Zelle fraud emergency kit and FAQ

If you’ve landed on this page, you are probably in a bit of shock that your bank account could be drained by a criminal and your bank doesn’t seem to care, or think you are entitled to a “refund.”  In many cases, you are — you just haven’t talked to the right person yet. I’ll try to help.

I’ve been writing about fraud at Zelle — and the mishandling of Zelle fraud claims by big banks — for more than a year now, so if you search for Zelle and fraud on Google, my stories come up.  That means desperate victims who’ve just been robbed, and then rejected by their bank, find my stories and email me looking for help. Their stories are heartbreaking and maddening (like this one!) . On many occasions, far more than I’ve written about on this site, I’ve essentially performed free customer service for these banks, forwarding on emails and helping consumers get refunds.  To better handle all these emails, I’m creating this page to be an ongoing resource for victims as this crime progresses. It’s FAQ style: Skip ahead to what you need.  Hopefully these tips are self-service and your bank will come to its senses with a little extra prodding. If not, feel free to email me and I’ll try to offer additional help. Also, if you’ve managed to get a refund using a technique I don’t mention, please email me and I’ll add your experience to this page.

I look forward to the day I take this page down as it’s no longer necessary. I suspect that will take a while.

What is Zelle? A relatively new person to person payment system backed by hundreds of U.S. banks, including biggies like Bank of America and Chase.  It was created to make sure big banks didn’t lose this side of the banking business to new payment companies like Venmo, popular with young consumers.

Can I use Zelle for anything? No. Zelle is designed to make it easy to give $20 or $40 to a friend to pay an IOU after you have lunch together. Never use it for anything else. Some people use it to pay rent or other larger bills. I think that’s a terrible idea.

I’ve never heard of it. How could I have a Zelle account? You — or someone — has to activate your Zelle account before it can be used to send money. But in reality, most people with an bank account at a Zelle-affiliated bank already have a Zelle “account.”  Criminals are exploiting this confusion, activating Zelle accounts for consumers who’ve never used the service.

Zelle is backed by big banks, so I should expect the same fraud protections I am familiar with, right? NO, NO, NO.  Zelle is not like a credit or debit card. You can’t call a bank and reverse a transaction or dispute a “charge.”  That’s why Zelle should never be used to but concert tickets off Craigslist or to send an AirBnB deposite or anything like that.  If you affirmatively Zelle someone money, and they turn out to be a scammer, you are screwed.

What if my Zelle account is hacked? Ok, this is probably why you are here.  Someone accessed your Zelle account, sent themselves money, and now the bank is telling you that you have no recourse. I hear often from people who say $1,000 or $2,000 has just been taken from their account — shock No. 1 — and then their bank says there’s no way to get that money back — shock N0. 2.  If that doesn’t sound right to you, it’s not.  If your Zelle account was hacked, you are indeed entitled to dispute this authorized transaction, and to get your money back. However, it seems obvious to me that bank employees are poorly trained to deal with this situation (An honest mistake? Intentional negligence? History will decide.).  Many just tell consumers that Zelle is like cash, so there’s nothing that can be done after a fraud. This is wrong. I have this in writing from Zelle.

Yea!  I have the law on my side. But so what? I’m still out the money

Here’s some things to know about the process, and things that have worked to pursuade banks to issue refunds in this situation:

You have to wait 10 days: When you dispute a transaction like this, the bank has 10 days to investigate and issue a provisional credit (or not).  This is frustrating, because you might be thinking the bank is just stalling for 10 days before saying no. That might be true.  But you still have to go through the process. If you are a person who lives paycheck to paycheck, this can be awful. I’m sorry.

Don’t just sit around for those 10 days: If you are rejected, the reason will likely be that the bank believes you authorized the transaction. In some cases, that might be true. Maybe you forgot? Maybe you gave your login to a friend? Maybe you are engaging in “friendly fraud?” (Disputing a transaction that you really did authorize just to steal money.  The bank has legitimate reasons to question your dispute.  Start thinking: How can you prove it wasn’t you?  Your detailed cell phone records might help. Start the process of getting them from your cell phone provider.

If the bank rejects you: Ask them for a specific reason for rejection, and get it in writing. Then ask them to reopen the investigation.  They’ll usually do this.  Ask what evidence they are looking for to prove you didn’t authorize the transaction? Ask how and when the transaction was authorized.  Your cell phone records might show you did no such thing at that date and time. Or they might show other suspicious activity — perhaps an unauthorized user was added to your account?

That’s not fair: Yes, it does sound like you are being required to prove your innocence, or even to prove a negative (I didn’t send the money). It will take time. It’s not fair. I’m sorry about that. But until some larger entity (bank regulators, CFPB, where are you???) takes up this cause, you are on your own.

What else? What have I missed? Please write in comments below what has worked, or failed, for you. The quicker we tell people what to do, the quicker people will get their money back.

