Home > General Rants & Raves, Identity theft, Information Security > Wells Fargo System “Crash” Spools Up Phishing Attempts But Did It Also Allow for Bypassing Credit/Debit Card Anti-Fraud Systems?

Wells Fargo System “Crash” Spools Up Phishing Attempts But Did It Also Allow for Bypassing Credit/Debit Card Anti-Fraud Systems?

Serendipity is a wonderful thing.  I was in my local MA bank branch on Monday arranging for a wire transfer from my local account to a Wells Fargo account I maintain in CA.  I realized that I didn’t have the special ABA Routing Code that WF uses for wire transfers so I hopped on the phone to call customer service to get it.  We don’t use this account much at all but wanted to put some money in it to keep up the balance which negates the service fee.

The wait time for customer service was higher than normal and I sat for about 20 minutes until I was connected to a live operator.  I told him what I wanted and he was able to give me the routing code but I also needed the physical address of the branch that my account calls home.  He informed me that he couldn’t give me that information.

The reason he couldn’t give me that information was that the WF "…computer systems have been down for the last 18 hours."  He also told me that "…we lost a server somewhere; people couldn’t even use their ATM cards yesterday."

This story was covered here on Computerworld and was followed up with another article which described how Phishers and the criminal element were spooling up their attacks to take advantage of this issue:

August 21, 2007   (IDG News Service)  — Wells Fargo & Co.
customers may have a hard time getting an up-to-date balance statement
today, as the nation’s fifth-largest bank continues to iron out service
problems related to a Sunday computer failure.

The outage knocked the company’s Internet, telephone and ATM banking
services offline for several hours, and Wells Fargo customers continued
to experience problems today.

Wells Fargo didn’t offer many details about the system failure, but
it was serious enough that the company had to restore from backup.

"Using our backup facilities, we restored Internet banking service in about one hour and 40 minutes," the company said in a statement today. "We thank the hundreds of team members in our technology group for working so hard to resolve this problem."

Other banking services such as point-of-sale transactions, loan
processing and wire transfers were also affected by the outage, and
while all systems are now fully operational, some customers may
continue to see their Friday bank balances until the end of the day,
Wells Fargo said.

I chuckled uneasily because I continue to be directly impacted by critical computer systems failures such as two airline failures (the United Airlines and the TSA/ICE failure at LAX,) the Skype outage, and now this one.  I didn’t get a chance to blog about it other than a comment on another blog, but if I were you, I’d not stand next to me in a lightning storm anytime soon!  I guess this is what happens when you’re a convenient subscriber to World 2.0?

I’m sure WF will suggest this is because of Microsoft and Patch Tuesday, too… πŸ˜‰

So I thought this would be the end of this little story (until the next time.)  However, the very next day, my wife came to me alarmed because she found a $375 charge on the same account as she was validating that the wire went through.

She asked me if I made a purchase on the WF account recently and I had not as we don’t use this account much.  Then I asked her who the vendor was.  The charge was from Google.com.  Google.com?

Huh?  I asked her to show me the statement; there was no reference transaction number, no phone number and the purchase description was "general merchandise."

My wife immediately called WF anti-fraud and filed a fraudulent activity report.  The anti-fraud representative described the transaction as "odd" because there was no contact information available for the vendor.

She mentioned that she was able to see that the vendor executed both an auth. (testing to see that funds were available) followed then a capture (actually charging) but told us that unfortunately she couldn’t get any more details because the computer systems were experiencing issues due to the recent outage!

This is highly suspicious to me.

Whilst the charge has been backed out, I am concerned that this is a little more than serendipity and coincidence. 

Were the WF anti-fraud and charge validation processes compromised during this "crash" and/or did their failure allow for fraudulent activity to occur?

Check your credit/debit card bills if you are a Wells Fargo customer!


  1. August 22nd, 2007 at 13:47 | #1

    Eek. That would be a pretty interesting "fail open" scenario if it turns out to be related.

  2. August 22nd, 2007 at 15:37 | #2

    Trying to find anyone who might shed light on that is going to be next to impossible…I don't think we'll ever know if it's the case, but it would suck monkey bones if that was what happened.
    It just sounds too suspicious; the sorts of artifacts that can occur in cascading failure modalities allow these silly things from happening…I just hope they don't happen again.
    Like I said, I've been impacted by all of these glitches thus far, so stay the hell away from me in times of national crisis! πŸ˜‰
    Missed ya @ BeanSec. Fantastic turnout. You know it's happenin' when Chris Eng shows up. W00t!

  3. Randy
    January 29th, 2010 at 17:26 | #3


    I made an online purchase with my WF VISA on the 17th of Jan. Today WF fraud called to inquire if I had changed my address to another state (Long Beach, Ca) and my credit card was maxed out.

    WF called in a timely fashion. I’m surprised, actually.

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