Friday, April 13th, 2012

My Conversation With A Wells Fargo Fraud Specialist

Wells Fargo Fraud Specialist: Hello, ma’am.

Me: Hi, how are you?

WFFS: There were some false charges on your card?

Me: Yes, that's right.

WFFS: Okay, I am going to go through the previous week of charges with you to make sure that everything is legitimate. I'll read off the charges and you just tell me yes if the charge was yours or no if it wasn’t.

Me: Okay… Well, I was on vacation the week before, so there are probably some weird charges.

WFFS: I’m showing a $750 dollar charge at a Hotel Tiz… ano in Rome on March 20th.

Me: Yes! Right. It’s a hotel in Rome and I was there for five days. That sounds expensive, I know. But the location was really amazing and breakfast was included.

WFFS: A $25 charge at Farma-cia Roma, also on March 20th.

Me: Yeah, I got a little sick on the plane… You know you have to go to a pharmacy to even just get cough drops in Europe? Not that I paid $25 for cough drops! I got these zinc tablets…

WFFS: I’m also showing a $200 charge at Leather World on March 21st.

Me: Oh wow. Right! Yes. I know that must sound so strange, but it’s a shoe store. Just normal shoes. Not… It’s just that they don't understand how creepy that sounds. I mean, not creepy, but just like a weird sex store… which it wasn't! Totally was not that. Just a shoe store.

WFFS: I’m showing another $200 charge at Leather World, also on the 21st.

Me: That’s a funny story. I tried on two pairs of boots. Everything was on, like, super sale. One I loved and bought right away because there weren’t many sizes left, but one I wanted to think about it a little bit because they were suede and I was worried about suede being too high maintenance… Do you own any suede shoes?

WFFS: I’m showing a $20 charge to iTunes, also on the 21st.

Me: Oh right. I bought Gladiator and Eat Pray Love. Oh my God, you must think I have the worst taste ever! I was going to see the Coliseum and I figured that I should watch Gladiator, you know? Not that I think that movie is accurate! At all! God, no! I was a Comparative Literature major in college and I have read real books about ancient Rome. I wrote a paper on the role of the gods in The Iliad—I decided they were how those cultures thought of luck and natural skill, you know? Which is… not in Rome, I realize, but… I just thought it would be fun to see what the Coliseum might have looked like back then. And that’s really the reason I bought Eat Pray Love, too. I really just wanted to see the shots of Italy. In a fun way… I would never read that book. All of that spiritual finding-the-goddess-within stuff is really not my thing.

WFFS: (Pause) A $45 charge at Il… Chi… anti on the 23rd.

Me: Yes.

WFFS: A $15 charge at Tutti Gelati on the 23rd.

Me: Yes.

WFFS: A $20 dollar charge at Tutti Gelati, also on the 23rd.

Me: Jeez, that probably totally looks like fraud, right? Because who eats $35 worth of gelato in a day? But you have to try that gelato! They have more than 40 flavors, including whiskey, which was actually really delicious…

WFFS: An $80 dollar charge at Leather World on the 22nd?

Me: Right. But just back to the gelato for a second. It's supposed to be the best gelato place in Rome—I did tons of Yelp research… not that I’m one of those people who lives and dies by what "everybody else" thinks, but I really find the recommendations on Yelp are usually pretty solid. And I really just wanted to experience Rome and enjoy myself and really just soak up… Jeez, how Eat Pray Love do I sound?? I mean… OK. Truth? I totally read the book. Twice. I just tell people I haven't read it because I'm a really serious reader and I don't want them to get the wrong idea. I'm reading Moby-Dick right now. I know a lot of really, really smart people who can't get through that book! Anyway, the Eat part is the best—and it’s mostly just about food in Rome… and she eats a ton of gelato and I thought: 'I need to do that!' I mean the Pray part kind of weirded me out. I’m not a meditator, really.

WFFS: A $25 charge at Cul de Sac, also on the 22nd.

Me: Yes… I'm sorry, can I just take two seconds to tell you why I went back to Leather World? I must sound like some kind of crazy sex…

WFFS: We have a lot of charges to get through, ma'am.

Me: Sorry, I know. Go ahead.

WFFS: I'm showing a $12 charge at Il Colosseo, Palatino… on the 22nd?

Me: Yes! I had mostly been paying for museum tickets with cash—that's why they're not showing up! You must think I just went to Rome to go SHOPPING! But I'm not a shopper at all. In fact, I only went back to Leather World because I realized they had cute wallets for gifts and I hadn't been on vacation in, like, two years—I forgot you have to constantly be looking for gifts and that sale really was pretty amazing. Also, when I'm at a place like a museum, I don't really like to be in a commerce mind-set, you know? I like to just soak up the art and really breathe it in and not be like, ‘Whatever, Mona Lisa, I can only stand here for five seconds and look at you because I have to run to the gift shop so I can buy my mom a Mona Lisa oven mitt!’ Not the Mona Lisa… I mean, I know that's in Paris. But it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, who was Italian!