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.

14 Comments

  1. My account was hacked in September and someone added themselves to my Zelle list and transferred all my money to there email address. I’ve opened three investigations with USAA and they said that the account was accessed from Russia and they are denying the claim since I could of given my password out which I didn’t. Any ideas on how I can fight this? I’m at the end of my rope here. Thanks!

  2. I was scammed a few months ago by a fraudulent dog breeder online requesting a deposit through Zelle. Precisely 6 mins after I sent a deposit through Zelle as requested, the recipient claimed their Zelle account was not working right and they requested Moneygram instead.

    Red flags went off and since I had sent the money through a debit card transaction rather than a direct from account transfer (my bank does not promote Zelle), the Zelle app did not allow me to cancel the transaction. There was a cancel transaction button but it did nothing.

    Within 20 mins, I had called Zelle and my own bank to attempt to stop the transaction and both said the same thing, the transaction must go through and then I mist dispute it. The Zelle rep also told me that Zelle should not be used with a person you do not already know and trust, a detail buried deep in the terms and conditions.

    I allowed the transfer to proceed and went to the bank to pursue a fraud complaint the following day. I provided all details of the transaction, the website of the scammer (which I also found on another site called petscams.com the day of he event) and all email communications and text messages, phone number and everything else I had.

    The bank called me a few days later and told me the process could take up to 90 days for a determination. I told the bank I’m willig to wait and in the meantime, I will be sharing my story with the press to help others.

    About 60 days later, I received a letter from the bank, I expected a rejection and was surprised to find a letter notifying me that the money had been deposited into my account.

    My advice, don’t be embarrassed by your stupid mistakes, go to the press. Share your stupid mistake with others, even if you don’t recover your loss, your story could spare others from making the same mistake.

    For the record, I have always been the one skeptical person in my family and job warning others of everything being a scammed. It could happen to any of us. Learn from it, share your story.

    • I just had this same thing happen. I called my bank immediately after realizing the scam. Within an hour. I am told that I willing gave the funds and there’s nothing they can do. What bank do you bank with? I really thought I was safe going through my bank. Zelle is saying my bank has to request the funds back and my bank is saying the opposite.

  3. After reading your and other articles about Zelle, and being a security-oriented person myself, I called my bank, BoA, and got them put into my account record that I would never ever use Zelle and if somehow a Zelle transaction was made against my account, BoA should immediately reject the transaction. Ostensibly, they understood and did what I requested, and will do what I requested if it ever occurs. I’ve also shared your post here on FB.

  4. My Zelle story: I used my BOA app to set up a recipient by cell#, to which I sent 3 transfers, none of which went to the BOA account of the recipient. They reportedly went to the BOA account of someone who held the same phone number over 7 years earlier, the number this third party may have registered with Zelle previously, without later correction!

    Apparently BOA does no cross-checking of account contact numbers with Zelle registration, either in their app or in the notification process. There is also no check for redundancy in the software or in the transfer system.

    The transfer text message went to the intended recipient, but the money went to the account of the previous owner of the same phone number. Again, no verification process. The BOA app blithely showed the transfers were successful, even though the recipient name that was set up, the actual account holder names, and working phone numbers do not match! There is no code number or reply verification in the setup process, as is commonly used by other types of cell/software transactions that do not involve people’s money.

    3 visits to a local BOA branch for assistance, and many calls to technical support resulted in BOA’s eventual recognition of the problem, and their suggestion that I, get this: “hire a lawyer to subpoena” the name of the unintended account holder that by law, they cannot reveal to me. This means I will have to sue the bank for legal fees, which will total way more than the amount falsely tendered.

    First takeaway: There need to be regulations applied to this industry ASAP, and as a former programmer, may I suggest that there need to be a few app designers in the unemployment line.

    Based on what I read on the Zelle.com website, and in the BOA app instructions, there is no way I could have foreseen this happening, and there is no incentive for either party in the transaction to become accountable for their incompetence, or for the damages to the innocent parties involved.

    The failure of the bank to supervise and/or correct the misdirection of my money resulted in the recipient being stuck at an airport in a snowstorm thousands of miles away, with no money in their account for transportation. There were additional charges for attempts to check the account balance several times from a third party ATM, that resulted in a negative account balance.

    None of this seems to matter to BOA, who considers my claim to be “resolved.” It also doesn’t seem to bother Zelle.com, to whom I have also written (Zelle doesn’t take calls from users of bank front-end apps, even though it recommends that people use them when available).

    Of course, due to the design and implementation of the BOA on-line banking software, the money was removed lickety-split from my account at the time of the transfer. Some of the money has been missing for over 5 months. If the money can be debited that quickly through this electronic medium, it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to get it back just as easily when I warrant that it was misdirected.

