In September of 2022, one woman lost thousands of dollars as a result of believing text messages she had received were from Zelle. These sort of scams are all too common these days. Receiving a text message from a credit card you don't own or an account you've never opened might be confusing, but the goal is to get you to react. Scammers count on your initial reaction to the message to create their opportunity. If you react without doing your research, you will open yourself up to being defrauded of your money.
The Zelle scam sends a text message to your phone looking to confirm a recent transaction. The amount of the transaction in the message is intended to shock and cause concern. An average amount might be $2000. If you are a user of Zelle this could be alarming and you would immediately want to deny that transaction. If you aren't a user of Zelle this also could be alarming and you'd want to make sure Zelle knows you don't even use their service. Their request to reply "No" to deny the charge seems a simple thing to do to protect yourself.
However, once the scam text has created a reaction from you the scammer will attempt to contact you to "resolve" the issue they've discovered. Your reply of "No" to their text message will confirm you are on your phone at that moment and that your number is a valid one. Someone will call you, claiming to be from Zelle or your financial institution and attempt to assist you with this unauthorized transaction. Even if the phone call appears to be from your financial institution - be aware that this can be faked. Spoofing a phone number is a common practice of scammers.
Once they have you on the phone, they will request additional information. They will ask you to verify your Zelle account with a code that was just texted to you. If you provide this number to anyone this will allow them to access your account and change any information they want. Those text messages with your verification code say not to share it with anyone because of scams like this one.
Once the scammer has control of your account, they can transfer your money into their account. If your account has a daily limit, they will meet that limit each day they are able to. One woman who had fallen victim to this scam reported they would call her daily to update her on the case, all while still transfering money out of her account daily.
You might think that you wouldn't fall for a scam like this, but panic and confusion can cloud anyone's judgment and those who scam people do it for a living. They are rehearsed, have scripts to follow, and are well-versed in ways to manipulate people.
Regardless of whether you have an account with Zelle or not, here are steps you can take if you receive any text messages that claim to be from Zelle.
- Do not click any links that are in the text message and if you accidentally do click a link in a text message, simply close the window using the X in the top corner. Do not enter any personal information into a website from a link that you did not type into your browser yourself.
- Log into any accounts you have that are connected to Zelle or you think could be connected to Zelle. You will do this by going to the financial institution's website directly or logging into their accompanying mobile app. Once you are logged in, you should look for any usual activity or unauthorized transactions. If you notice anything that is not correct, report it to your financial institution immediately. It is also recommended that you change your passwords to prevent further unauthorized access.
- Report the scam text message to Zelle via their Report a Scam form. While Zelle cannot assist you with any lost funds, having information about these scams can help them prevent more people from being scammed themselves. Even if you did not fall for the scam, reporting the message can be helpful for others.
- Report the scam text message to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. This will allow them to investigate the source of the text message and possibly assist them in any ongoing investigations. https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint
- Report the scam text message to your phone provider. Most cell phone carriers utilize the shortcode 7726 (SPAM) that allows you to forward fraudulent text messages to them. By forwarding the content of the message and the number it originated from your phone carrier can add that number to their block list.
- To forward a text message copy the content of the fraudulent message into a new text message and send it to 7726. Follow the prompted requests for any additional information. Then delete the initial fraudulent message.
- You can also report the text message to the FTC. This is another avenue intended to protect other consumers from being defrauded. https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/
The Zelle scam might be the current scam circulating, but this scam is similar to many others that will attempt to access your account and withdraw funds. Always use caution when interacting with messages that involve your own money. A simple tip to check the validity of the message is to do a search online using the content of the text message and add the word "scam" to the end of your search. If others have fallen victim to a similar message you'll be able to find information easily. Doing your own research is the best way to keep yourself safe and that is always the most important part.