Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, has had it with Wells Fargo and its mishandling of Zelle scams and fraud, according to a letter she published Thursday.
Data shared with her by Wells Fargo executives including CEO Charlie Scharf indicates that customers are reporting Zelle scams and fraud at a rate 2.5 times greater 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, seeking information on fraud and how defrauded customers recoup their losses.
In her letter, which is addressed to Scharf, Warren singles Wells Fargo out for failing to cooperate with the investigation as well as Scharf for withholding key information that would have allowed her to determine the frequency in 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 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.”
While Warren honored the declaration, she disapproved of it because 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. Indeed, on at least eight occasions in the last six years, your bank has been found defrauding or ripping off its customers,” Warren wrote.
Among Wells Fargo’s scandals are the 2016 fake accounts scandal in which the bank created millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts on behalf of customers without their consent. The scandal 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.
Since 2018, as Warren highlighted in a bid to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra in April, 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 honed her focus 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 reported around 135,000 claims altogether — meaning Truist, Capital One, and JPMorgan Chase were alongside Wells Fargo in failing to report.
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 spokesperson said. “We welcome the opportunity to have a constructive discussion about wholistic Zelle data and industry trends — not just that of 3 banks.”
In her letter, Warren demands an answer to several questions by October 20, including an explanation of “Wells’ 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 moving forward.
She also wants 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?”
Zelle did not return a request for comment by press time.