Learning About the Most Common Wells Fargo Debit Card Scams

Ashley Ferraro, Consumer Operations
Nov 17, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

According to the Nilson Report, Wells Fargo® was the largest U.S. Visa® and Mastercard® debit card issuer in 2022, generating over $463 billion in purchase volume. 

Although Wells Fargo implements numerous security protocols, including 24/7 fraud monitoring and multi-factor authentication, it’s also your responsibility to remain vigilant and do what you can to prevent your debit card from becoming compromised. Today’s fraudsters have many clever ways to trick cardholders into giving them money or sensitive information.

This article should give you an idea of the common fraud tactics you need to look out for. It’ll present:

  • Common Wells Fargo debit card scams
  • Other dangers Wells Fargo debit cardholders should look out for
  • Fraud mitigation measures Wells Fargo offers
  • Methods for protecting your debit card information online
A photo of a Wells Fargo branch office during the night
Source: Deane Bayas

Frequent Wells Fargo Debit Card Scams

Wells Fargo debit card scams are various, but most of them involve some form of social engineering. Fraudsters typically contact the target via text, phone, email, or social media, deceiving them into performing an action for personal gain.

Wells Fargo warns its customers about these particular scams[1]:

  1. Utility bill scam
  2. Fake prize scam
  3. Card cracking
  4. Friend, family member, or romance scam
  5. Fake career opportunities
  6. Rental scam
  7. QR code scam
  8. Ransomware

Utility Bill Scam

This scam involves the perpetrator posing as a representative of your utility company and claiming that one of your utilities will be cut off. They may request that you pay a bill or disclose personal information to verify your account. The most obvious sign of a utility scam is asking you to pay the bill via cash or gift card, which legitimate companies never do. 

When prompted to take immediate action, you should do the opposite and take your time to assess the authenticity of the message, call, or in-person request. If it seems suspicious, it’s best to contact your utility company via the information from their website or the billing statement.

Fake Prize Scam

Fraudsters might contact you, claiming that you’re the lucky winner of a lottery or sweepstakes. Usually, the fraudster will ask you to pay a fee to avoid taxes and cover bank fees. You should avoid offers that seem too good to be true, especially if you haven’t signed up for the lottery in question. Most importantly, you shouldn’t provide your debit card or personal information until you confirm the legitimacy of the offer.

Card Cracking

Card cracking or popping is a type of fraud in which the perpetrator promises you big earnings. They ask for your debit card number and PIN, then issue you a counterfeit check. Once you and the bank discover that the check is fake, the fraudster will have already withdrawn funds from your account. 

This scam is particularly damaging as you may not only have to cover the stolen funds but also face additional fines and legal consequences for trying to use a fraudulent check. 

A photo of imitation money with wooden cubes on top that spell out “scam”
Source: Tara Winstead

Friend, Family Member, or Romance Scam

A fraudster may gather information about you and the people you know and contact you by pretending to be one of them. They may claim to need your urgent financial help for situations such as:

  • Bail
  • Hospital bills
  • Airport detention

Such individuals typically ask you to send cash or pay them via gift card, wire transfer, or a payment service such as Zelle®, PayPal®, Venmo®, and Cash App®

Similarly, the fraudster may create a fake dating app or chat room profile and, after building rapport with you online, ask you to open an account or deposit checks on their behalf.

Fake Career Opportunities

If you’re a student or an individual looking for a job, you should beware of fraudsters creating listings on social media and job boards and advertising fake scholarships, student grants, or job offers. In some cases, they may contact you directly to promise you the appealing opportunity. Oftentimes, such offers require you to pay an upfront fee or provide sensitive information to apply.

To avoid getting scammed, only apply for scholarships and jobs via trusted sources, such as college and government websites and well-known job boards.

Rental Scam

Fraudsters may also pose as landlords and rental agencies. They post fake rental listings, which are often suspiciously affordable. To secure the deal, they may ask you to provide an upfront payment or personal information, and then they will disappear. You should never take the required action until you’ve verified the legitimacy of the agency and seen the property in person. 

QR Code Scam

You should be careful when paying using QR codes. Fraudsters can create and place custom codes taking you to a fake website that can collect your debit card information. If the QR code is public and you can’t verify its authenticity by asking the staff, opt for another payment method. Tell-tale signs of a QR code scam include:

  • Signs of physical tampering with the QR code sticker
  • Unprofessional design of the website you’re directed to, low-quality images, and typos
  • Unsecure website URL (look for the triangle with an exclamation point symbol next to the URL)

Ransomware

Sometimes, a fraudster manages to trick you, and you end up downloading an attachment infected with malicious software that locks the operating system of your computer or mobile device. The fraudster can use this situation to blackmail you into paying them.

That’s why you should regularly update your security software and back up all your data to cloud storage. 

