Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wells Fargo, I wish I could quit you

Wells Fargo, I wish I could quit you, but I'm not even your customer.

See, they've been making my life pretty obnoxious of late.  Hopefully, things have been resolved and I won't have to hear from them, but I'm not certain of that.  So, if I'm not a Wells Fargo customer, how did they make life obnoxious?

It all started a couple months ago.  In the mail I got a letter from Wells Fargo saying that I owed them a little under a thousand dollars for property taxes.  There are so many things wrong with this.  First of all, I get tons of mail from people demanding money from me regarding my house, and essentially all of it is semi-fraudulent.  It may be borderline legal, but it's all stamped as a VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE about my mortgage and how it is in dire need of some company's monitoring services, or mortgage insurance, lower rates, or whatever.  The fact that I purchased my home for a certain amount through a certain bank is public record, and this information is used to make things look kind of official.  I was certainly fooled the first time I got it, but that didn't last long once I started getting one or two envelopes of fraudbait a day.  It's slowed down to a trickle now—actually, I can't remember a time in the last year that I've gotten something about it—but I just assumed this was something similar.

This letter from Wells Fargo was even less convincing than other notices I've received.  They didn't even try to sell me on some service.  They just said that I owed them money, but they said it was for property taxes.  They didn't even explain why that could possibly make sense—I'm not their customer, my bank pays my property taxes from my mortgage payments, and, well, they go to the state of Washington, not Wells Fargo.  They said that I had two options—send them a check for nine hundred eighty-something dollars, or fill out a form with all of my bank information so that they could handle things directly.

I thought about my options: I could just report the letter to the police, but I didn't really want to get involved with that.  I could write them back and tell them that they're crazy.  In the end, I decided to report this to my bank and ask them what to do.  They investigated, and told me that it was "most likely fraud," and I should not deal with them in any way.  So that's what I did.

Many weeks passed, and I became certain that I had made the right choice until eventually I got another copy of the same letter, with the words SECOND NOTICE stamped on it, and no paper asking me for bank information.  This time they just wanted a check.  I was quite surprised to see this; I didn't think that a scammer would bother sending a second notice.  But, my bank told me to do nothing about it, so that's what I continued to do.

Last week, I got a third copy of the same notice.  It was stamped FINAL NOTICE, and a new paragraph was added to the bottom explaining that if I did not respond immediately I would be turned over to a collection agency, so I should call them immediately.  Sigh.  So, I called them.  I talked to a very disgruntled woman who was absolutely amazed when I said that I was not giving them any information on the insistence of my bank.  Even more annoyed, she assured me that the collection agency would be much less pleasant to deal with than Wells Fargo.  (So, great, now not only has Wells Fargo been annoying, but they have threatened me.)  Before angrily cutting me off, she suggested that I call my local tax office and talk to them.  That seemed entirely reasonable, and not out of line with my bank's wishes.

So I did.  I called the Washington Department of Revenue and talked to the only person answering the phones that day.  And I was admittedly surprised to find that he was cheerfully helpful and competent.  He looked up my tax records, and found out that there was some point to this nonsense.  Wells Fargo had paid my property taxes, and they wanted their money back.  The law prevents the Department from getting a refund of "my" tax money since they don't have any affiliation with me or my bank.  He was confused as to why they would have contacted me about it; they should have contacted my bank directly to sort this all out, and thought it was ridiculous that I was put through this nonsense.  But after that call, I had confirmation that no matter how bizarrely executed, Wells Fargo did have a reason for wanting that sum of money from someone, and why they wanted my bank account information.

I called Wells Fargo back and talked to someone new.  I explained to him that the person from the Department of Revenue said that they shouldn't be dealing with me at all.  He was confused by that, and not wanting to take my word on it, we had a three-way to sort it out.  A conference call, I mean.  The Department guy (same one as before since he was the only one there) gave the Wells Fargo guy a lot of details about my tax records, and told me that I should give them my bank information, and that Wells Fargo should stop talking to me about it.

They needed me to sign a document authorizing them to contact my bank to resolve the problems, and I had to fax that to them.  Luckily I was able to get into the office before the snowstorm began to send it off.  At this point I still had a small little 5% wariness that this was some incredibly elaborate identity theft scam, but in the end the only new information that I was providing them was my mortgage account number (not even my bank account number), and really, it seemed unlikely that anyone could do too much harm with that.  What are they going to do, pay my principal down?

I'm infuriated.  They've managed to take up a couple frustrating hours of my time thanks to their own screw-up.  It's not my fault, I'm not their customer, and there's no reason I can see that I should have to have done any of that.  But, I decided that continuing to do nothing on principle wouldn't help once I was turned over to a collection agency, and would almost certainly take up more of my time than doing nothing, and have more negative consequences for me in the end.  Realistically, all I can do about it is to try very hard to not do any business with Wells Fargo in the future.  I wasn't planning on it, though, so even that's a fairly idle threat.


Anonymous said...

They have people whom you can pay to deal with things like this. They call them attorneys and they are generally rather good at what they do.

When my credit is on the line, I tend to let a professional deal with it. It is also mildly entertaining to hear the people on the other end (in this case Wells Fargo) become much less terse when they are threatened by a member of your state's Bar Association.

Travis said...

I certainly considered getting a lawyer. But when what's on the line is primarily just my time, I decided it wasn't the best option. (Never mind the irony in saying that right after writing a lengthy blog post about the experience...)

If things turn out to NOT be resolved after all, I'll have to get one. But I'd rather not go through all that if I don't have to.