Retired Florida couple loses $60K in bank account takeover scheme

Wells Fargo denies fraud claim, then refunds money following News 6 investigation

An 81-year-old retired Florida couple’s seven-month fight to prove their Wells Fargo savings account had been “burglarized” in the amount of nearly $60,000 ended with the funds being reimbursed.

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – An 81-year-old retired Florida couple’s seven-month fight to prove their Wells Fargo savings account had been “burglarized” in the amount of nearly $60,000 ended with the funds being reimbursed.

“As far as they were concerned, my husband or myself authorized these transactions, which we did not,” Helen Stevenson told News 6.

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The Brevard County couple’s bank records show the account was accessed at least 11 times in early March, moving cash to three online banking accounts, including Zelle, Apple Pay, and BankCorp .

“I found transactions for $15,000, $8,000‚” Stevenson said. “That’s not something that I would do.”

The only clue was a call from someone who claimed to be with Wells Fargo bank.

The caller simply asked if the Stevenson’s had an online account to which, they replied, they did not.

Just days later, the mystery cash transfers started. In fact, the first transfer on March 9 was flagged and the transfer for $2,700 was reimbursed by Wells Fargo.

The subsequent transfers were investigated, but the bank’s fraud department concluded the Stevenson’s had approved the transfers.

News 6 presented the records to the Orlando Headquarters of the U.S. Secret Service and agents were convinced the Stevenson’s had no knowledge of the online accounts or the transfers involved.

Special Agent in Charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster told News 6 the Secret Service is considering “a couple of different theories” that fall under the umbrella of bank account takeovers.

According to O’Brien-Buster, in many cases imposters will call bank call centers using personal information purchased online or the dark web.

“It might take two or three times of calling the call center, but eventually, someone will provide them access,” O’Brien-Buster said.

Senior Special Agent Roger Fuentes said seniors lost more than $1.7 billion in various internet crimes last year, including identity theft and data breach.

“Whoever stole their information probably saw they had a dormant account or an account that wasn’t used regularly,” Fuentes said.

News 6 contacted Wells Fargo and investigators reopened the investigation into the cash transfers and concluded the funds should be paid back to the couple.

In statement to News 6, Wells Fargo wrote in part, “After conducting a thorough investigation, we are pleased this issue has been resolved for our customer. We never want to see anyone become a victim. 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.”

Wells Fargo’s online security center has information on common fraud schemes and how consumers can protect themselves.

The Secret Service will continue to examine the records in this case.

If you think your bank account has been compromised, just email or text the words “Make Ends Meet” to 407-676-7428.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.