Wells Fargo debit card customers hit with Amazon Prime scam

Virginia Wells Fargo debit card customers hit with Amazon Prime scam | Cybersecurity column

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While many questions remain, the most vital is simply how is this happening? Where are the criminals getting the debit card numbers? Why is it only happening to Wells Fargo debit card holders? Answers don’t seem to be forthcoming.

While it’s always prudent to review your bank accounts, it’s especially important to do so now if you are Wells Fargo customer.

There is a scam being run on Wells Fargo customers in Virginia in which fake charges, usually in the range of $14, are placed on Wells Fargo debit card accounts for items bought at Amazon Prime. The Richmond-Times Dispatch reported June 21 more than 100 people had contacted the paper to report the problem.

I found out about it few days ago, firsthand, when I checked my Virginia Beach Wells Fargo bank account and was surprised to see three charges, each around $14, to Amazon Prime that I didn’t make and which were declined by the bank.

I contacted Wells Fargo immediately and was told the bank had detected the problem and was automatically declining all charges to Amazon Prime. (I have since been told only multiple charges to Amazon Prime, in the suspicious amount, are declined.)

I was surprised to learn of the fraud because I hadn’t heard anything about it in the media. I canceled my card, ordered a new one and went to a branch to pick up a temporary card.

A banker, who said the bank had “gone through cases of replacement cards” due to the scam, recommended the card that I had just ordered over the phone be canceled and another ordered because some of the replacement cards issued in the wake of the scam had also been compromised with Amazon charges.

That falls in line with the Dispatch story that reported some customers had received five replacement cards, each of which received fraudulent Amazon charges.

For a company that has had its share of public relations headaches in the last several of years, not the least of which was the cross-selling scandal in which employees opened millions of unauthorized accounts in customers’ names to meet sales goals, you might think Wells Fargo would get out in front of this problem.

The San Francisco-based company launched an ad campaign in May titled “Re-Established” with the taglines “Earning Your Trust Back” and “Established 1852, Re-Established with a Recommitment to You.” It seems a heads-up to customers regarding potential fraud would help with the trust factor.

“We are fully reimbursing customers who were impacted by unauthorized transactions. This unfortunate experience is fraud. No Wells Fargo systems or accounts have been breached,” Wells Fargo spokesperson Kristy Marshall wrote in an email. “We have a thorough investigation process to research all reports of account fraud. When we identified the issue we took action to prevent this particular fraud from occurring again. To protect the effectiveness of our security measures, we cannot discuss details about this issue or the specific actions we have taken.”

When asked to clarify how “no Wells Fargo systems or accounts had been breached,” Marshall wrote, “The fraudsters did not breach Wells Fargo systems, and do not have personally identifiable customer account information and have not gained access to customer accounts. This fraud is specific to unauthorized debit card transactions.”

A receptionist at Amazon’s corporate headquarters said there wasn’t a public relations employee to speak with there. An email to Amazon’s public relations department did not receive a response.

While many questions remain, the most vital is simply how is this happening? Where are the criminals getting the debit card numbers? Why is it only happening to Wells Fargo debit card holders? Answers don’t seem to be forthcoming.

After taking another look at my bank account, I discovered three more charges to Amazon Prime had been placed in May. Again, I called Wells Fargo and had to file a claim for those. The claims representative said there had been a spike in the number of Amazon Prime-related claims that week and speculated Amazon Prime had a breach on its end. I was told to expect my account to be credited within two business days.

Experts say one way to avoid being the victim of such a scam is to use a credit card, not a debit card, when making online purchases because they offer more protection against fraudulent claims and carry a maximum liability of $50. If a debit card is compromised, all of the funds in the associated bank or savings account are in jeopardy.

Marshall said customers who notice unusual activity on their accounts should contact Wells Fargo at 1-800-869-9355 and small business customers should call 1-800-225-9355.

Jamie Howell, marketing and events coordinator with the Hampton Roads Better Business Bureau, said no complaints regarding Amazon Prime or Wells Fargo had been received nor had there been input on the organization’s Scam Tracker, an online tool that allows victims to report fraud.