Is Wells Fargo Stealing From its Customers?

by on June 11, 2012 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Popular, The Widder Curry

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press

Banking giant can’t explain money mysteriously missing from student’s account.

In some of the articles I have written for the OB Rag and now the San Diego Free Press I have alluded to having foreign language students living with me to hone their English speaking/writing skills. I have housed over 350 students since 1992 and currently have a 29 year old Korean young lady and a 19 year old Swiss man living with Buddy and me.

This story revolves around Monica, my lovely student that has been with me for over seven months. Her English is very good but she does not think so. Listening and interpreting is still difficult for her but she loves to learn and is very bright. She wants to return to Korea and become an English teacher or a translator. I think that both are doable because she is so eager to learn.

When Monica first arrived in the United States she opened an account with Chase back because checking accounts were free. But when Chase began charging a monthly fee she decided to change banks and went to Wells-Fargo. Because she is not allowed to work in the US, her mother wires her money from Korea on a monthly basis. (She was told that there would not be a charge for this service, but, as it turns out, she is being charged a fee. ) Almost immediately she had difficulty and I had to intervene on her behalf. (I know, critics, that Wells-Fargo would not talk to me WITHOUT her permission, but she gave it and we had “speaker phone” conversations.)

Apparently when she signed up for the account she was asked if she wanted her checking account to be tied to an “overdraft protection” plan. Of course she said “yes” but did not fully understand the meaning of this account. When she received her statement she saw that $100 had been moved from the checking account to a savings account and she felt that this had been done without her knowledge. She said that no one explained the overdraft protection plan to her; merely that if she was overdrawn the amount would be covered. (I can see where her confusion comes from, particularly if the overdraft protection was not explained to her in the detail that she needs.) We straightened that out and she understands that part of the system now.

On Wednesday she called me in tears from Wells-Fargo. It appears that she made a $400 withdrawal from her account on May 30 to cover the cost of tuition for school on June 4th. She did not make any withdrawals after that time, and knew that she had $300+ in her account for books and other things. She was horrified when she went to withdraw $20 from her account and was told that she only had a balance of $7. I asked her if she had tried to make the withdrawal from the savings account, thinking that if there had been any overdrafts the original $100 moved to that account would be depleted. She answered that she had checked that account too but the $300 was missing. I told her to talk to the bank manager and call me from his office so I could help her out. She did.

The bank manager told me that on the same day there was a $300 withdrawal after the $400. I asked what time it was done but he said he’d have to check. I asked who made the withdrawal, and he told me he would have to check it out. I asked how soon he would have an answer. He told me he didn’t know. I asked for a ballpark figure and he said 24 hours. He said he was sure it was a “computer glitch” and would be straightened out in no time. A computer glitch? What kind of glitch does a computer make where-in $300 goes missing from a customer’s account?

Needless to say Monica was a wreck. School has started; she needs her books; the bank tells her she doesn’t have the money.

Today is Thursday and the “missing money” saga is still going on. She called the bank after class – interesting that she was told to “call us” – rather than they calling her. She was told that the investigation was still going on and she will have to wait until after the weekend to straighten it out. When she called me to tell me this latest episode, I told her to call them back and tell them she could not wait until the weekend; since she had given me permission to act on her behalf to call me and let me know what the situation was so I could translate for her. (No, I don’t speak Korean but I do speak “body language!) Unfortunately, she had to return to class and by the time she called the bank they were closed. I suggested that she leave a message to call me first thing Friday morning.

Friday morning dawned overcast and breezy and I began my normal routine as usual – washing the clothes for my students and myself. About half an hour into the wash – it is now 7:45am – Monica came over to me, sheepishly, and said, “Have you started the wash yet?” I answered “yes”. She then said, “did you check the pockets of my jeans?” “No,” I answered. She said, with panic on her face, “all the information about my bank account was in the pocket.” I suggested that she go out to the dryer and check to see if it survived the wash. She came back, forlornly, to tell me that the information had been reduced to powder and she didn’t have the information anymore. She was ready to cry until she remembered that she had left a message for the bank to call me, and, hopefully, they would do so.

At 10:00am, I was getting antsy because we have not heard from Wells-Fargo and I needed to leave at 11:30am. I called the branch to find out the name of the manager and spoke to “Frankie.” He gave me the name of the manager and we hung up. Seconds later the phone rang and when I answered it Frankie was on the other end of the phone. He was just about to call me about the Monica situation when I called for the manager’s name. (How eerie is that?)

Once again I put him on speaker phone, and, luckily, Monica was here when he said that the investigation was continuing but that he would put the missing money back into her account so that she could have access to it TOMORROW. Monica gasped, and he said “do you need it sooner?” When she answered “yes” he told her he would put it in right away and she would have access within the next 5 minutes.

