Wells Fargo gets sued for not backing up scammed customers

Wells Fargo customers sue the bank, claiming it routinely refuses to reimburse for losses due to fraud, violating the Electronic Funds Transfer Act - Photo by Ernie Journeys on UnSplash

The plaintiffs challenge a rule holding them responsible if they give scammers access to their account

Who's responsible when a scammer convinces you to give them access to your bank account? Two Wells Fargo customers are suing the bank, claiming it should be held responsible.

According to TopClassAction’s narrative of the complaint, Erik Westervelt received a call from someone who said they were with Wells Fargo, and who told him they had spotted potential fraud on his account. Westervelt said the individual described the transaction as a wire transfer for “a large amount of money” that came out of his account.

Westervelt said the fake bank representatives told him they could stop the wire transfer and all he had to do was confirm a six-digit number she was sending him via text message. Westervelt did as he was told -- leading to a wire transfer of $24,557.89 to an unknown account at Discover Bank. 

But after Westervelt woke up and realized that the caller was more than likely a scammer, he claims that Wells Fargo wouldn’t reimburse any of the funds because he had authorized the transaction.

No leg to stand on?

The plaintiffs feel that Wells Fargo should have – but didn’t – cover them for those losses as required by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EPTA) And, in essence, they're asking a judge to overturn that Act.

The Act does offer some protection for consumers in EFT situations such as those made with a lost or stolen card. But, the EFTA does not eliminate all risk. Consumers can still be held liable for losses if they act negligently in safeguarding their account information.

A lesson to learn for all of us

"If you think your bank or investment fund will protect you, think again," Terri Miller, consumer education specialist at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), says. "Bank accounts have different and fewer protections than credit cards. If you are scammed into moving your money out of your account, you won’t be protected. And you probably won’t get that money back."

Does this mean that Westervelt and Rice don’t have a leg to stand on? Possibly.

But what this situation should serve as is a reminder that there's a limit to what consumers can expect a bank to bail them out if they take the bait when a scammer comes calling. Miller says that there are only three solid things that will save the day:

  1. Never move or transfer your money to “protect it.” "Your money is fine where it is, no matter what they say or how urgently they say it. Someone who says you have to move your money to protect it is a scammer. Period," Miller said.
  2. Never share a verification code. Ever. The reason why banks use these codes for online accounts is to make sure you’re really you. And if you share that code, sorry -- the scammer can use it to prove they’re you instead. Miller pointed out that, "No caller — especially someone from your bank or investment company’s fraud department — will ever ask for the verification code. That’s always a scam."
  3. Stop and check it out. If you get one of these calls, call your real bank. There's only one phone number to use, too:  the number you find on your statement. "Never the number the caller gave you, which will take you to the scammer," Miller concluded.

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