WKRN News 2

Alabama woman loses thousands through Zelle app scam

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — An Alabama woman says she had thousands of dollars stolen after a scammer in the guise of a bank employee used the Zelle app to siphon money from her account.

The Better Business Bureau of North Alabama is advising everyone to watch out for the scam involving the popular mobile wallet Zelle. Scammers pretend to be with your bank, then trick you into transferring your hard-earned money to them.

The money transfer app is used by some of the nation’s largest banks like Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. However, Zelle is fast becoming a tool for scammers and, because many of the large financial institutions liken Zelle transfers to cash exchanges, the transactions don’t get the same protection that credit and debit cards do.

Huntsville resident Katherine Bucy said she received a phone call from a scammer just minutes after she walked out of the bank.  

“Suddenly my phone rang,” Bucy said. “It said it was from Wells Fargo customer service, so I answered it.”

The person on the other end said that someone was trying to send themselves thousands of dollars from her account. Bucy, a single mother with a full-time job and attending school, gave them the information they needed to protect the account. 

“I put in my own phone number and my name,” Bucy continued. “That was all it took and once I hit send that money was then sent to an outside bank account.” 

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Amy Amirault told Nexstar that they are trying to increase awareness of common scam scenarios and encourage people to visit the bank’s Online Security Center for guidance.

“We never want to see anyone become a victim of a scam, and it is heartbreaking when people are scammed of their hard-earned savings,” Amirault said in a statement, which continued:

We want to make sure everyone is aware that criminals can spoof a caller ID number so it appears as if an unexpected call or text is from your bank. To be safe, don’t respond. Contact your bank using legitimate sources, such as the number on the back of your debit card.

If a person believes that they have been a victim of a scam, we encourage them to report the scam promptly and provide as much information as possible. Although it may not always be possible to recover the funds on behalf of victims, Wells Fargo works together with other financial institutions and law enforcement to help identify suspects and recover funds when possible.”

Citing privacy concerns, Amirault said Wells Fargo is unable to comment on any specific customer or the investigative process.

Wells Fargo says such scams often start with a simple call, email or message and warns that you should never share your temporary access codes or PIN with anyone who reaches out unexpectedly. The bank says it will never contact a customer and ask them to send money to themselves or anyone else to prevent fraud.

In a different case, a woman named Ann Durham received a text message from what she thought was her bank offering fraud protection.  

“He said all we need you to do is … your new phone has been leaked and we need you to turn off your phone number in your Zelle,” Durham said.

In both cases, it was an elaborate scam, one that asked you to give up vital account information.

Elizabeth Garcia with the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama says fraudsters are using the popular banking industry money app to make millions of dollars with this scam.

“When the consumer authorizes that transaction through Zelle… then the scammer makes off with the money and then the consumer is left to rectify that with the bank and try to get that money back by making a fraud claim,” Garcia explained.

“Clearly I want my money back,” Bucy concluded. “There are people out there in the world that if they were to lose this amount of money it would be devastating for them.” 

The Better Business Bureau says that a sure way to divert the scammers is to consistently change the password on your Zelle app account and register that app using two-factor authentication because it makes the app more difficult to access.

Wells Fargo offers more tips for avoiding scams and navigating the Zelle app on its frequently asked questions page. Nexstar reached out to Zelle for comment but did not hear back by publishing time.