Consumer Alert: A New Twist on an Old Scam

Scammers are using Wells Fargo ATMs to steal elderly victims’ money

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Grandparent scams have been around for years. Scammers call the victim, claim their grandchild is in grave danger and convince them to send money to help them out of whatever emergency they’re in.

Montgomery County police say three elderly victims recently reported losing thousands of dollars to a grandparent scam. But how they sent the money to the scammers is so brazen, it even took police by surprise.

According to the victims, the scammer told them to go to a Wells Fargo ATM to deposit their money. None of the victims are customers of the bank, but the scammer told them that didn’t matter. He stayed on the phone with them and gave them an access code and PIN. The scammer told the victims to deposit their cash into the machine. Once they did, the money was gone, no card required.

Wells Fargo allows customers to use its app to get a one-time access code for its ATMs. This card-less feature was first offered to customers in 2017 as a convenience. This means the scammers have access to Wells Fargo accounts.

“We can trace the account holders, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the account holders are actually the people behind the scams,” said Montgomery County Police Det. Lisa Bromley. 

Bromley said there are four Wells Fargo accounts associated with the three Montgomery County victims. But victims all across the country have deposited their money into those accounts as well.

Wells Fargo said they could not share any details about the three Montgomery County cases. However, they did say they are ending the ATM one-time access code feature at the end of this month. They sent us the following statement:

“It is heartbreaking any time a fraudster has scammed people of their hard-earned savings. We never want to see anyone become a victim of financial fraud – whether at our bank or any other.

"As we combat fraud, we understand the frustration and anger of those who are victims. We strive to continually improve our practices to better assist and support fraud victims. We want everyone who works with Wells Fargo to have a positive experience. We do not want any fraudsters to do business with us, and since receiving information on these specific situations, we conducted an in-depth review. When we identify account fraud, we take action to block the fraudulent activity, attempt to recover the funds and cooperate with law enforcement to help prosecute the fraudsters.

"Wells Fargo is regularly making improvements to enhance the convenience and security of the products and services we offer. Now that all Wells Fargo ATMs offer our customers contactless access using their mobile phone’s digital wallet, we have announced plans to discontinue the ATM one-time access code feature, effective April 1.”

As for the Montgomery County victims, at least one of them has gotten their money back from Wells Fargo since News4 contacted the bank. Police say there may be more local victims who have not come forward.

“Whether they don’t realize they’re a victim or they’re too embarrassed to make the police report,” said Bromley.

That’s why it’s so important to talk to your elderly family members about fraud.

  • Set up a family password they can ask for if someone calls and says they need money.
  • Set up alerts in their bank accounts that will send a notification to your phone if a large sum of money is suddenly withdrawn.

PNC Bank also offers the one-time access code feature at its ATMs. They said they have not had any reports of this scam.

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