Senator Elizabeth Warren has had it with Wells Fargo and what she said was its mishandling of Zelle scams and fraud, according to a letter she published Thursday.
Data shared with her by Wells Fargo executives including CEO Charles Scharf indicates that customers are reporting Zelle scams and fraud at a rate 2.5 times higher now than they did in 2019, and that the rate of reported scams and fraud is double for Wells’ customers than for customers of other banks.
“This data indicates that Wells Fargo appears to have a significant problem with regard to preventing fraud and scams on Zelle,” Warren said. “My concerns about this alarming pattern are exacerbated by Wells’ refusal to make public its Zelle scam and fraud data, and by your bank's long history of ripping off its customers.”
Warren launched her investigation into Zelle in April when she wrote to its parent company Early Warning System, which is owned by seven major banks including Wells Fargo. She sought information on fraud and how defrauded customers recoup their losses.
In her letter, which is addressed to Scharf, Warren singled out Wells Fargo for failing to cooperate with the investigation. She also cited Scharf for withholding key information that would have allowed her to determine the frequency at which Wells Fargo reimbursed victims of Zelle fraud.
Scharf had told Warren, a member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, at a hearing earlier this month that he would provide the information to her “immediately.” Upon providing “limited” information thereafter, the bank declared that the information “was confidential and not to be released publicly.”
She disapproved of the company’s response, saying the information was “clearly in the public interest.”
“I will provide it to regulators on a confidential basis given the severity of the trends your data show, and your bank's long record of consumer abuses,” Warren wrote. “Indeed, on at least eight occasions in the last six years, your bank has been found defrauding or ripping off its customers.”
Among Wells Fargo’s scandals are the 2016 fake accounts incident in which the bank created millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts on behalf of customers without their consent. That misstep garnered the bank $185 million in regulatory penalties. In the months that followed the penalties, it was found that the bank also forced customers to buy unnecessary car insurance, changed information on customers’ documents without authorization, and illegally repossessed cars from service members.
In an April statement to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra, Warren also noted that Wells Fargo has also closed customer accounts without authorization, thus damaging their credit reports; been fined by the Securities & Exchange Commission for recommending bad products to investors; nonconsensually put as many as 1,600 customers into forbearance; and been fined by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency “because the bank is still screwing over consumers.”
Though Warren focused her comments on Wells Fargo’s wrongdoings, it wasn’t the only EWS-owning bank that failed to report its Zelle fraud statistics. U.S. Bank, PNC Bank and Bank of America provided reports to Warren that showed a collective 135,000 consumer claims, her letter said. Truist provided information, but not in a format that allowed for calculation of the claims, according to the letter. Like Wells Fargo, Capital One and JPMorgan Chase apparently didn't provide data.
Still, Warren’s letter was addressed solely to Scharf.
A representative for Wells Fargo told Banking Dive that Zelle transactions have doubled in three years, and that 99.94% of customers in 2022 transact without incident.
“We don’t believe the numbers in a recent report are done on a comparable basis, and therefore the analysis is misleading and inaccurate. Based on the data we’ve seen, our Zelle fraud and scam rates are consistent with the industry and have never been twice as high compared to other banks,” the Wells Fargo spokesperson said. “We welcome the opportunity to have a constructive discussion about wholistic Zelle data and industry trends — not just that of 3 banks.”
Meanwhile, Zelle also defended its track record, as well as that of Wells Fargo. “Based on data reported to the Zelle Network, recent statements regarding Wells Fargo's fraud and scam rates are inaccurate,” Zelle said in an Oct. 13 press release regarding the issue. “Wells Fargo's rates of reported fraud and scams are extraordinarily low and comparable to the Zelle Network as a whole, where rates of reported fraud and scams represent less than 0.1% of all transactions.”
In her letter, Warren demanded an answer to several questions by October 20, including an explanation from the bank on its “severely bad performance with regard to preventing scams and frauds” on Zelle and information on what’s being done to reduce Zelle scams and fraud in the future.
She also sought names: “Which company executives are responsible for preventing fraud and scams on the Zelle platform, and how are they being held accountable for their failure to do so?”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Truist did provide fraud and scam information to Warren, just "not in a format that allowed an estimate of the percentage of Zelle transactions that resulted in fraud and scam claims," according to Warren's letter.