    OK, if they want an act of Congress, maybe I can arrange for that. I’ve made that happen before. In the meantime, they can expect to pay legal fees, other costs and penalties for issues including the holding/mishandling of my funds, misleading documentation, the inconvenience experienced by the intended and unintended recipients, my wasted time, and penalties for malfeasance and/or violation of the public trust.

    In this case, the Bank, Zelle, and the unintended recipient all know, or should have known, that my money has been fraudulently handled by all of them. In addition, BOA has removed the recipient from my account’s Zelle setup info without my permission, perhaps in an attempt to mask their bungled transactions (that’s ok, I printed them out). In the bank’s opinion, this is over. In my opinion, we’re just getting started.

  5. I noticed a zelle transaction and immediately called boa. While I was on the phone 3 more…$2500 total. They denied the claim even though I called while the transactions were pending! They didn’t even send me a claim denial email so I would know. I called every Monday for a week checking up on my claim. After I learned it was denied by calling…they suggested I ho yo geek squad to prove my computer was hacked. Greek squad couldn’t prove anything and was surprised boa suggested them. Basically i lost $2500 and there is nothing i can do about it

  6. Hi Bob,
    Just read your article on Zelle.
    My wife & I are in our 60’s & I found a zelle transfer “pending” for $2500.00 the other day so I called the bank, BoA, & they said even though it was still pending there was nothing they could do about it.
    They said we needed to close our accounts at bofa & open new ones, so we did.
    Thing is other payments that were “pending” were returned so now we have late charges on bills we were paying as well.
    Again bofa says too bad.
    They gave me the phone number of where our money went so I called the guy & he claimed he did not know the money came from us he thought he was being paid for a bitcoin sale from some one else & has spent the money.
    We have used zelle to pay our rent, (our landlord insist on it), but that is all once a month. We will now pay in cash.
    The person our money went to is not on our pay to list either.
    In the meantime BofA is “investigating it”.
    One of the people we talked to at bofa said since we did not authorize the transfer bofa will have to refund our money, but I am skeptical because others there said it happens & there is nothing they can do about it.
    $2500.00 is a LOT to us as we are on fixed incomes.
    Do you think there is any chance they will refund our money?
    Thanks for listening, & thanks for trying to warn others, wish I would have seen your article & listened to my gut instincts in the first place.

  7. This has been going on with my account for 2 months. Illegal checks and then Zelle transfers totaling almost $4,000. I have been getting the run around and denied, at this point, three times. I have done all the due diligence, figured out where all the activity has come from, contacted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and been told it is my fault. I am going to have to go to small claims court to get this resolved. There has to be something we can do…Bob, help us.

  8. I use Zelle to send my landlord rent every month, 2500.00.
    its that or cash, (& yes it is cash now).

    but some one sent 2500 to a person in florida from my account.
    The name or number are not on the list of people who I send money to. or in the history of people I sent money to.
    The bank denied my claim because they said it was the same device that sent other payments? it is not possible.
    was my phone cloned?

    The bank gave me the number of the person the money was sent to, I called him & he said he thought the money came from someone he sold bitcoins too, I realize he is porb lying.
    he claims he spent the money & no longer has it, & if he paid it back then he would be out 2500.00.
    He said he will explain to the bank & give then all the info he has if it will help but the bank will not even call to investigate.

    I reopened the claim but they said without documentation they will probably deny it again.
    I asked what kind of documentation can I provide but they said they did not know.
    I’m probably out 2500.00

    • The person in FL is lying and 99% guaranteed stole your money. Why? It’s simple logic. Because his excuse does not make any sense. If he sold bitcoins to someone and thought your money was payment for that, then he was ripped off by the bitcoin buyer who did not pay. It is the FL person’s responsibility to get that payment, not yours to pay it. Or, if the bitcoin buyer DID pay, then the FL person was paid twice and likewise is a thief. Either way it makes no sense and you should notify Zelle, notify your bank and notify the person in FL that you are calling the cops, both in your state and in FL. And call them! Zelle fraud has got to stop. (And while you’re making the calls, call your Congress person. If you’re on Facebook, post there, with Public visibility.

    • And ask your landlord if he has a PayPal account. Although PayPal passwords were stolen several years ago, as far as I know there’s no fraud equivalent to Zelle’s constant fraud. Paypal is the way to go. There is also TransferWise, which has not been hacked as far as I know. Talk to your landlord about changing transfer mechanisms.

  9. I sent the guy money for products but he never sent me
    My products and the banks say they can’t do nothing because the money is gone out of the account and didn’t even open an investigation. I am filing a police report also.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Here's how hackers are using Zelle to raid bank accounts; and why victim was out $1,800 until I wrote to the bank — bobsullivan.net
  2. New Zelle fraud scheme ropes in Indeed job seeker as unwitting money mule — bobsullivan.net

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