Are banks too zealous for Zelle?

By Greg Collier

If you haven’t heard of Zelle by now, it’s a mobile payment app designed to compete with the likes of Venmo and Cash App. The company behind Zelle is owned by a number of the major banks in America including Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo just to name a few. Many, if not all, of these banks include Zelle with their mobile payment apps whether the customer wants Zelle or not. Since many mobile banking customers are even aware of Zelle on their banking accounts, scammers have been able to use Zelle to empty the bank accounts of their victims.

For the past few months, scammers have been sending text messages to their victims posing as the victim’s bank. The text message asks the victim if they recently made a large purchase and asks the victim to text back yes or no. When the victim texts back, they’re immediately called by a scammer posing as a bank employee. The scammer tells the victim that the victim’s bank account has been compromised and that the victim needs to move money through Zelle in order to ‘protect’ their account. In actuality, the scammers are moving the money from the victim’s account to the scammer’s account. This scenario most recently happened to a new mother and teacher in Atlanta where her Wells Fargo account was drained of $3500. Since Zelle doesn’t offer many customer protections, victim’s have been hit or miss when it comes to getting their money back from their bank.

A huge problem with the recent Zelle scams is the fact that the banks are attaching Zelle to their mobile payment apps without a lot of customer education on how Zelle works. It also doesn’t help that if a customer wanted to opt out of Zelle, they can’t just check a box that deactivates their Zelle account. Instead, you have to call your bank’s customer service department to deactivate your Zelle account.

Should banks be doing more to warn their customers about these scams? Is a small warning on the Zelle app about scams enough? What can the banks do to better educate their customers? Please let us know in the comments below.