A photo of a Wells Fargo building
Source: Nick Sarvari

Other Ways Your Wells Fargo Debit Card Can Become Compromised

Unfortunately, scams represent only a portion of the methods fraudsters use to obtain your debit card information. The others are covered in the following table:


Method How It Works
Skimming Fraudsters can tamper with payment terminals and ATMs, installing a small device that can collect your debit card information. They may even install cameras and touchpad overlays to capture your PIN.
Password guessing If the password you use at a merchant’s website is weak, the fraudster can guess it using one of many techniques, such as trying all possible character combinations or the most common ones. Once they’re inside the account, they can acquire your debit card information.
Data breach Data breaches occur when the perpetrators manage to infiltrate companies’ databases to access confidential information like payment card numbers. Some of the vulnerabilities they can exploit include weak passwords, misconfigurations, or outdated security software.

How Wells Fargo Protects You Against Fraud

Wells Fargo takes many precautions to shield its customers from fraud and mitigate the potential consequences[2], such as:

  1. Account protection—Wells Fargo requires you to create a strong password to sign into the online banking platform. The password should be unique and never reused on other websites. You can also set up two-factor authentication, biometric sign-on, and voice verification as an additional layer of protection.
  2. Transaction protection—You may have to authenticate certain transactions like wire transfers or Zelle payments using one-time Advanced Access codes sent to your mobile device. Wells Fargo also offers customizable alerts for transactions, low balances, and other events[3].
  3. Encryption—The bank uses robust encryption to protect your online transactions. It only accepts browsers and operating systems that adhere to its stringent encryption standards.
  4. Fraud monitoring—To help detect fraud timely, Wells Fargo monitors accounts 24/7. If it detects suspicious sign-in attempts, it’ll lock your account temporarily. 
  5. Zero Liability protection—Consumer debit and credit cardholders get free Zero Liability protection, which means they are not responsible for any unauthorized transactions on their payment cards. However, as a debit cardholder, you must report the incident within 60 days of receiving the bank statement[4]

Virtual Cards—Your Safest Bet Against Online Threats

A photo of a person sitting on a bed next to a cup of coffee and using a laptop
Source: Tatiana Syrikova

The optimal way to protect your Wells Fargo debit card number is with virtual cards, which mask it with randomly generated numbers at checkout. When you use virtual cards, potential hackers who breach the servers of merchants you shop at can only access the virtual card numbers and not your real financial information. 

While Wells Fargo doesn’t offer virtual cards, many banks do, including American Express®, Capital One®, and Citi®. However, a dedicated virtual card provider such as Privacy can get you unparalleled customization options and convenience while providing the same level of security as banks.

Privacy Virtual Cards—What Real Security Looks Like

The next time you shop online, use Privacy Virtual Cards to shield your Wells Fargo debit card information.

With its BBB® accreditation, Privacy demonstrates its commitment to its customers and their safety. To protect sensitive user data, the company uses measures such as military-grade encryption, robust transaction monitoring, and two-factor authentication (2FA).

You can create two types of Privacy Virtual Cards, whose differences are covered in the table below:


Single-Use Merchant-Locked
The Single-Use Card closes shortly after the first transaction is completed. The Merchant-Locked Card “locks” to the first merchant you transact with.
It prevents potential hackers from making any purchases. It blocks purchases at other merchants in case hackers manage to steal it.
You can use it when you’re shopping on websites whose credibility you’re not sure of. You can use it for merchants you shop at frequently and for recurring payments, such as bills and subscriptions.

Privacy Cards are compatible with most U.S. financial institutions. They can be used at most merchants and websites that accept Visa® and Mastercard® payments, including Amazon, AliExpress, Shein, eBay, and Wish

Privacy—Secure and Seamless Transactions

Besides protecting your online transactions, Privacy offers benefits such as: 

  • Card pausing and closing—You can pause or close your Privacy Cards without affecting your real debit card or bank account. Privacy will decline all transaction attempts on the paused or closed card. This feature is especially beneficial for preventing unwarranted charges from subscription services you’re trying to cancel.
  • Spending limits—By setting spending limits, you can control your budget more responsibly and prevent sneaky merchants from overcharging you.
  • Privacy browser extension—Get the Privacy browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, or Safari, and enjoy fast and seamless checkouts. You don’t have to enter numbers manually every time you shop, as the extension autofills card details at checkout. iPhone and iPad users can also check out quickly thanks to the Safari for iOS extension.
  • Privacy app—Available for Android and iOS, the Privacy app lets you generate and manage cards on the go. You can receive in-app and email notifications whenever your cards are used or declined and track your account activity in real time.

With Privacy, you can choose between three pricing plans. The base plan is free for domestic purchases and includes up to 12 virtual cards a month and all the above-listed features. The other plans can get you up to 60 virtual cards monthly and additional features such as priority support and fee-free international transactions.

Ready to get started? Follow these steps:

  1. Create an account
  2. Provide the information needed to verify your identity
  3. Link a debit card or bank account
  4. Request Privacy Virtual Cards

References

[1] Wells Fargo. https://www.wellsfargo.com/privacy-security/fraud/bank-scams/, sourced October 2023
[2] Wells Fargo. https://www.wellsfargo.com/privacy-security/fraud/protecting-you/, sourced October 2023
[3] Wells Fargo. https://www.wellsfargo.com/online-banking/alerts/, sourced October 2023
[4] Wells Fargo. https://www.wellsfargo.com/assets/pdf/personal/debit-card/terms-and-conditions.pdf, sourced October 2023
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