The point of Zelle was to be able to make easy, quick transactions between friends and family who trust each other: There is no fraud protection for you (or any way to get your money back) once you send it through Zelle. So it didn’t take long for scammers to recognize an opportunity—and figure out a way to trick you out of your money but having you send it to yourself.
How does the scam work?
A scammer reaches out to you through text, phone, or email. They usually say they’re from one of your banks, with the “Did you approve this $500 purchase?” technique. Since there isn’t an actual transaction, people usually respond back with a “no” (we’ve covered why you should not do that). Then they tell you your money is being drained out of your account and the solution is to transfer it out by sending it to “yourself” through Zelle.
The trick here is one that would work on victims who are not very familiarized with Zelle. The “banker” asks the victim to send the money to an account the scammer created using the victim’s name, but changed the phone number on the account to the scammer’s phone number. This way, when the victim sends the money, it looks like they’re sending their funds to themselves, but in reality, the money is going to the scammer’s number. It doesn’t matter what the name on the account is—you can change your father’s contact name to “Barack Obama” if you want, but when you call the account, it’s always going to be your dad. What matters is the phone number or email attached to the account.
How to avoid scams like these
If you’re ever contacted by a “bank” claiming funds are being taken out of your account, never respond to the text, call back, or reply to the email. Instead, call the official customer service number of your financial institution and ask if what you are being told is true.
Apart from this, never send any money to Zelle to anyone you don’t know. Your bank cannot and most likely will not help you if you sent money to someone through Zelle and it ended up being a scam. That responsibility falls on you, so be aware and keep educating yourself on the latest tricks and scams to avoid being a target.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
As we’ve stated, there is nothing your bank can do to get your money back if you gave it away through Zelle; however, some banks, like Wells Fargo, have given the money back to some victims. So it doesn’t hurt to let your bank know of the situation.
The next best thing is to report it to officials. If the scam was online, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. If not, your best bet is to contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the fraud.