WFFS: I'm showing a $20 charge at the Vatican gift shop on the 23rd.

Me: Well, right. They won't let you take pictures of the Sistine Chapel, so my hands were pretty much tied. And I did need postcards. Okay… sorry, what is your name?

WFFS: Alice.

Me: Can I just level with you, Alice? I was in kind of a weird place. I mean, I had always wanted to go to Italy, but I always thought I would go there on my honeymoon or something, you know? But all of the sudden, I'm like, ‘Holy crap, I’m 35 and maybe I'm never going to get married!’ Not that I want to put that kind of negative energy out there and I'm not one of those crazy obsessed women. But it crosses my mind, especially since it feels weird to even try and date in your mid-30s, because everyone seems to see you as some kind of ticking fertility time bomb. And I know that’s insane, because there's so much they can do these days. Not that I want to be one of those people having babies at 50, that are all scary and translucent because of the bizarro cocktail of fertility drugs I had to take. Anyway, I can have kids on my own, right? I mean, it's not ideal, but it's possible! That was kind of my thing in going to Italy. I'm like, ‘I am through waiting, you know? I am a professional woman who pays her own rent and makes her own way… Do I really, really want to put off a trip to Italy because of a stupid guy? Or a lack of stupid guy?’ Anyway, I just decided I was going to go!… Actually, it's funny, I decided to go after reading Eat Pray Love, but that’s not why I decided to go. And it's not like I don't have friends! I do! It's just that when you get to a certain age, you can't really travel with your friends, because they're mostly coupled off, you know? And then everybody's financial situation is different and they're having some baby or another and it's really hard for some people to get time off… I just don’t want my life to be on hold anymore, you know?

WFFS: I'm showing a $70 charge at the Vatican gift shop, also on the 23rd?

Me: Oh right. That was a scarf. And I'm so glad I went. I was just like, 'I want to see Rome! And I am not going to wait for some perfect moment!’ You know? Because if I waited for the perfect moment, I might never see Rome! So, I was like, ‘Screw this! I'm going to Rome and I'm staying in a nice hotel!’ Breakfast was not included, by the way. I just made that up because it sounded expensive. But I was like, ‘I'm going to treat myself! I'm going to eat pasta and gelato all day! I'm going to buy beautiful scarves and 200 dollar boots!’ It’s so funny… those boots weren't even on sale. Leather World was having a sale—it's why I went in, in the first place. But none of the boots I got was one sale. I hate that about sales, you know? The cute stuff is never marked down.

WFFS: A $30 charge at the Farmacia Roma on the 23rd.

Me: God, I'm really not that sickly. Just I was having some digestive issues from all of rich food, I think. But, you know, I had been getting sick a ton. That was part of what made me think, ‘I am going on this vacation,’ you know? I got sick five times last year. Five times! I have gotten to the point where I'm too embarrassed to call in sick! And I'm not one of those people who gets sick all the time. I have to tell you, Alice, just going on vacation felt amazing. I'm not saying it was easy. There were moments when it was really weird, but for the most part, it was amazing. And, honestly, I really like Eat Pray Love. It's pretty great. Not, you know, GREAT great—like you need to read it with the necessary irony. It's not Macbeth, right? But it’s really funny in parts, and I think it has a lot to say!

WFFS: Then a $45 charge at Pane e Vino on the 24th?

Me: What? Oh, yeah. And really, Alice, everything has gotten better since my trip. My feelings about work, my family relationships. I finally am starting to feel back to my old self, you know? I moved to New York from LA last year and it was a really… I'm a Capricorn. Are you into astrology at all? I'm actually not, but sometimes it's fun to think about and I am such a Capricorn in certain ways. Like I tend to be so work focused that other parts of my life can slip by the way-side. And I know that work is not the most important thing, but sometimes it feels like the easiest thing to focus on for me.

WFFS: And finally, a $102 dollar charge at the Lancome duty-free store in Roma.

Me: Oh yeah. My plane was delayed and I went a little crazy. Seriously though, I'm not much of a shopper normally. The make-up deals were pretty amazing, though, and there's this great part in Eat Pray when Elizabeth Gilbert buys herself $1000 worth of lingerie….

WFFS: Okay, ma'am, those are all of the charges in question. We’ll be sending you an affidavit through the mail. You’ll need to sign that and send it back to us. Please feel free to call us if you have any more questions.

Me: So, Alice… where are you based? Are you near New York? Maybe we could meet for coffee? I could show you my boots?

Stacey Vanek Smith is a reporter for the public radio show "Marketplace." She grew up in Idaho and currently lives in Brooklyn. She is not obsessed with shopping. Photo by brianandjaclyn.

31 Comments / Post A Comment

fletchermurdock (#231,900)

So you went to Rome? Great.

nonvolleyball (#9,329)

@fletchermurdock I think you meant to say "Congratulations. How wonderful."

jfruh (#713)

Actual conversation my wife had with the Visa fraud people after her pocket was picked in Barcelona:

Them: OK, we've shut down your card for all of Latin America.

