The screen at a Minneapolis Wells Fargo ATM mirrored thousands of others.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Wells Fargo ATMs fail from New York to Minnesota

  • Article by: CHRIS SERRES
  • Star Tribune
  • February 8, 2011 - 6:34 AM

Thousands of Wells Fargo & Co. customers were left angry and short of cash Monday after a majority of the bank's 12,000 ATMs nationwide crashed.

The outage, which began Monday afternoon, lasted for several hours and was still not fixed by the time branches closed. Many frustrated customers went from one Wells Fargo ATM to the next trying to withdraw their money, only to find "Out of Service" messages at every stop.

As of 8:45 p.m. Monday, Wells Fargo officials said they still did not know what caused the crash, though the bank had managed to fix the problem at all of its locations.

"All we can say is that we're aware of the situation and we're working to resolve it as quickly as possible," said Peggy Gunn, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo. "We apologize to our customers."

The Wells Fargo ATM failure is unusual -- both in its size and duration, say experts. Normally, ATM outages occur for one or two hours and are isolated to particular regions of the country.

But the failure Monday continued until after bank branches closed Monday evening in the Twin Cities, and shut down Wells Fargo ATMs in states all over the country, from California to New York.

"This is a huge deal," said Richard Crone, a bank technology consultant from San Carlos, Calif. "It's frightening when you consider that, for millions of Americans, their only lifeline to cash is their ATM." Crone said the failure could have been caused by anything from a security breach to a software glitch.

Thomas Brokl, 67, of Golden Valley, said he spent nearly an hour on Monday afternoon searching for a Wells Fargo ATM that worked. He ended up driving to three locations, and trying five ATMs, before finally walking into a branch in St. Louis Park.

Brokl said he asked a teller what had happened and was told that "more than 10,000 ATMs" had shut down across the country. However, the teller had no information on the source of the failure.

"What should have taken me 10 minutes took an hour," Brokl said. "The frustration was, they didn't seem to have a backup plan or the courtesy of letting me know what was going on."

Wells Fargo is the nation's fourth-largest bank and is the biggest bank, by deposits, in Minnesota. About one out of three households in the nation gets banking services through Wells Fargo.

Customers could still access their money Monday at non-Wells Fargo ATMs using their check cards, but this often meant several dollars in extra fees. Wells Fargo charges $2.50 for withdrawals on Wells Fargo accounts made at alternative ATMs, and the bank that owns the other ATM often charges its own fee of $2 or more.

Wells Fargo said it had not determined whether it would reimburse customers for the extra fees.

Gail Hillebrand, a senior attorney with the Consumers Union in San Francisco, said she was surprised the bank had not already pledged to reimburse the extra fees.

"I give them a very bad grade for assuring customers," she said. "That's a real slap in the face to not only make your customers go somewhere else to get their money, and then to hit them with a $2.50 fee."

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308

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