SAN ANTONIO — A man whose bank account was drained of nearly $3,000 in September turned to KENS 5's Eyewitness Wants to Know unit for answers after he said his bank of nearly 13 years declined to help him.
Aaron McWilliams said he was treating his 9-year-old daughter to sushi in early September when he discovered someone had used his debit card in a shopping spree at North Star Mall.
“I go to pay and my card was declined, which was crazy because I had $2,700 in there a few hours ago," McWilliams said. "I signed on to my Wells Fargo app—I had $8 in my account. I mean, I was shocked. I was stunned. Everything I had was gone in just a matter of minutes.”
McWilliams filed a police report and put a hold on his card. Wells Fargo gave him a $2,770.74 credit for the money that was spent at Journey's, Macy's, Champs and Finish Line, according to bank records.
But after a month-long investigation, McWilliams received a dreadful letter in the mail from Wells Fargo.
“November 4, they sent me a letter saying they deemed me responsible – or someone I knew responsible – for these charges, and they took the credit back. At the same time, I'd just put my paycheck in the bank,” McWilliams said.
His account was drained again, this time overdrawing his account. He said he borrowed money from friends to pay bills and spent weeks going back and forth with representatives from Wells Fargo.
"They got me on the phone with an 800 number, a faceless person, and she told me, 'There's nothing I can do to resolve this, to change this outcome.' That really made me angry. I actually was pretty hot, and I said, 'OK, you haven't heard the last of me,' and I hung up on her."
Days after that call, he wrote a letter to the Wells Fargo board of directors, which he shared with KENS 5's Eyewitness Wants to Know, hoping someone could get him answers.
KENS 5 reached out to Wells Fargo regarding their decision to hold McWilliams liable. We asked the following questions:
- What factors led Wells Fargo claims investigators to hold Mr. McWilliams liable for the charges to his account?
- What process does Wells Fargo go through before holding customers liable for fraudulent charges?
- Does Wells Fargo communicate with local authorities during their investigation into whether the charges were fraudulent?
- Is there potential for Mr. McWilliams’ case to be revisited?
Wells Fargo sent the following statement in response:
"Customer security is our top priority. We make every effort to prevent fraud and make sure our customers do not encounter the inconvenience and challenge of dealing with this experience. While threats continue to change and evolve, Wells Fargo remains aware and vigilant.
We continuously monitor customer accounts for potentially fraudulent activity and when we identify fraud has occurred, we take action to help protect our customers, stop the activity, and prevent it from happening again. We do not share our anti-fraud systems, procedures and strategies in detail to preserve their effectiveness. However, while we cannot comment on specific customer claims due to customer privacy and confidentiality, we can say that we have a thorough investigation process to research all claims.
We are happy to assist customers who have concerns about any possible security issues and encourage them to contact us."
Days after KENS 5's questions were asked, McWilliams' money was returned.
"Wednesday morning at 6:05 I looked at my email and I had three e-mails from Wells Fargo, and I wasn't expecting this—it said my money was being returned. It brought me to tears. It really did. And I'm not a crier, but it's been a stressful situation.
"To know that I've been vindicated, because they're basically blaming me. That hurts when you know you didn't do it."
Even though he had to create a whole new checking account elsewhere, McWilliams said he's pleased with the outcome.
"The main thing for me was a teaching lesson for my daughter: If you're right, you don't give up," he said. "I didn't give up. And she'll remember this for the rest of her life. She's 9 years old. She'll remember dad stood up and it was rectified."
McWilliams said moving forward, he won't use his debit card for purchases and will instead use cash.
SAPD: 'We're grabbing all that information. We're putting people in jail. We're trying to protect the citizens of San Antonio.'
San Antonio Police Lieutenant Marcus Booth helms the department's financial crimes department. He said that there's a steady income of debit and credit card fraud cases and that the crime doesn't necessarily rise at certain points of the year.
"In almost all the instances its not the fault of the person that's the victim here," Booth said. "Once in a while, of course, we do see some people that intentionally gave their information to somebody else. Those are pretty rare."
Booth said the department works closely with banks to stop crime before it happens.
"We turn around and get information from these banks about where problems are occurring in the city. Sometimes it's a skimmer, sometimes it's a specific group of people that are writing checks and when they tell us these things, again, we're not getting it from the people who are account holders, we're getting it from banks and groups of banks."
From skimmers to stolen ID busts, Booth said the agency uses the information from banks to strategize.
"We're grabbing all that information, we're putting people in jail, we're trying to protect the citizens of San Antonio," Booth said.
Headvises people to refrain from using their debit card for purchases and said he personally only uses his debit card in limited situations because of the implications if it's ever compromised.
"With all the skimming issues we've been facing on both the pump side and the ATM side, debit card breaches tend to affect your checking account. That's bad. Nobody wants to suffer a freeze on their checking account or other payments coming in trying to get paid out."
Though some may be weary of new technology, Booth said Android and Apple Pay are both tools to minimize the chance of becoming a victim of fraud.
“Anytime your credit card comes out of your wallet it’s kind of at risk so the more you can keep it in your wallet and maybe use your phone and do those Android and Apple Pay, those are good things," Booth said.