Zelle is a popular online payment platform that allows users to instantly send money to anyone anywhere. It’s easy. Millions of people use Zelle every month as an alternative to traditional checks or bank transfers. However, where there are easy ways to move money, there are scammers looking to infiltrate it.
The Zelle scam goes something like this:
To start, the target victims in this scam are people who do not have a Zelle account. You receive an unsolicited text from your bank confirming a large Zelle transaction, the message instructs you to reply yes or no to confirm this transaction, was you. Upon responding “no”, you receive a call from what looks to be your bank, however, phone numbers are easily spoofed by scammers.
The scammer tells you that some nefarious thief is trying to drain your bank account and that you need to use Zelle to instantly transfer the funds back into your account. They’ll give you all kinds of reasons why it has to be through Zelle, but none of those reasons are actually true.
The scammer will walk the victim through setting up Zelle with two-factor authentication, having you read aloud the security codes you receive on your personal device. This allows the scammer to register your phone number with the scam bank account without your knowledge.
Once the setup is complete, the scammer will instruct you to “refund” your own account through Zelle. Here’s the kicker, Zelle transfers are linked through phone numbers. Now that your phone number is linked to the scammer’s bank account, any money you send to your own number will go to their account, not yours. Oftentimes scammers will take this a step further and tell you that your transfers are not going through and to keep trying, further sending them more money.
Zelle scams rely on social engineering.
Zelle scams, like most other scams, rely on social engineering. The scammer will pretend to be someone trustworthy — maybe even someone you know — and ask you for money. They manipulate you and pretend to be anyone you want them to be if it means that you will send them money.
The best way to avoid being scammed is to learn how they work and to learn the signs of a scam. If you receive an unsolicited message about your bank, don’t respond. Hang up. Call your bank at the number they provide on their website or print materials, don’t let them call you because the number can be spoofed. If they’re legitimate, they’ll answer the phone when you call them.