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Charged $7,853 by Wells Fargo after visiting a bar in Istanbul -- is this fraud?

Nicholas Butler gets charged $7,853 at a bar in Istanbul under shady circumstances. Will his bank step up and help him undo the charges?

While I was on vacation in Istanbul last year, I fell victim to a scam by some local thugs. They ran a "club" where they persuaded single male tourists to come in. Then they coerced them into paying thousands of dollars for bogus drinks ("champagne" that was cider and water, for example). They made it impossible to leave without the threat of violence.

Once I was inside, it was clear that the locals I had come with were working with the "club" to lure tourists in and bilk them of their money. I played dumb, realizing I had no choice but to stay; there was one exit down a flight of stairs and a bouncer who made sure no one was leaving until they got their money. Some charges they made me sign for; others they continued to charge to my card now that they had it.

They charged me on two credit cards: one Wells Fargo card and one Chase card. I eventually was able to leave and contacted both credit card companies the next day. I also filed a police report, which I provided to Wells and Chase. The police were aware of this fraudulent establishment and showed me mug shots of the owner, who I recognized. Immediately after I filed my police report, another tourist came in complaining of the same club with the same problem—only he had tried to leave. They threw him down the stairs.

Chase reversed the charges immediately. But Wells Fargo allowed every charge to go through that night. I contacted Wells Fargo's fraud department, told them what happened, and sent them the police report. Weeks later, they informed me that this could not be handled as fraud. They then said they had transferred the problem to Disputes. Disputes told me it was being handled by the Fraud department. Fraud sent it back to Disputes.

Meanwhile, they reinstated the charges without any notice. Wells Fargo has dragged its feet on this issue for almost three months. I've called them several times to see if there was any update. In the most recent call, it became clear that they hadn't read the police report I gave them. They asked me ridiculously basic questions, which indicated they had done nothing whatsoever about the case and had done no research of any kind.

The $7,853 charge has left me extremely stressed out about my finances. I am between jobs and need the money. Can you help?

Nicholas Butler, San Francisco

Wells Fargo should have quickly refunded your money. Wait, scratch that -- it should have never charged your credit card.

Why? Well, $8,000 at a bar in Istanbul should have triggered its fraud detection algorithms. Wells Fargo's algorithms are highly sensitive in my experience, and it should have flagged a charge of this size quickly. I'm surprised it didn't.

What happened? Wells Fargo has two separate departments -- one for fraud, the other for chargebacks. Neither department wanted to handle your charge, so they were going back and forth. Meanwhile, you refused to pay your credit card bill, so the dispute started to affect your credit report.

There's a way to break this impasse. You can contact a manager at Wells Fargo. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the Wells Fargo executives on my consumer advocacy site, A brief, polite email to one of them might have gotten this fixed. Wells Fargo's credit cards have a "Zero Liability" protection and say you won't be held responsible for any promptly reported unauthorized card transactions. Clearly, the charges to your card were made without your authorization.

I contacted Wells Fargo on your behalf. It reversed your charges and also helped you clear up the problem with your credit score.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him on his site.

© 2023 Christopher Elliott


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