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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wells Fargo's BAIT N SWITCH: A story of false advertising

There, I have said it. I don't feel any better but I feel justified to yell out from the top of the roof that Wells Fargo Bank did a BAIT AND SWITCH on, not just me, but also a number of small businesses this past year.

Let me explain how some small businesses rotate their monthly payments. As a roofing contractor, I go to my roofing supplier and open an account. Most wholesale suppliers will give me, the small business owner, a 1 to 2 percent discount if I pay the previous month's outstanding balance off early WITH CASH OR CHECK. This is because credit card companies charge merchants 1 to 2 percent and by paying cash, my supplier is passing on their savings to me, their friendly small business dude.

To counter this, credit card companies make special offers to small businesses. This is similar to the terms offered by Discovery Card, meaning, a certain percentage of your purchases is given back to you as a cash back/credit. They mail these offers out, with different percentages, attractive enough to catch the attention of small businesses.

Now, why would a small business change from paying cash/check to his supplier to using a credit card? Most small businesses don't get paid till after the job is done, and with a big project, this can be over 30 days, thus there's no savings to be had from the suppliers. So, with a credit card, the businessman can still earn a 1 to 2 percent cash back for the year.

An attractive offer, yes? As you know, I was on a big project the last year that provided exactly this scenario where I didn't have the cash on hand for an early payoff cash back through my supplier.


(At this point, I should insert my famous GREEK CHORUS wailing in the background: OH NOoooeeees! It be a Bait and Switch, honey!)

The offer was an attractive package of a grade that goes from 1 to 3 percent, depending on how much I charged on the account. I called up and the nice "banker" person was very friendly, answering my questions and taking my application. Through this conversation, in Feb 2007 sometime, I specifically told him I received their offer through the mail, the one that showed the rebate, and even gave him some number on top of the mailer. He explained to me exactly how it worked, and yes, it was exactly how I understood it.

My application was approved. Throughout 2007, I used the WELLS FARGO credit card to pay off my monthly balances at my suppliers. Even when I had the cash on hand (and could have gotten my 1 percent cash back), I figured I'd keep using the card because I'd already set up this system, and besides with WELLS FARGO, I get the incentive of 1 more percent. One more percent of $250,000 of building materials add up, girlfriends.

Well. Today, I called WELLS FARGO to ask about my rebate because it's now one year since I received my card. The "banker" person, friendly as ever, told me that I HAVE MISUNDERSTOOD and that I was on the OLD PROGRAM in which everything was capped at $500. The new program starts THIS YEAR, she said.

I said, "What old program? I signed up for the program you're explaining to me now."

She said, "No, ma'am, you signed up for the old program."

I said, "I never signed up for any old program because I never KNEW THERE WAS AN OLD PROGRAM. All I know is this program with the same rebate system you're telling didn't start till this year."

She said, "Yes, we switched this year."

I said, "I don't care when you switched. I never applied for your pre-switched program. When I applied, I had a mail offer that gave me back cash with no cap."

She said, "Ma'am, unfortunately, we switched that to this year."

I said, "So you're admitting you did a bait-and-switch on me then."

She said, "No, ma'am, unfortunately, we seem to have a communication problem."

I said, "No, I don't have any problems communicating. All I know is, I signed up for a WELLS FARGO credit card when they sent me a mailer with an offer of 2 percent rebate with no cap and now after a year, WELLS FARGO is telling me the rebate is capped at $500."

She said, "Ma'am, you'll have no cap this year."

I said, "What good does that do me now? If I had known last year that you baited and switched your initial offer, I would have at least made sure to get some cash back from my own supplier."

She said, "Ma'am, unfortunately (she liked to use this word a lot), I can't do anything. You're not getting any rebate other than the $500. This year would be different, though."

I said, "This year would be different because I'm not going to let WELLS FARGO bait and switch me again."

She said, "Unfortunately, we have a language barrier. I know you're frustrated, but you don't seem to be able to understand that you signed on to a different program."

I said, "Oh, I understand the language pretty well. You changed your terms after accepting my application. The mailer you sent out to me, the one with all those attractive terms? It didn't say anything about a $500 cap. That was just a come-on. Now, you're telling me that Wells Fargo put me on the "old" program. THAT, my dear, is the universal language for bait and switch."

At which point, said "banker" put me on hold for about 45 minutes. Came back and we went through this again. She wanted me to send her the "offer" mailer. I was, like, who keeps those mailers around?! What I have, I told her, was their letter of acceptance on which nothing was mentioned of any old program of a $500 cap. Then another 45 minutes hold. Her supervisor, she said, COULD NOT FIND my application package where I signed for this $500 capped thingie. Damn, could it be BECAUSE I APPLIED BY PHONE and they just sent me a "CONGRATULATIONS, YOU'RE ACCEPTED" letter after that?

Guess who: "Unfortunately, you must have misunderstood the terms, ma'am."

