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Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls Wells Fargo CEO ‘evasive,’ presses bank for fraud complaints on Zelle payment platform

Sen. Elizabeth Warren called Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf “evasive,” saying the bank’s answers to her questions about fraud across the Zelle payment platform were misleading, “insulting and useless.”

The Massachusetts Democrat, who sits on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said the rate of Wells Fargo customers who reported fraud or scams on Zelle was more than twice as high as other big banks and 2.5 times higher in 2022 than in 2019 among Wells Fargo customers. She said the bank “attempted to mislead me” by providing limited data from 2018 and 2021.

“Your responses to the remainder of my questions were insulting and useless to your customers, who have been the victims of fraud and scams on Zelle and are unaware of the higher risks they face on the platform as customers of your bank,” she wrote in a letter sent Monday to Scharf.

Warren pressed the bank and Early Warning Services, the parent company of money transfer platform Zelle, to release more data on fraud and scam complaints reported by banking customers. Requests for comment from Wells Fargo and Early Warning Services weren’t immediately returned.

She said prior requests for specific data compiled for an October analysis of fraud and scam complaints by consumers went unheeded.

“I am disappointed by your evasive and misleading reply to my October 6, 2022 letter asking about the extraordinarily high and rapidly increasing instances of fraud and scams affecting Wells Fargo customers on the Zelle money transfer platform,” Warren wrote. “Your customers – who have in recent years endured dozens of examples of lawbreaking and mistreatment by your bank – deserve better.”

Warren’s report said several big banks, including Wells Fargo, may have violated federal law by failing to refund a vast majority of customers defrauded on Zelle. She found that the seven banks that own Zelle and its parent company — Bank of AmericaTruistCapital OneJPMorgan ChasePNC BankU.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — did not repay customers most of the time in 190,000 cases in 2021 and the first half of 2022 where consumers said they were scammed on Zelle.

The amount of the fraudulent payments reached $213 million, according to the report.

Wells Fargo was among several banks that refused to release key fraud information, Warren said, though the frequency of Zelle fraud and scam reports by the bank’s customers was “more than twice as high as it was for comparable banks for which we had data,” according to the letter.

Jim Seitz, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, told CNBC in October that Warren’s analysis is “misleading and inaccurate.”

“We welcome the opportunity to have a constructive discussion about wholistic Zelle data and industry trends — not just that of 3 banks,” Seitz said.

Early Warning Services also defended Wells Fargo in its response to the results of Warren’s Oct. 3 report, saying that “recent statements regarding Wells Fargo’s fraud and scam rates are inaccurate. 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,” according to the letter.

The company also told CNBC in October that “any external analysis done is incomplete and does not reflect the efforts and data reported by more than 1,700 financial institutions on the Zelle Network.”

The senator called Early Warning Services’ response “inaccurate” and said it is “not consistent with the data provided to me by Wells Fargo and other banks that are part of the Zelle network,” according to the letter.

Warren also said the reply she received from Wells Fargo was “wholly inadequate given the scope of the problems.”

“For example, you stated that data we published on Zelle-related problems at Wells Fargo and other banks contained ‘apples-to-oranges comparisons,’ because Wells Fargo’s ‘response to your data request included gross claims [and] … [o]ther responses may have used different dimensions,'” Warren wrote. “But this assertion, which is an attempt to minimize the impact of the problem at Wells Fargo, is false.”

Warren asked the bank for up-to-date information on the extent of fraud scams reported by customers, reimbursement rates and the dollar value of reimbursements to scammed customers, she says, for the fifth time. The updated data will cover 2017 to 2021 and this January through September.

The senator asked Early Warning Services for similar information, in addition to the number of cases where Zelle referred scams to law enforcement or to federal or state bank regulators, spanning each of the last five full calendar years, and from Jan. 1 to the present. Warren gave each company a deadline of Nov. 21.

“If Wells Fargo and EWS really want to set the record straight about fraud and scams on Zelle, then they should change course and provide the American people with complete data,” Warren said in a statement. “Customers who were defrauded and scammed on Zelle deserve full transparency.”

In October, Warren appealed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to use its rule-making authorities under the Dodd-Frank Act to increase consumer protections on peer-to-peer money transfer platforms.



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