The fourth largest bank in the United States by assets, Wells Fargo, admitted last week that many of its customers received statements with other customers’ banking information included. In this security breach, those affected might have received a statement with a stranger’s account number, transaction detail, and in some cases, Social Security number. Other affected customers might have had their information compromised, with their details included on other customers’ statements, without their knowledge.
Wells Fargo through its spokesman Josh Dunn blamed the error on a “malfunctioning printer.”
The biggest threat is that with an account name and number, and a bank’s routing number which is public information, anyone can easily print a check. When presented, if the signature isn’t checked, could result in a withdrawal from the compromised customer’s account. For those whose Social Security numbers have been shared, the potential fraud could be worse.
My first reaction is to encourage customers to turn off paper statements opting instead for online statements only, but that won’t prevent every potential bank error. Online statements are much more secure than mailed statements.
If you’ve been affected, I would suggest changing your account number at Wells Fargo. This may be a significant process, particularly if you have direct deposit enabled or automated debits scheduled with outside vendors. It will be worth the effort, however, to ensure the compromised account number is no longer linked to you. If you Social Security number has been shared with a stranger, you should contact one of the credit reporting bureaus to freeze your credit. Your Social Security number can be used to open accounts in your name, using your credit history, so by working with the credit agencies you can opt to be notified if anyone tries to open a new line of credit.
Considering Wells Fargo’s error, the bank should offer to pay for credit monitoring services for affected customers.
Is this extra motivation for moving your money out of a big bank? There are many reasons to switch to a credit union, but this may not be a reason on its own. Mistakes like this one can happen at any institution, regardless of the company’s size.
I’ve used Wells Fargo for my primary banking services, ever since Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia, since Wachovia acquired First Union, since First Union acquired CoreStates, since Philadelphia National Bank merged with New Jersey National Bank forming CoreStates Financial Corporation.
If you’re a Wells Fargo customer, do you plan to close your account after this incident?
Published or updated October 23, 2011.