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.
What if I was deceived into sending money using Zelle?
UPDATE 11/19/21: Many users are telling me they’ve been contacted by someone pretending to be a bank investigator, and manipulated into sending their money via Zelle into a new account — thinking they were protecting themselves. I’ve written about this flavor of the scam here. The short story: The case for Regulation E protection, and for bank “refunds” is much weaker in this circumstance.
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.