To stay safe from Zelle scams, you should only send Zelle payments to people you know, be wary of urgent payment requests, use a different app to send and receive payments from strangers, use strong passwords and enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on your banking accounts.
Continue reading to learn about common Zelle scams and how to avoid falling victim to them.
What Is Zelle?
Zelle is a peer-to-peer money transfer application that allows you to send and receive money from friends and family. Many banks such as Bank of America, Chase and US Bank offer Zelle as a way to send payments through their apps.
While Zelle is generally safe to use because it leverages authentication and encryption to protect your funds, if you were to fall for a scam, Zelle does not offer payment protection for authorized transactions. This means that if you fall for a scam you are less likely to receive your money back from Zelle.
Common Zelle Scams
Here are some of the most common Zelle scams.
A goods-and-service scam can happen when you’re trying to purchase an item online such as on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. A seller may trick you into purchasing an item that doesn’t really exist and request that you pay them through Zelle before you receive your item. Or the seller may send you something completely different than what you wanted after you’ve already paid for it.
Using Zelle to pay someone you don’t know comes with its risks, mainly due to the fact that Zelle doesn’t offer payment protection for transactions that are authorized by the sender. If a seller insists on using Zelle as a payment method, you should avoid buying from them.
An impersonation scam happens when someone pretends to be a company or an individual you know, in an attempt to get you to send them money or personal information. In a Zelle impersonation scam, scammers contact you through phishing emails, phone calls or text messages pretending to be someone like a family member, friend or coworker. The message will likely contain a sense of urgency and say something along the lines of “I promise I’ll pay you back.” But don’t be so quick to fulfill the request because the payment request is most likely from a scammer.
Job scams, also known as money mule scams, are when job listings are faked to get people to apply. In this type of scam, when individuals are offered a job, the hiring manager asks the job seeker to front money to purchase their work equipment and promise that the company will pay them back. However, upon sending the money, the job seeker loses all communication with the company. Because the job seeker authorized the payment to the fake company, Zelle will most likely not refund it. Now, not only is the individual left without a job, but also loses money and time in the process.
A legitimate company will never ask you to front money so this should be an immediate red flag if you come across a similar situation.
Account takeover is when a scammer gains access to your Zelle or bank account and then locks you out of it by changing your password. Account takeovers often happen through phishing attacks where a scammer sends you a phony link that takes you to a website that looks legitimate but is actually malicious.
Logging in to your Zelle account using a malicious link sent by a scammer will provide the scammer with the credentials for your actual Zelle account, which the bad actor can then use to compromise the account and lock you out. This can lead to you losing all of your money in your bank account that is linked to Zelle.
5 Tips To Avoid Being Scammed Through Zelle
Here are a few tips to avoid being scammed through Zelle.
Only send Zelle payments to people you know
When sending payments through Zelle, you should avoid sending money through the platform to people you don’t know. According to Zelle, if the payment is authorized by you, you most likely won’t be getting your money back if you are scammed or send it to the wrong person.
As an extra precaution, when you’re sending money to someone you know, ensure you’re sending it to the correct person. You can do this by sending just $1 and then confirming that they received it. Once you know they have received the money, you’ll feel safer sending the rest of it.
Be wary of urgent payment requests
If you receive a random, urgent payment request from Zelle, it’s likely that the request is a scam and you should ignore it. If the payment request is claiming to be from someone you know, contact the person directly to confirm. If the person says they did not send you a payment request, ignore it. If you’re using the official Zelle app, you can also block the sender by going to your settings.
Use different apps to send and receive payments
Because Zelle doesn’t provide users with payment protection for authorized transactions, when sending money to someone you don’t know it’s best to use a peer-to-peer money transfer application that offers buyer protection, such as PayPal.
Use strong passwords to protect your bank accounts
Zelle scams can lead to more than just losing a one-time payment – some scammers will go as far as hacking into your bank accounts to steal even more money. It’s a cybersecurity best practice to protect all of your online accounts with strong, unique passwords. Make sure that your passwords are at least 16 characters long and use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. If you struggle to come up with a password, use a password generator to help you create them.
Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA is a security measure that adds extra layers of protection to your online accounts. When MFA is enabled, instead of only logging in to your account with your username and password, you would also need to provide additional authentication factors like a Time-based One-Time Password (TOTP) code from an authenticator app. The more authentication factors you add to your online accounts, the more secure they’ll be from unauthorized users gaining access to them.
What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Through Zelle
If you’ve been scammed through Zelle you should report the scam to Zelle directly, report it to your bank and submit a complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Report the scam to Zelle directly
If you used Zelle to make a payment that turned out to be a scam, you need to report it directly to Zelle by completing their online form. After that, they will contact the recipient’s bank and report the information you provided to prevent others from falling victim.
Reporting the scam to Zelle does not guarantee that you will get your money back, it only makes Zelle aware of it so they can prevent future scams.
Report the scam to your bank
Apart from reporting the scam to Zelle, you should also report it to your bank to see if they can help resolve your issue and reimburse your money.
Submit a complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
If you ever fall victim to any cybercrime, which includes falling for a scammer, you should always report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Reporting an incident helps the FBI keep track of the latest scams going around so they can issue warnings and better protect the public.
Keep Yourself Safe From Zelle Scams
While Zelle is a fast and easy way to send money to different individuals, it’s best to only send money to people you know and trust. Protecting online accounts including money-transferring apps and bank accounts is just as important as being cautious about who you’re sending money to. Make sure you’re always using strong passwords and enabling MFA whenever possible.
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