New Zelle fraud scheme ropes in Indeed job seeker as unwitting money mule

A screen grab of the transaction conversation. I’ve edited out some personal information.

Combine old-fashioned money-mule-job-listing fraud with Zelle fraud and there’s a big new headache that job seekers and bank consumers have to worry about. Ngoc Nguyen says she lost $999 this way recently, and an Indeed.com user was an unwitting accomplice to the crime. So far, Nguyen’s financial institution – Regions Bank — is not honoring the victim’s right to dispute the fraudulent transaction, so she’s currently out the money.

I’ve been writing about Zelle fraud for a long time (Here’s my Zelle emergency kit), but this new twist is troubling. Perhaps because bank fraud controls are starting to catch up with some fraudsters, in this case, the criminals involved a third party in the scheme. They used a job applicant’s cell phone number to send her the stolen money, then asked her to “return” it — but she sent it to a number the criminals controlled instead.

The trouble started when the Indeed user — whose name I’m withholding because she appears to be an innocent bystander and was completely cooperative with the victim — answered a job listing for a firm calling itself crypto3.us. The job offered remote work, helping with a cryptocurrency exchange.  According to the victim, she filled out a job application, which also requested details on how the “worker” wanted to be paid.  The victim added her cell phone number and email address to the application.

A few days later, she was told via email that she’d gotten the job, and on Nov. 18, suddenly $999 was sent to her via Zelle. She became instantly suspicious.

“I called the bank right away. Then I told the (crypto3.us) recruiter she should tell the (sender) to take the money back. I didn’t want to get caught in a negative situation,” she told me in a phone interview.  So the firm sent her a number, and she Zelle’d the money back. She then immediately closed her own bank account.

“Please never contact me again,” she wrote to her alleged new boss, Leslie Talbot, according to screen shots she provided.

At the same time, Nguyen, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, awoke to find $999 had been transferred out of her account. Nguyen, who says she had never used Zelle before, initiated a dispute with his bank. As I’ve written before in several of these cases, the bank denied her dispute, saying the transaction was authorized. A letter shared with me dated Dec. 16 says the bank found the transaction was “verified with your online banking credentials” and “passed fraud analysis.”

In my opinion, this is the same error many banks are making with Zelle fraud. Because Nguyen’s Zelle account was hacked, the transaction should be covered by Regulation E rules, which require banks to honor disputes and refund victims. Had Nguyen initiated the Zelle transfer himself, even if the end result was fraud, she would not be covered by that consumer protection.

Nguyen does not know how the criminal got into her Zelle account. She did tell me that at this time, a criminal had access to her Yahoo email account, and used that to make sure Nguyen didn’t see Zelle notifications about the transaction.

“I found someone set filters to incoming emails that all emails that contain the words Regions Bank, Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Paypal will be moved to (the) Archive folder, not Inbox as normal. I removed those filters setting,” she said.

As money mule schemes go, this one sounds more effective than most. For years, criminals have been posting fake “mail forwarding” type jobs online, paying “workers” exorbitant amounts to help them launder money or ship stolen packages overseas. Most of the time, the mule is at least somewhat complicit — most people should figure out quickly that reshipping large TVs out of the country isn’t legitimate work — and sometimes mules are arrested for their role in the crime.  But in this case, it’s easy to see why the job seeker rushed to return the money, and sent it to the wrong account.

As of this writing, Crypto3.us has a website that allows job seekers to apply online, though some pages of the site still have placeholder Latin-language content in them. Site operators did not immediately respond to an email, and a phone call placed to the person listed in the site’s domain registration information wasn’t returned.

A Zelle spokesperson, when told details of the alleged crime, said she would look into it. I’ll update this story when I hear back from the firm. A media relations operator at Regions Bank took down details about the incident from me, but no one from the bank responded immediately to my request for comment. Indeed.com did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The job seeker expressed regret that she played any role in the incident.

“I hope (Nguyen) gets (her) money back,” she said.

But Nguyen isn’t so sure at the moment.

“Please help me to get the money back. My bank, Regions, rejected me twice saying it was authorized,” she wrote to me,” he said. “I’m feeling stressed out. I’m afraid my English is not good enough to fight for this.”

About Bob Sullivan 1386 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve never come across this particular kind of fraud in my own professional experience yet, but I do feel confident that my bank would honor this type of dispute. Generally, we’ve found that Zelle transfers have been, if anything, more secure and resistant to money fraud.

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