Chrysanthi R. of Columbus, Ohio was taking a nap on her couch when she got a call from a number she didn’t recognize.
On the other end of the line was a woman who said she worked for KeyBank, calling to alert her of fraud in her account. According to Chrysanthi, “They wanted me to verify my identity through a text code.
So they sent me a text and then I read the six numbers back.” Unfortunately, that was all the criminals needed to create a Zelle account in her name in order to gain access to both her checking and savings accounts.
What is Zelle?
Zelle is a banking app that allows users to send money to other registered Zelle users. Users can access the Zelle network within the websites and apps of Zelle participating U.S. financial institutions such as Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Bank, US Bank, Citibank and Wells Fargo.
The benefit of Zelle over other payment systems such as PayPal, is that Zelle connects with existing bank accounts so users don’t need to fund a separate account to use the service.
Only the recipient’s email address or mobile number is needed for a user to send money directly from their bank account to the recipient’s bank account.
The problem is, payments made using Zelle cannot be canceled since Zelle is intended for payments to those the person already knows and trusts.
Chrysanthi R. witnessed $1,500 drained from her bank account after fraudsters used Zelle to gain access to her checking and saving accounts by simply calling her and getting her to read back the text.
It turns out that Zelle’s simplicity and speed of transferring money in minutes has also drawn in a high tech pool of scammers.
Thieves use spoofed phone calls that look like they’re coming from an individual’s bank and other traditional hacking methods to access people’s Zelle accounts.
The reality with Zelle is, the quicker the transaction is, the quicker a criminal can steal.
Currently, Zelle is the largest player in the person-to-person payment market by partnering with hundreds of financial institutions through their banking apps. Last year, the Zelle network saw $119 billion transferred among its users.
Another major problem with this type of fraud is many of the victims said they were shocked to find fraud through a Zelle account because they hadn’t even heard of the service before getting hit with fraudulent charges.
According to victim Troy H., “I have never used Zelle, I didn’t know about Zelle until I went on to my account and kind of searched around a little bit about how the money was taken out of my account, and I noticed Zelle there.”
While Zelle is a convenient way to pay friends or send money to family members, it unquestionably has opened your bank account to another method of fraud.
With that being said, whether or not you have signed up for Zelle, if you bank at one of the institutions that has partnered with Zelle, I want to share with you a few security tips to help you avoid being the next victim.
Sign up for ALL alerts from your bank. Many people probably have received an e-mail from their bank and simply delete it without reading it first.
Perhaps, it was some sort of advertisement, but the thing is, you need to sign up for and read every alert from your bank.
The reason is, if the Zelle platform was ever used to send or receive money to your bank accounts, you should instantly receive an e-mail alerting you to the activity.
This way you can know right away if there has been any fraudulent transfer.
Use multifactor authentication on bank accounts. Anytime you log into your bank account, you should require two-factor authentication such as a text message or phone call to your cell phone.
If you have the option of receiving a phone call instead of a text, I recommend the phone call since the call is more secure than a text message.
Use the phone number on your bank card. If you ever need to contact your bank, definitely call the phone number on the back of your debit or credit card.
The thing is, we know that criminals will call us and pretend to represent our bank. This is one of the most common ways accounts are compromised.
Of course, if you do receive a call and you think it may be legitimate, simply hang up and call the bank at the phone number listed on your card.
Hackers are always looking for new ways to steal from bank accounts and Zelle has given them another method to do so.
If you currently use Zelle, I would consider looking into other payment options, but at the very least take these tips into consideration to minimize your risk.