Nardiello was having a dispute with an attorney about some legal bills. He wrote a check for $6,666.66 — a bit of dark humor on Nardiello’s side, which in retrospect might have been a bad omen — to the law firm.
“It was to send them as a message,” he said.
The check was dated Feb. 25, 2013, and hand-delivered to the law firm on that day, Nardiello said.
“When I was driving home, I started to feel again like I was getting ripped off,” he said.
So he decided to cancel the check, which was written from his checking account with the Kenilworth Wells Fargo, where he had been a customer for more than three years.
“I made the call to stop payment,” he said. “I was told it was done and received a paper confirmation also stating this. To my dismay, I later learned this was not the case.”
Before he knew there was trouble, everything seemed on the up-and-up.
Nardiello said the Wells Fargo rep who took his stop-payment order on Feb. 26 never mentioned anything about not being able to process his request. The rep told him it was a done deal, he said, and several days later he received written confirmation.
“On 2/26/2013 we processed your request to stop payment on the check or pre-authorized electronic transfer listed below,” the letter said, detailing the transaction.
Nardiello’s account was charged a $31 fee for the request.
But soon enough, Nardiello learned the money was no longer in his account. Despite the stop payment order and the written confirmation from Wells Fargo, Wells honored the check.
“I felt violated,” he said. “I felt I got ripped off by the bank.”
Nardiello said he called the bank’s 800-number, and he said Wells promised to look into it.
He said he never got a response, so he called several more times, but as the months passed, no one reached out to explain anything to him.
So in November 2013, Nardiello put his complaint in writing and sent documentation to the bank via certified mail.
No one from the bank answered him.
In January 2014, Nardiello decided to try Wells Fargo’s top exec, John Stumpf.
“This stop payment oversight cost me over $6,000 that I can ill afford and I feel that it is the fault of your employees not doing their jobs,” Nardiello wrote. “From what I gather, your bank has insurance for just such mishaps and I am of the opinion that this incidence would qualify for such coverage.”
Nardiello again included his documentation.
On Jan. 23, a Wells Fargo “Senior Correspondence Specialist” responded, writing that the bank was researching the issue and it would respond in 10 business days.
The response, dated Feb. 5, wasn’t what Nardiello wanted to hear.
“Please be advised that when a customer calls to request a stop payment order they are informed that we do not guarantee the stop payment of the check if it has already been accepted by Wells Fargo for processing,” the rep said, noting that the check had already posted to Nardiello’s account when he requested the stop payment.
“Our response remains the same,” the letter said. “We respectfully decline your request for a refund.”
HITTING A WALL
It didn’t make sense to Nardiello. He had written confirmation from the bank that the stop check order was indeed processed.
He tried more calls to Wells Fargo, but he hit a brick wall, he said.
So he turned to the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates Wells Fargo and other national banks.
His complaint was filed on June 5, and on June 12, OCC wrote to say it was reaching out to Wells.
And on June 16, the same Wells “Senior Correspondence Specialist” responded with a no. The rep said the bank received a request from OCC to review the case, but the bank’s findings wouldn’t change.
“While we understand your frustration, our position remains the same,” the letter from Wells Fargo said. “As stated in our previous response, stop payments are not guaranteed if the check has been accepted by Wells Fargo for processing.”
The letter did not acknowledge, mention or discount in any way the written confirmation Nardiello had received about the stop check order going through.
So Nardiello went back to OCC, asking for further assistance.
As part of his request, Nardiello mentioned FDIC insurance to OCC, saying, “From what I gather this covers bank failures as well as ordinary robberies and embezzlement and the like. Surely, Wells Fargo must have insurance if one of their employees fails to carry out a stop payment order from a long-time depositor.”
While he waited to hear back from OCC, Nardiello contacted Bamboozled for help.
AN INTRICATE CASE
We reviewed the paper trail and reached out to Wells Fargo.
While it investigated the case, we looked at some of this case’s intricacies.
First, Nardiello had the wrong idea about FDIC insurance.
“FDIC insurance only covers consumer accounts if a bank is closed,” a spokesman said.
The FDIC web site explains further about different coverages an institution may have, including a banker’s blanket bond, “which is a multi-purpose insurance policy a bank purchases to protect itself from fire, flood, earthquake, robbery, defalcation, embezzlement and other causes of disappearing funds.”
Perhaps that could help Nardiello.
We next turned to the OCC to better understand what regulations would govern stop check orders.
It suggested we look at the Uniform Commercial Code, Article 4-403. It discusses stop payment orders, but it doesn’t offer anything specific about what happens in a case like Nardiello’s.
And then we talked to Wells Fargo, and what the bank said made the insurance issue moot.
Wells said the check was cashed on the same day it was written, Feb. 25.
Hang on a second. Nardiello called Wells to stop the payment on Feb. 26, and the Wells rep accepted his request. Shouldn’t the rep have been able to see that the check was already cashed? Or at least see some kind of hold on his account?
“There are nuances in the check-clearing process between banks,” said Wells spokesman Kevin Friedlander. “These nuances create timing issues so that in many cases our bankers cannot see what the true status of that particular item is at any given time.”
And what about the Feb. 26 letter from Wells, which Nardiello — and Bamboozled, for that matter — took to be a hard confirmation that the stop payment order was processed?
“While we make every good attempt to stop payment, we cannot guarantee that it will occur every time,” Friedlander said. “That’s why we put the disclaimer on the back of the notices.”
Yes, fine print on the back of the letter details exactly how a stop payment order works.
It says: “If the bank has already cashed the check or charged your account for the check or pre-authorized electronic transfer by the time your request is processed, your stop payment request will not be honored.”
That all makes sense. But the rep Nardiello spoke to on Feb. 26 never said the check had already been cashed. If Nardiello had been told, this argument probably never would have happened.
And now it looks like some of the notifications Wells sends to customers may be in for a change.
“We are always looking for ways to improve our customer experience and we are reviewing the language on the front page of the letter,” Friedlander said..
That doesn’t help Nardiello, but we hope that will bring more clarity to other customers.
And what about the $31 fee charged to the account for a stop payment that never happened?
Such fees are handled on a case-by-case basis, Friedlander said, and Nardiello can expect a refund to be posted to his account.
It’s not six-grand, but it’s something.
“If they had told me the check was cashed, the conversation would have ended,” Nardiello said. “With the automated stuff we have today, it should have been a piece of cake. If they can’t handle a simple stop payment request, how can they handle anything else?
“I hope another customer doesn’t get into the same predicament as me,” he said.
Amen, brother, but we’ll be here, just in case.