Having the right tool for a job makes all the difference. But even the easiest tools require safe operation. When it comes to convenient payment tools like Zelle, using them safety includes awareness of scammers that are trying to take advantage of naive users. This article will cover some of the basics of these types of scams and what you can do to protect yourself, as well as resources to report a scam if someone tries one on you.
Are there Zelle Scams?
Yes there are, and it’s important to be aware that they are rising in frequency. Because Zelle allows users to quickly and easily transfer money between bank accounts, it’s a tantalizing target for fraudsters. Some common scams include phishing attacks, requests for money from strangers, and fake transactions for items that are never delivered. It’s important to be careful when using Zelle to avoid losing money to scammers. Legitimate banks and credit unions will work to protect members from unauthorized transactions, but users should always exercise caution when transferring large sums of money.
Why is Zelle Used for Scams?
Zelle is an attractive target for scammers for a few key reasons:
- Zelle offers fast bank account transfers, so scammers can quickly move money before the user realizes they’ve been scammed.
- There is less buyer and seller protection compared to services like PayPal.
- It’s widely used by major banks and credit unions, giving scammers broader access to targets.
- Users may be less cautious since money is transferred bank to bank, unlike other services where money goes to third-party accounts.
- There is potential for identity theft since users connect Zelle to bank accounts and contact info.
Scammers follow the money, and Zelle’s ease of rapid transfers makes it a prime target for fraud. Users should be extra careful when transferring money to people they don’t know.
How do Zelle Scams Work?
Zelle scammers use a variety of tactics to deceive users and steal money:
- Phishing – This refers to fake emails or texts pretending to be from Zelle or a bank asking users to take actions like updating account info by clicking a link that steals login credentials.
- Smishing – This is usually in the form of text messages from scammers pretending to be a bank. They claim to be following up on “suspicious activity” or “suspicious purchases.” The goal is to gain your account login info either through a fake link or a follow-up phone call from a fake bank representative.
- Fake payments – A scammer may send a payment notification pretending they sent the victim too much money as a trick to get real money sent back.
- Fake Upgrade Scam – One growing scam is an email notification appearing to be from Zelle that requests an account upgrade before completing a transaction. The scammer takes payment for an account upgrade that doesn’t exist.
- Employment Scams – These scams involve job offers that require the victim to payout money to purchase “equipment” needed to do the fake job.
- Transfers to “Yourself” – These scams are usually presented by callers claiming the transfer to yourself is necessary to reverse an unauthorized transaction. Zelle would never request something like this.
- Impersonation – Scammers pretend to be a family member or friend in need of quick financial help. With the rise in AI tools, this scam is increasing in use and severity.
- Fake sales – Payment is sent for an item (often found online) that is never delivered.
- Fake invoices – Users receive an invoice demanding payment for services never rendered.
- Fake Refunds – This scam usually comes in the form of an unexpected phone call from your bank claiming that they protected you from fraudulent activity. The caller then walks you through a complicated fake refund process to trick you into sending funds away.
What are Common Zelle Scams when Selling Online?
When selling items online and accepting payment through Zelle, there are some common scams to watch out for:
- Fake payment confirmations – The scammer sends a fake confirmation pretending you received payment. You ship the item, but the money never appears.
- Chargebacks – The buyer makes a legitimate payment but then fraudulently disputes the charge with their bank to get the money back.
- Partial payments – The scammer sends a partial payment and claims they will send the rest later. You send the item, but the remaining money never comes.
- Spoofed emails – Emails may look like they are from a legitimate buyer, but are actually from scammers trying to intercept payments. Verify the email address is correct before sending money or items.
- Third-party scams – A scammer poses as a third-party escrow service promising to hold the payment until the item is delivered. The service is fraudulent and does not send you the money.
When selling high value items online, avoid accepting Zelle and use services like PayPal that offer better buyer and seller protections.
Are there Zelle Scams on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist?
Yes, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and other sites where individuals buy and sell items are prime targets for Zelle scams. Some examples include:
- Fake buyers express interest in an item, offer to pay with Zelle, collect the seller’s details, but never send money. These details can be used to compromise the sellers identity and other accounts.
- Sellers receive fake Zelle payment confirmations for items that the scammer collects but never actually pays for.