Her: What? No, Barcelona. It's in Spain.

Them: The middle east?

Her: …

pepper (#676)

Would you like fries with that?

thistvlist01 (#231,973)

@pepper I think not

hockeymom (#143)

Prepare for three more calls from the fraud department. They'll ask you the same questions over and over again until you confess to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

Sean Lai (#14,158)

I have never been to Rome and have no money to splurge like this and probably wouldn't go this far out even if I did, but there's something about this that I totally identify with. I think it's the idea that you recognize that you're reading a faddish book, or spending "too much" money on boots, and don't really care, but somehow feel like you're supposed to care and have to justify it. Even to a fraud specialist on the phone.

Rosebud (#4,107)

@Sean Lai Never justify. I'm sure the fraud specialist has seen weirder.

notfromvenus (#232,002)

@Rosebud I'm sure they have! I've heard that a lot of strip clubs these days are requiring a thumbprint to charge anything, because SO MANY GUYS were claiming to the bank (err, their wives) that the charges they made were fraudulent.

sigerson (#179)

I think we should all get together at the next Awl Ball and stage a dramatic reading of this post.

GailPink (#9,712)

So, all the charges were legit, I guess.

AudreyThree (#231,507)

@GailPink It seems as though she called just for some human contact.

MissMushkila (#42,100)

@GailPink I thought it was one of those scenarios where the bank shuts down your card for "suspicious charges" and you have to call them and go "no really that was me" over and over again. Wells fargo did it to me once for buying gas twice in one day?

@GailPink yeah, I've had to do that once or twice since I moved to the Netherlands but kept a US bank account open. It's annoying, especially as my cellphone won't call overseas and I have to find a phone card and look, those are my charges!

notfromvenus (#232,002)

@MissMushkila Hah, Bank of America called me once because they thought the tuition payment I'd made with my student checking account was suspicious. I mean, I'm glad they're looking out for me, but really?

josh_speed (#97)

for me this is hilariously funny because i do in real life find myself telling retail folks and others way too much superfluous information, and they're all like, "You don't get out much, do you?"

Vicky (#7,168)

@josh_speed I don't talk at all at the office, which leads to me just exploding with words at the first person I talk to at the end of the day. It usually ends up something like that, only to a bartender or something. And the first few sentences are all out of order, somehow.

BardCollege (#2,307)

This sounds like something out of a DFW short story. Which I LOVE about it.

bassknives (#2,903)

@BardCollege I love that airport too. Great Shopping!

Smitros (#5,315)

If you can bring joie de vivre to a conversation like this, why the hell not?

JennyBeans (#7,034)

LOVE. And only partially because I hear Stacy Vanek Smith on the radio regularly. Mostly because, well, I totally identify with this. Like, completely. Ugh. Yeah, there's no need to explain to the fraud people, but…you gotta keep up appearances!

Luckily, when my account got hacked, it was at a particularly boring time for me and all the weird charges were on the criminal side. Both the bank rep and I wondered how it was possible to spend $250 in one shot on facebook (answer: farmville, apparently? And facebook now has some weird independent banking system in place?).

che (#231,426)

@brilliantmistake When mine got hacked, they bought all kinds of weird mail-order shit (and some monthly subscriptions, which were HELL to get rid of), but had it all delivered to my address. In my name. Including flowers. I'm not sure if they were just really dumb, or if they were trying to teach me a lesson about making my wireless more secure…

notfromvenus (#232,002)

@brilliantmistake Yeah, when somebody stole my credit and debit card numbers (pretty sure it was an ex-coworker of mine?), it was fortunately REALLY obvious it was fraud. My charges were like, gas-Safeway-CVS-gas-pizza-Netflix-gas etc for months, and then literally thousands of dollars at Armani Exchange and Nordstrom. I was surprised at how much harder it was to get the debit charges taken off, though.

@che I had the same thing! They sent the NYTimes Sunday paper to my old apartment every week and then I didn't get the bill for months. Also bought a bunch of things on "Bill Me Later" at places like, which was hell to get straightened out.
But the actual charges that caught the person were multiple charges under $100 at and at some place called onlinebidz(sic).com. I was quite impressed with my credit card company for catching it so quickly, and definitely amused that it was apparently the world's nerdiest criminal that stole my information.

dylanclarkk (#231,984)


merg (#189,572)

i was in rome that very same week and really wish i knew about the sale at leather world

kennycheany (#232,007)

nice one

drufus (#24,190)

Love your work on Marketplace, Stacey. Glad to see you posting on the Awl.

Blerg (#232,056)

I am so excited you stayed at the Tiziano! I lived there when I studied abroad for a semester in college and it is indeed the best location and all of the people who work there are so sweet! So, take it from this stranger on the internet: your $750 was well spent.

JeanetteHay (#238,264)

That was quite an interesting conversation. Did it truly happen? The fraud specialist sounded really patient talking to you. I liked how you digressed ever so often and talked about everything else other than the charges. I guess that call had to be one of the more interesting ones that the person had.
Jeanette –

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