Fraud

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02 January, 2024
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12 min

11 Common Zelle scams + signs to look for

Oliver Buxton

Staff writer

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A woman on a city street checking that she isn’t falling for a Zelle scam on her phone.

Zelle is a popular peer-to-peer payment service that allows users to send money to each other quickly and easily. While Zelle is a legitimate and secure service, Zelle scams can risk account takeovers, identity theft, and more. Look to LifeLock Ultimate Plus to help protect your identity from scammers.

Zelle can make money transfers quick and simple. While this benefits legitimate users, it also makes it easy for scammers to send and receive funds rapidly before victims realize they've been duped.

Here are 11 common Zelle scams, how to detect them, and best practices to avoid falling victim to them:

1. Account takeover scams

Account takeover scams involve unauthorized access to a victim's account, often by cybercriminals obtaining sensitive information through deception. A compromised account can lead to identity theft, which has multiple lasting effects, and Zelle business account scams may lead to lost revenue and other complications.

Here's how these Zelle scams generally work and what they look like:

  • Phishing attempts: Scammers initiate contact pretending to be a trusted institution (like a bank or Zelle itself). This could be via email, text messages, social media, or phone calls. They manipulate individuals into providing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, or one-time codes.
  • Account takeover: Once scammers have the necessary information, they access the victim's account without their consent. For Zelle, this would generally involve the unauthorized transfer of funds to an account controlled by the scammer. Since Zelle is designed for instant money transfers, the stolen funds may be immediately accessible, making recovery by the victim more difficult.
  • Mule accounts: Scammers might transfer stolen funds to money mules—individuals who, wittingly or unwittingly, transfer illegal funds on behalf of others. These transfers can conceal the money trail, making it harder for authorities to track the stolen funds.

2. Facebook Marketplace scams

Facebook Marketplace scams on Zelle often require payment for goods or services. Scammers use Facebook’s wide reach and the instant-payment feature of services like Zelle to defraud unsuspecting buyers or sellers. Here are common scams Facebook Marketplace scams and how they might unfold on Zelle:

  • Buyers: Potential buyers may rush a transaction, often with a sense of urgency or an appealing story for why they can't meet or pay in person. They suggest paying through Zelle, promising to send money right away. After the seller provides their details, the scammer sends a fake payment confirmation.
  • Sellers: Once a buyer expresses interest in a fake product or service listing, the scammer insists on payment through Zelle, emphasizing the urgency of the sale or some other believable reason for not using traditional payment methods. After receiving the payment, the scammer disappears, never sending the item.

3. Customer service scams

Customer service scams on Zelle exploit customers' trust in the platform’s legitimacy. Scammers impersonate customer service representatives and manipulate victims into sending money or revealing sensitive account information by phone scams and may also reach out via email. Here's how these scams typically operate and what they might look like for users:

  • Fake customer service numbers: Scammers create and disseminate fake customer service numbers through fake support web pages or social media accounts. When a person calls these numbers, they reach a scammer posing as a customer service representative, offering assistance with the person's financial queries or issues.
  • Phishing emails or texts: Victims receive phishing emails or texts impersonating Zelle or their bank, stating a problem with their account or payment. The message urges the recipient to contact customer service via a provided link, email, or phone number, which is controlled by the scammers and where they will request personal information.
An illustration of a Zelle direct message scam screenshot.

4. Lottery and prize scams

Zelle payment scams, including lottery and prize scams, exploit the desire for quick gains. Scammers contact potential victims, claiming they've won a substantial lottery, sweepstakes, or prize. However, to access these non-existent winnings, the scammers instruct victims to pay various fees, taxes, or security deposits. These scams generally look like:

  • Deceptive winning announcements: Scammers contact victims with exciting news that they've won a lottery or prize, often using official-looking documents or fake endorsements to appear legitimate.
  • Urgent payment requests: To claim their winnings, scammers instruct victims to pay fees, such as processing charges or taxes, using Zelle. The scammer stresses immediacy, exploiting Zelle's instant transfer feature and urging quick action for time-sensitive transactions.

5. Romance scams

Romance scams are when a scammer creates a fake romantic relationship to deceive their victim into sending them money. Scammers often target victims on dating sites, social media, or other digital platforms.

Romance scammers invest time in building a friendship, sharing personal details, and, eventually, expressing love, all while concealing their true identity and motives. These scammers may also use leaked pictures and profiles from victims of identity theft. That’s why it’s so important to learn what to do if your identity is stolen. These scams often involve:

  • Urgent needs: Once scammers establish trust, they fake crises and urgent financial needs. These might include medical emergencies, travel expenses, legal troubles, or investment opportunities.
  • Request for funds: The scammer suggests using Zelle for the money transfer. They might justify this by claiming they can’t receive funds through other means due to their current crisis or logistical issues.
  • Ghosting: After receiving the money, scammers might cut off all communication, leaving the victim confused and betrayed. Alternatively, they might continue the relationship to milk more funds.