- Scammers send part of the agreed payment and collect the item, promising to send the rest later but never do.
- Stolen accounts are used to interact with sellers so payments cannot be recovered when fraud occurs.
When transacting on sites like Facebook or Craigslist, deal locally and only in cash to avoid being scammed through Zelle or other money transfer apps. Be wary of buyers insisting on paying remotely with Zelle before collecting items.
How do Scammers Use Email to Scam you with Zelle?
Scammers use fake emails designed to look like they are from banks or Zelle itself to steal personal information and trick users into sending money. Some common email scams include:
- Phishing emails with links to fake login pages to harvest usernames and passwords.
- Messages with attachments containing malware that infects computers to steal financial information.
- Requests to confirm account details like SSN and bank account numbers for identity theft.
- Notifications of fake invoices or payments to scare recipients into sending money.
- Pleas for help from purported friends or relatives in need, attempting to take advantage of people’s generosity.
Always verify an email is truly from an official source before clicking links or attachments. Contact companies directly if you receive any suspicious requests by phone or email.
Will Zelle Refund Scams?
If you are the victim of a scam when using Zelle, whether you can get a refund depends on the specific circumstances:
- If unauthorized payments were made from your Zelle account, the bank may refund the lost money, just as with unauthorized credit card charges or debit transactions.
- If you authorized a payment but did not receive the promised goods or services, Zelle does not offer specific buyer or seller protections, so you would need to pursue the scammer or report them to authorities.
- Zelle’s policies may vary between partner banks and credit unions, so the institution associated with your account will determine if a refund is possible for authorized payments made under fraudulent pretenses.
- In general, Zelle does not take responsibility for payments legitimately authorized by the account holder, even in scam situations.
Prevention is key with Zelle scams. Only send money to trusted recipients and avoid transactions with strangers.
What Can I do if I get Scammed Using Zelle?
If you fall victim to a scam involving Zelle, take these steps to potentially limit your losses and avoid further fraud:
- Contact your bank or credit union immediately and report any unauthorized transactions. Ask if they can reverse the charges and refund any stolen money.
- Change your account passwords and enable two-factor authentication if available to prevent future unauthorized access.
- Report the scam to Zelle so they are aware of the fraudulent activity. Provide information on the offender to aid investigations.
- File a complaint with the FTC to make regulators aware of the scam.
- Report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. The more scam reports authorities receive, the more effective investigations they can undertake.
- Notify the platform where the scam took place, such as Facebook or a sales site, to get fraudulent accounts suspended.
- Warn others by reporting the scam on sites like the Better Business Bureau to prevent more victims.
- Consult with an attorney to explore legal options depending on the specifics of your case. For large sums you may be able to sue the scammer, but this can be difficult if they are overseas.
- Learn from the experience. Read up on the latest scams targeting Zelle users so you can identify warning signs earlier and avoid being victimized again.
- Consider using payment platforms with stronger buyer and seller protections for high value transactions where scams are most likely to occur.
The more scam reports that authorities receive, the better equipped they are to pursue fraudsters, recover funds when possible, and prevent more people from being victimized.
In addition to reporting scams to authorities, you can also help prevent others from falling victim by sharing your experience online:
- Post reviews warning about the scam on sites like Trustpilot and the Better Business Bureau. These public posts make scams more visible.
- Report fake accounts used for scams to social media platforms like Facebook so they can be removed.
- Comment on the scammer’s profiles on marketplace sites like Craigslist to expose their fraud to potential targets.
- Write a blog post detailing the scam from start to finish so others can recognize the techniques used.
- Discuss the scam in forums and groups related to the method of payment or platform targeted, such as a Zelle Facebook group.
- Reply to the scammer’s ads with warnings so future respondents are informed.
The more the scam is publicized, the less likely the criminal can victimize others. By taking time to report and spread awareness, you can help protect others from meeting the same fate.
Sharing your experience also gives an important warning about the real potential for fraud when using money transfer platforms and marketplace sites. Your story can educate others to be cautious when trusting strangers online or services promising instant money movement. However, it’s important to stick to facts and avoid libelous statements when publicizing a scam.
With vigilance and education, Zelle users can avoid falling prey to common scams seeking to take advantage of the system’s speed and accessibility. Report, spread awareness, and share your knowledge so less people lose money to fraud.