How to avoid being scammed on Zelle

Cashless P2P (peer-to-peer) trading apps are great and have undoubtedly made our lives easier, but as with any emerging technology, fraudsters are quickly finding ways to exploit them for illegal profits.

Unlike other low-level financial crimes where your account is accessed fraudulently, spammers using Zelle and other payment apps rely on you voluntarily sending them the money. And since it’s hard to prove their wrongdoing when you’re the one who made the decision to pay them, it’s unlikely you’ll reverse the transaction from Zelle once you realize they’ve done you. Zelle even gets to the point explain the difference between fraud and fraud on their website and explain why your consent to the transaction limits their ability to reverse it. Essentially, once that money is sent, it’s gone, so your first and strongest line of defense is yourself.

By honing those critical thinking skills and keeping your eye out for red flags, you can almost always avoid losing money to one of these sneaky social engineers.

Yes, even MLB announcers can fall for the Zelle scam.

Think logically

Calling them Zelle scammers is a bit of a misnomer as the scamming action usually takes place on another messaging app like Telegram or WhatsApp. Zelle is just the terminal that a scammer is trying to get you to. So if you never get to the point of opening the Zelle app, the scammer can never succeed.

As a general rule, avoid responding to spam texts and emails whenever possible. Any random message from an unknown or unverified source asking you for something should immediately raise your guard. It doesn’t matter if they ask you to send money through Zelle or just click a link. The presence of this unusual request alone should raise alarm bells.

Cute dog but can you trust him??? (No.)
Credit: Mashable

Zelle’s cheater strategies

Zelle scammers manipulate people’s emotions with lies to get their money. Fear, compassion and excitement are the main levers they pull. Here are some examples from each of these categories to look out for and why they are bunks.

  • A scammer claiming to be from a utility company is threatening to shut off a service if you don’t pay within the next few minutes. The utility company will never do that.

  • A scammer claiming to be from your bank alerts you that your account has been compromised. While banks are often contacted when a customer’s account has been compromised, they would never ask you to provide passwords or send them money through a third-party app when this happens. Log into your account as normal or call the bank’s hotline if you want to confirm that everything is OK.

  • A scammer claiming to be a friend or family member in a financial tie contacts from a new number because their old phone was lost or stolen. Hey, it’s great to want to help a loved one through a tough spot. But would your friend or family member really do that? If you’re feeling generous, try contacting the person first at their regular “lost” number or via social media and ask them something that only the real person would know to confirm their identity before you even consider sending them money.

  • A scammer claiming to sell puppies says they only pay up front and through the P2P app. As the American Kennel Club Notes, these deals seem too good to be true because they are. Logic can often take a backseat when people want to find the perfect puppy. The images in the ads are usually stock photos because the dog you are trying to buy does not exist.

    screenshot of zelle

    Credit: Screenshot: Zelle

If you must use Zelle anyway…

Even when you properly filter for scammers, legitimate situations may arise that require you to send money to a stranger through a payment app. Here are some protocols to help you complete these transactions safely: First, double-check that you have the correct number, email or person. For larger transactions, it is wise to then send a $1 “test” to this account. You may also want to sign up for multi-factor authentication where possible as an added layer of security.

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