“There is no puppy” – Avoiding Common Zelle Scams

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Cashless transactions are part of today’s new normal as more consumers pay for purchases without using physical currency or cards. Digital payment apps, like Zelle®, offer a fast and convenient way to send money to people you know and trust. Naturally, scammers and thieves, never ones to miss an opportunity, are using sneaky schemes to redirect Zelle funds into their accounts.

Here’s what you need to know to use Zelle safely and not fall prey to would-be fraudsters.

What Is a Zelle Scam?

This scam involves at least two Zelle user accounts. A successful scam starts when you respond to a request to send payment from your account to another account. It ends when the receiving account fails to provide the goods or services promised as part of the transaction. Unlike fraud, where someone gains unauthorized access to your account, these payments occur with your approval.

Zelle Scam Tactics

Scammers convince trusting victims to send them money via Zelle by telling lies about something the victim wants or a situation they hope to resolve. Their make-believe stories sound realistic, but they are pure fantasy. Each tactic typically involves an emotional element and a nugget of truth. For example:

  • Excitement

    People often enter and win sweepstakes, but there is no fee required to claim a legitimate prize. Scammers will say you must pay a fee before they can send your winnings.

  • Compassion

    Friends and relatives occasionally find themselves in a financial bind and need money, but the pressure to keep the transaction secret is a red flag.

  • Fear

    Taxpayers sometimes owe money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but the IRS doesn’t accept payments via Zelle.

Zelle is a preferred payment method for scammers because it allows you to send money without verifying who’s on the receiving end. Just like cash, if you hand over money to a scammer, you’re not likely to get it back.

Zelle Scam Red Flags

  • In-app cash requests for payment from someone you just met or haven’t spoken to in a while.
  • Pressure to send money right away for fear of losing out on a special deal or suffering dire consequences.
  • Unexpected in-app cash requests from someone you’ve given money to before. Scammers might have access to your phone’s contact list and may pretend to be someone you know.

How to Protect Yourself from Zelle Scams

  • Keep your phone locked when it’s not being used. Unlocked phones allow scammers to quickly open the app and send money directly to their own Zelle accounts.
  • Confirm cash requests by contacting the person through a known phone number, even if you’ve sent them money before.
  • Refuse to send money to anyone you’ve never met in person.

Remember, whenever you authorize a payment, Zelle will not refund that money if it ends up in the wrong hands.

If you suspect a Zelle scam, report it to the financial institution associated with the debit or credit card used for the transaction. Call Federal members can use the form at the bottom of our Identity Theft Prevention page to get this process started. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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