requests for comment about how many related complaints had been received by the bureau.
But Wells Fargo customer Peyton Lowery of Henrico County confirmed that he filed a complaint with the consumer bureau on July 3. He’s gone through five Wells Fargo debit cards within the span of a few months due to fraudulent Amazon charges on his account, which began in February.
Lowery received a response to the complaint from Wells Fargo on July 11, which Lowery said barely answered his questions or addressed the root of the issue.
The bank’s response, he said, noted every fraudulent transaction Lowery received and explained how the bank handled those charges. Though Lowery never lost any money from the ordeal, he said the process of continually requesting new debit cards and looking through the fake charges on his account consumed far too much time.
“It’s more of a mindset thing, where this happened four or five times and you won’t tell me what happened and you don’t seem to care that I had to get a new debit card four times,” he said. “They didn’t seem to care that my time and [my] mindset about my security was affected.”
Lowery said the consumer bureau was responsible for facilitating communications with Wells Fargo, notifying him that the complaint had been received by the bureau and was sent to the bank.
After his months-long ordeal, Lowery said he’s currently in the process of switching banks, but did not want to disclose which bank he would now be using. He did say that the lackluster response from Wells Fargo in dealing with the fraud was a determining factor in his decision to make the change.
“Their response was a sort of ‘sorry but not sorry’ sort of thing,” he said. “It sort of said you never really had a problem because we fixed it every time.”
Lowery said he also filed a complaint with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency of the U.S. Department of the Treasury through HelpWithMyBank.gov, which assists customers with questions and concerns regarding national banks.
Despite lingering questions, customers like Lowery and Wheeler may never know the actual cause of the fraud, said Milos Manic, a professor in the department of computer science at Virginia Commonwealth University. He also said it would be difficult to speculate on that cause without insider knowledge.
“More likely, as regular customers, [they] will never know what really happened,” he said. “It’s becoming an issue because … you have to spend time reporting and dealing with it and it costs money and time.”
Sera-Brynn’s Glover recommends that fraud victims be proactive about canceling their debit and credit cards and only using them on trusted websites. He also said bank customers said be cognizant of possible identity theft and should make sure that other accounts have not been opened in their name.
“I recommend that most people don’t use their debit card for purchases,” Glover said. “When it’s a debit card, it’s your money. When it’s a credit card, it’s the bank’s money.”
Glover said customers can report cyber-related complaints on ic3.gov, where internet crimes can be investigated by the FBI.
“[It’s] a very unfortunate circumstance,” he said. “It sounds like a fairly sophisticated issue.”