Margie Morgan was recently scammed out of $2,000 in a scheme involving Zelle digital payments and a woman posing as a Wells Fargo representative.
Morgan, a food entrepreneur in Edina, fell victim to the scam because it was a new form of phishing, the practice of sending fraudulent communications that appear real. It started as a text message on Morgan’s phone that appeared to be from Wells Fargo, but ultimately wasn’t.
“I’m embarrassed because I thought I was smarter than that,” she said.
The text messages asked Morgan if she had authorized money transfers from her account. Morgan said “no” and immediately got a call from a woman who introduced herself as a Wells Fargo representative.
Morgan said she didn’t give it much thought because she had received legitimate phone calls from the bank and American Express in the past asking about fraudulent activity.
The woman told Morgan that to recover the unauthorized transactions, Morgan would have to perform reverse transfers to herself through Zelle. She followed the woman’s instructions, which involved using a PIN the scammer gave her. But the money came out of his account, not into it.
Morgan, 57, later learned from a genuine Wells Fargo representative that she had been duped out of $3,000. Wells Fargo was able to recover a transfer of $1,000, but not a second transfer of $2,000, which had been processed, Morgan said.
“I’m beside myself because I started a small business last year and $2,000 cleaned me up,” she said.
Wells Fargo spokesman Kevin Friedlander said he could not discuss the details of Morgan’s case, citing customer privacy and confidentiality.
Zelle is an immediate form of payment, and scammers who receive payments from victims typically withdraw the funds from the receiving financial institution immediately, making recovery difficult, Friedlander said.
“We will continue to work with other financial institutions and law enforcement agencies in an effort to track down suspects and attempt to recover funds for our clients,” Friedlander said.
On his websiteZelle draws a distinction between fraud and scams, saying a scam occurs when a customer is “knowingly involved”.
“Even if you were tricked or persuaded to authorize payment for a good or service that someone said they were going to provide, but didn’t fulfill, that would be considered a scam,” warns Zelle. As a result, it tells customers that they may not be able to get their money back.
Wells Fargo told Morgan in writing that it had asked the receiving financial institution to return the money. She said the bank had added that there was no guarantee this would happen.
Customers of other banks report similar scams. And on its website, Wells Fargo describes how these “impostor banking” scams work. The scammer contacts someone posing as someone from a bank and often knows personal information, likely from social media, public records or a data breach.
“Usually they say there is suspicious activity on your account and to stop it you will need to provide an access code from a text message or email,” reads the description of Wells Fargo. “They may also ask for other information, such as a PIN or your username and password. Other times, they ask you to send money to ‘reverse’ the payment. “
Friedlander noted that Wells Fargo will not contact customers and ask them to send money to themselves or anyone else to prevent or stop fraud on their account.
Wells Fargo warns customers not to share an access code, PIN or password with anyone who asks for it. Wells Fargo said it only sends a code when prompted by a customer-initiated action, such as logging into online banking or sending money.
Wells Fargo said it does not ask customers to send money to anyone, “reverse a transfer”, “receive a refund” or anything similar.