Guess who: "How could I have misunderstood terms that weren't on a mailing offer for which I applied? The initial banker never told me about any "previous cap." In fact, I asked him about the 2 percent...(I'm repeating myself, so I just shook my head here. Took a deep breath here.)...never mind. You're just going to "unfortunate" me to death. Can you please give me an address to send a letter of complaint, please? AND if this is a recorded conversation, I'd like to repeat: WELLS FARGO did a bait and switch with their cash back program. Lastly, judging from what you told me, about switching to the no-cap program this year, that tells me that you have been getting similar phone calls from similarly unfortunate businessmen and women with language problems."

So, yeah, I'm printing this blog out and sending it to the Vice President and Presidents of Wells Fargo (THANK YOU, ORACLE OF GOOGLE). Yeah, you, Mr. Falkenberg and yo, Mr. Shippee and Blenner. 2 percent of a few hundred thousand dollars may not sound a lot compared to a CEO's salary, but you stole that from me today. And from a currently non-working roofer, and UNFORTUNATELY my language is not very polite today, YOU SUCK. Wells Fargo SUCKS. I bet there are many of us right now, whose cheated money you're now spending on your new vacation villas, who think so too.

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Anonymous said...

In Singapore, when a company - especially a bank - does something like this, we write to the newspapers and you should see the rush from the bank to respond publicly.

What Wells Fargo did really sucked. I hope you get a call from Wells Fargo with good news for you and a huge apology.

LadyZannah said...

Hear Hear, or is it Here Here? Whatever, I hope they get what is coming to them. I believe in karma and they have it coming.

sq said...

Yeah, notify local news stations b/c sweeps are coming up and this is a good human interest story. And let's not forget the local paper b/c if they got you they must've gotten others.

It's the big bad fat cat banks vs. poor, hard-working roofer. Think about Wells Fargo's rep and their PR. Their attorneys are gonna wanna settle just to keep the bad PR to a minimum.

Also, CC you're state attorney general. I'm from NYC and Spitzer & Cuomo are big on consumer fraud.

Kathleen Dante said...

Does Florida have a consumer protection agency? You might want to contact the state attorney's office to complain.

Gennita said...

Yes, one can send consumer complaints to the DA here or some sort of agency, I'm sure. Whether anything will be done out of it is another thing entirely.

Singapore is small enough that something like this would garner attention nationwide. For the States, one usually need a class-action suit, which is great for the lawyers. If it's a big enough piece of news like the class action suit against Wells Fargo's bait and switch in their mortgage lending (read it up last night), then it makes some noise.

Lady Zannah,
I don't think corporations think much about karma, if at all. I should tag that with..."unfortunately."

It takes a certain kind of personality to call up news agency and start a campaign like that. It's even better if I can find other people who also have the same experience. I'm not patient enough. And yes, I know Wells Fargo is banking on that.

But seeing that I have nothing to lose, I will write my letter to the President of Wells Fargo.

I will look up the info and write a letter. Now, if ONLY I have kept that flyer from last year....

Amie Stuart said...


THey suck big donkey balls!

We actually have a lotcal TV station that does a segment handling consumer complaints just like this. Not sure how much time/effort it would take to look into it but I hate to see ANYONE get screwed by The Man!

vanessa jaye said...

Amie, brings up a good point, Gennita, does your area have some local tv program that would do a feature on this? Here in Toronto one station has Silverman Helps on CityTV. He shows up at the business in question with his camera and puts them on the spot, plus we see all the backstory interviewing/investigations he does. If nothing else the sheer embarrassment gets results. There's also news show (a la 60 mins) call MarketPlace that also does investigative reporting on shyster business practices. He shows up at

Anonymous said...

You know what really pisses me off??? Is that she assumes that since you have an accent, therefore that makes you a dumb ass. My ears are ringing I'm so pissed. Language barrier my ass!


Gennita said...

She was really irritating with the "unfortunately"s, which she used to start every sentence. Like, "oh yeah, bitch, your misfortune, not mine, and oh hey, you can't understand me no matter how many times you say you do."


Marjorie Liu said...

I was going to open a Wells Fargo account, but no more! Holy crap, that's ugly.

Gennita said...

Just recheck anything you signed and again, after the first month's statement, to make sure they didn't switch and bait. My mistake was thinking they were going to rebate me at the end of the year, so I didn't ask. Also don't apply by the phone or online because of the convenience--there is NO evidence/proof that way that any offer was made. Lastly, read up on Wells Fargo and their switch and bait settlement when they were found to have scammed a bunch of people applying for mortgage.

Hmm. Well, on second thoughts, Wells Fargo sucks.

Anonymous said...

Impersonal Phone and internet business can get away with this because you never get to face the person you are dealing with. If you give your money to somebody in person and do not get the service or product you bought, you punch him in the nose, or make him another 38 caliber belly button.


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