I asked him what he thought happened and he told me that they no longer use “paper transactions” and have switched to electronic withdrawal. He said that probably what happened was that her bank number was not cleared out fast enough and the next person who made a withdrawal had the money removed from Monica’s account and not the his. Sounds a little fishy to me.)

I called a former student of mine – not a foreign language student – that happens to be a manager at another Wells-Fargo in Northern California and asked her about the explanation. Her first response was “it sounds like fraud to me.” Her second response was that “the teller made a mistake”, and the third response was in the form of a question to herself – “I wonder if the teller pocketed the money.” She said that she had never heard of the answer Frankie gave to me, and quite probably, the investigation will turn up the answer in the next thirty days. (I know that Monica will not be given the explanation, and she really doesn’t need it since her monies were returned.)

Meanwhile, she said, the monies should be returned to Monica’s account without delay. When I told her that there was originally going to be a delay she said that all that needed to be done was to post it as a cash transaction and it would only take seconds. Apparently that is what Frankie did, because when Monica checked her statement the money was posted to her account.

I am not sure if the fact that Monica is not a native speaker and could not ask the right questions played any part in this situation. Was she taken advantage of? I don’t know. I do know that in spite of the money being redeposited, my suggestion is to check and save all receipts and, most importantly, change banks.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian June 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm

An alternative to placing ones hard earned money in a bank, is depositing it in a credit union. A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members. Why do we not have one in Ocean Beach?


judi Curry June 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hi Brian (and the rest of you that had the same suggestion re: credit unions.) I spoke to one of the managers of the Mission Federal Credit Union – where I have my accounts – and it turns out that without a social security number Monica cannot open an account. And…because she is a student and not eligible for a social security number – there is no way that she can be a member. (Some students that work for the school they are attending are eligible for the SS#, but can only work at that school. Unfortunately, she does not go to a school where this is possible.) Thanks for all your suggestions.


Brian June 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Hi Judi, thank you for your response. I am sorry that Monica is not eligible for membership at a credit union. I banked at Wells Chargo myself. That is why I now do all of my financial business with credit unions. Not to get off track with your story, but why do we not have a credit union in O.B? We have a food cooperative, Peoples Market. Why not a financial cooperative? A credit union seems to be in better alignment with our community values, than a Chase Manhattan. Thank you so much for advocating for students. I am also a teacher, your story inspired me. You go out of your way to help your students.


judi Curry June 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Thanks for your wonderful words, Brian. I loved teaching; still hear from some of my students – 4- that were in the very first class I taught in 1963. They are OLD: grandparents, etc. but that wonderful experience of seeing the excitement in their eyes when the world is opened up to them is second to nothing else. (A quickie – when I taught 6th grade in National City I took a field trip to the bay looking for shells, other creatures to go along with our Oceanography unit. I had 36 students in the class and more than half of them had NEVER been to the bay before – and they lived less than 1 mile from it. Several went into the water to taste it – couldn’t believe it was salty. Great experience.)

I will send a copy of your suggestion to the manager at MFCU. There used to be an ATM for them in Pacific Beach on Ingraham. It’s been gone for years. Maybe it is something they can look into. (If I hear any more I’ll let you know.)

Thanks for you kudos. You chose a great, satisfying profession.


Jason June 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm

So let me get this straight. You ended the aritcle with,

-“I am not sure if the fact that Monica is not a native speaker and could not ask the right questions played any part in this situation.”

-“Was she taken advantage of? I don’t know. I do know that in spite of the money being redeposited…”

So in the article, you not only 1) admitted the fact that you have NO IDEA what happened throughout this whole transaction and even 2) lend thought to the possibility that her language barrier could have played a part in the mix up.

Banks make errors often, they are generally corrected quickly and seamlessly. The tellers running the cash boxes are generally college age students paying their way through school and learning abou tjobs in the real world. Yet somehow you paint this picture that they are sharks waiting to steal money?

Cute article and all but the headline is EXTREMELY misleading! In the end it seems to me that the teller made an error and the manager corrected the problem and made the funds available right away.

Please set aside your own personal biases when you write, they seep off the page.


JMW June 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

Seeps off the page as does your evident pro-bank bias?


Roni September 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I have a business account with Wells Fargo. I spoke to a banker about opening a savings account for my business but never actually did, never turned in signed documents or anything! Well, Wells Fargo immediately began auto drafts from my business checking account to deposit into a savings account that I never opened. When I was charged an over draft fee because money was missing ( I still don’t know where the money went…) I was told they would not refund the charges because it wasn’t a bank error!!! How is that not a bank error – taking money I never authorized to put into an account that I never opened?!

They steal people’s money.


judi Curry September 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

Did you pull your account?


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