Definition, How to Protect Yourself From Scammers

  • Scammers use Zelle and other payment apps because transactions are quick and hard to track.
  • If you get scammed on Zelle, it will be difficult to get your money back.
  • Use Zelle only for family and friends, and make sure to implement caution toward people you don’t know.

Scammers are now turning to peer-to-peer (P2p) payment networks like Zelle to con people out of their money.

Here’s what you should know about Zelle scams, so you can protect yourself while using the payment app.

How Zelle scams work

A scam occurs when is person or company tries to deceive you into directly giving them money or sharing personal information so they can access it.

John Breyault, National Consumer League vice president of public, telecommunications, and fraud, says scammers take advantage of new payment technologies as they emerge. According to Breyault, scammers have now moved onto Zelle and other payment apps for three main reasons:

  • Money sent through payment apps is available quickly after being sent.
  • The money is difficult to get back due to regulation.
  • Scammers can remain out of reach of law enforcement by setting up dummy accounts or using other tactics.

Overview of Zelle policies

Zelle works differently from other P2P payment apps because it’s partnered with


credit unions

and banks. You’ll also have to use your bank’s mobile app or online banking platform to make a payment.

For many consumers, that creates an impression, incorrectly, that the same kind of protections they get for other transfers through their bank, they’re going to get on Zelle. That’s not true,” points out Breyault.

Alexis Castorina, senior director of consumer education at Zelle, says payments on Zelle should be treated like sending cash.

“Zelle does not offer a protection program for authorized payments. Once you authorize a payment to be sent with Zelle, you can’t cancel it if the recipient is already enrolled because money is going directly into that recipient’s bank account within minutes,” says castorina.

As a result, when you have fallen for a scam, the Zelle website says you must contact your financial institution.

How banks view Zelle scams

Reporting a scam allows your financial institution to review your situation and freeze accounts if necessary. However, it’s unlikely you’ll get your money back.

“What we hear all too often from consumers is they do the right thing — call their bank. They report it. The bank says, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing we can do,'” says Breyault.

Banks will refer to Regulation E, also known as the Electronic Funds Transfers Act, which covers customer protections regarding money transfers — but only for unauthorized transactions. If you willingly hit send, it will usually be considered an authorized transaction. You likely won’t get your money back.

Lauren Saunders, associate director at the National Consumer Law Center, says if someone hacked into your account and took your money, you are protected under the law.

“You should insist to your bank that it was an unauthorized charge and that they should reverse it,” says Saunders.

How to avoid Zelle scams

4 behavioral red flags from scammers

Scammers may try to fool you by using skillful tactics, but be mindful of these four red flags if you’re sending money to someone you don’t know:

  • A person insisting on being paid only through a payment app
  • A person tries to rush you into making a quick payment
  • A person telling you that your account has been hacked and you need to share information
  • A bank calls you and tells you to send money through Zelle

In these situations, it’s best to pause contact or hang up the call to determine whether the information you’re receiving is correct.

How to use Zelle safely

Castorina says Zelle should only be used for people you know and trust. If you’re using a Zelle to send money to someone you don’t know, it’s best to be cautious.

Here are a few tips on how to use Zelle and other payments safely:

  • Verify you have the right account
  • Send a small amount of money first and ask the person to make sure they received it
  • Use only home Wi-Fi or your cellular connection to avoid security gaps in public Wi-Fi
  • Be mindful of what you share on social media, so scammers don’t know details about your personal life
  • Sign up for alerts or multi-factor authentication for extra security

Where to report Zelle scams

If you’ve fallen for a scam on Zelle or another payment app, Breyault recommends reporting scammers.

“People don’t like to admit that they’ve been a victim of these scams because they’re often blamed for it. They often blame themselves,” notes Breyault. “While reporting it may not result in you getting your money back, what it does is help law enforcement, identify trends, and help protect other consumers.”

It’s recommended to report your scam to take the following steps:

Contact your bank

The first thing you can do upon realizing that you’ve been in a scam is call your bank or credit union. Your financial institution can investigate the situation further and freeze bank accounts if you’ve been hacked. You may also request that the money be returned. Although, it’s unlikely you’ll get your money back.

“They might at least pass the information on, which hopefully would trigger the receiving bank into looking into it,” says Saunders.

Report to law enforcement

After contacting your bank, you can file a police report on the scammer. In most circumstances, there will be a division or phone hotline dedicated to reporting fraud.

Law enforcement can also report this information to your state attorney general. The state attorney general can review your report to identify illegal activity.

Additional resources

You may refer to the following government agencies to file additional reports or learn more about your rights:

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has educational resources on many topics involving scams. For example, you can learn about elder financial exploitation and phishing.
  • Federal Trade Commission: You could file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. Reports are shared with 3,000 law enforcers throughout the US.
  • FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center looks into all online crimes. You may file a complaint through the center if you or someone you know has fallen for an online scam involving certain types of transactions.

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