Lambertville resident Joseph Scurti, 38, says he had a highly unpleasant customer experience at a Lambertville bank on Monday. That incident might not have been considered noteworthy in times past, but it set off a small, intense blaze on Facebook that provides a window into the power not only of social media, but also of determined, rational consumerism in the digital age.
The trouble began on Aug. 15, when Scurti asked a drive-through teller at the Wells Fargo Branch at 31 Bridge St. in Lambertville if he could cash a check without being charged a fee. Scurti didn’t have an account at the bank, but the check had been drawn against an account there by a client of his. The helpful teller said, “There is no fee, but we do need you to come inside and put a fingerprint on it,” according to Scurti.
But when Scurti finished parking his truck and entered the bank, he was told by an assistant branch manager that he would need to pay a $7.50 fee to cash the check, which had already been scanned. Scurti protested, and the drive-through teller owned up. The manager said the teller had made a mistake because she was new to the position, but he refused to waive the fee, according to Scurti.
Deciding to cut his losses and avoid a confrontation, Scurti left the Wells Fargo Branch, and drove to his own bank branch across town to deposit the check. The drive-through teller there examined the check and advised him that the scanner notations and handwriting on its reverse side would likely cause it to be returned and a $30 fee assessed.
With no immediate alternative, Scurti returned to the Wells Fargo Branch, explained the situation, and insisted that his check be cashed for free as promised by the teller. “I expect you to honor that, even if that is not your everyday policy,” he said.
“We’re not going to do that, and you need to leave,” was the manager’s reply, according to Scurti, who refused to do so, saying he wouldn’t leave until his ruined check was cashed without a fee. The manager threatened to summon the police, as is his legal right, and Scurti went outside to call Wells Fargo headquarters and try to obtain an intervention.
As he spoke on the phone, he noticed two Lambertville police officers walk by heading into the branch, and said to them, “Hold up fellas, it’s me you’re coming here for.” The officers spoke briefly to Scurti, then proceeded into the bank. When they returned, they indicated that they were sorry he had been told he could get his check cashed for free, but advised him not to return to the bank, Scurti said, adding that the officers were polite and sympathetic at all times.
Meanwhile, the customer service representative at Wells Fargo, who had placed Scurti on hold while she attempted to resolve the situation, returned to the cellphone call, and said she’d been informed that he hadn’t, in fact, been initially offered a free check cashing by the teller. Scurti was later able to get the check cashed by an uncle who holds a Wells Fargo account.
If you’re not yet hooked on this story, it’s because this author is unable to tell it as well as Joseph Scurti did in the Lambertville Group on Facebook. His excruciatingly-detailed, rambling, yet level-headed description of his experience managed to capture the attention and heart of this nearly 6,000-member social media circle, whose readers are unusually tightly knit, and whose administration keeps the page relevant and non-spammy. They relayed their own bank horror stories, suggested ways he could get a fair hearing, and posted on Wells Fargo’s Facebook page.
Scurti also received a couple of calls from Wells Fargo customer service resolution specialists, who expressed their concern for his plight, but apparently offered little in the way of explanation.
That explanation finally came Friday afternoon from Wells Fargo & Company in the form of a brief and direct statement:
“Traditionally, a fee is charged to non-customers cashing a check at our Wells Fargo stores. Our bankers have the discretion to waive that fee under unique circumstances, and that should have happened in this case. Our goal is for our customers and non-customers to have a positive experience when they come to our stores or interact with us in any other way, and we regret that wasn’t the case in this situation. That is our number one priority.”
In the end, while one person’s exasperation with a seemingly faceless institution may seem mundane to many in this age of ever-spiraling “fees” and surcharges, Joseph Scurti’s persistence and rationality in the face of extreme frustration has inspired many, and reflected well on an online and brick-and-mortar community that many call home.