6. Investment scams

Investment scams on Zelle are when scammers reach out to potential victims via email, social media, phone calls, or other platforms, presenting fake investment opportunities that could end with you losing money or even the title to your home. These could range from stocks, real estate, and cryptocurrencies to other unconventional investment platforms. Here’s what they look like:

  • Building credibility: Fraudsters often build credibility by showcasing financial knowledge, providing fake credentials, or faking testimonials. They may use jargon and show plans to convince the victim of their investment expertise and the opportunity's legitimacy.
  • Pressure to invest via Zelle: Scammers pressure victims to make immediate investments using Zelle. They often claim that immediate payment is necessary to secure a position in the investment, guarantee a specific return rate, or take advantage of a limited-time opportunity.
  • Money loss: The scammer might provide false updates about the growth of the investment, encouraging more investments. Alternatively, they may disappear entirely.

7. Rental scams

Rental scams on Zelle exploit individuals looking for housing. These scams prey on a basic need, and Zelle's immediate transfer feature can make the recovery of funds nearly impossible. Here's how these scams typically unfold:

  • Fake rental listings: Scammers create compelling, often too-good-to-be-true listings for apartments or homes. Scammers list these rentals at competitive rates to attract more victims. The rentals are fake or a copy of legitimate ads.
  • High-pressure tactics: Scammers pressure victims with claims of high demand and urgency, pushing them to make quick decisions. They might say that many people are interested in the property, pressuring potential renters to secure the place by sending a deposit or the first month's rent immediately.
  • Avoiding In-person meetings: Scammers come up with excuses to avoid meeting in person or showing the property, often citing reasons like being out of the country, the property being currently occupied, or health concerns. They might provide extensive details, pictures, and even a fake lease agreement to make everything seem legitimate.
An illustration of a rental deposit scam message screenshot.

8. Employment scams

Employment scams involving Zelle prey on job seekers by offering fake employment opportunities to defraud them of money or personal information. Here's how these scams typically play out:

  • Fake job listings: Scammers post attractive job offers on legitimate job-seeking websites or social media platforms or send them directly to potential victims via email. These positions often offer favorable conditions, such as work-from-home options, high salaries, or minimal experience requirements.
  • Conducting fake Interviews and job offers: Scammers may conduct interviews, often through online platforms or email correspondence. These interactions mimic legitimate hiring processes, deceiving the victim into believing a genuine company is hiring them. After a seemingly successful interview, the scammer extends a fake job offer to the victim.
  • Financial pretext: Scammers may claim that the victim needs to pay for training materials, work supplies, initial background checks, processing fees, or other job-related costs. They may request payment through Zelle.

9. Charity scams

Charity scams on Zelle fake charitable organizations or falsely use the name of a legitimate charity. These scams often arise during times of crisis, such as natural disasters and pandemics. When involving platforms like Zelle, the scam typically unfolds in the following manner:

  • Solicitation: Scammers reach out to potential donors through various channels. These can include email blasts, social media posts, phone calls, or even text messages. They'll often exploit recent events that garnered a lot of media attention and an emotional response, knowing that people are more likely to donate during these times.
  • False narrative: Scammers pose as representatives of either non-existent charities or real organizations. They create convincing narratives about the charity's goals, the urgency of donations, and the impact of contributions.
  • Urgency and emotional appeal: Scammers capitalize on the emotional impact of the event they're exploiting, insisting that any delay will have dire consequences. They aim to prompt an impulsive decision to donate.

10. Concert and event ticket scams

Ticketmaster scams for concerts and events involve the sale of fake tickets or non-existent tickets. They are often for popular events and concerts that sell out quickly and where many people are desperate to find tickets. Scammers exploit this urgency and the fans' trust using platforms like Zelle. Here's how these scams generally unfold:

  • Advertising fake tickets: Scammers post advertisements or send messages offering tickets to sold-out events, highly anticipated concerts, or popular sporting events. These tickets may appear to be premium seats, VIP packages, or standard entry at an attractive price. They list these offers on social media and fake websites that mimic legitimate ticket sellers.
  • Creating a sense of legitimacy: To appear legitimate, scammers often provide detailed information about the seats, including section, row, and seat number, and may use images or replicas of real tickets.

11. Family and friends impersonation scams

Scammers can impersonate family and friends on social media as a part of a scam to request money from victims through Zelle. They create a compelling, time-sensitive crisis, insisting on secrecy and using Zelle for immediate funds transfer. Here’s what they generally look like:

  • Unexpected contact: Victims receive a call, email, or text message from someone claiming to be a friend or family member. The scammers typically claim to be in a dire situation, such as being stranded while traveling, in a hospital, in jail, or in another emergency scenario.
  • Crafting a believable scenario: Scammers use information they can gather from social media or personal information breaches to make their story more believable. Alternatively, they might pose as an authority figure, such as a lawyer or a police officer, claiming to represent a friend or family member.
  • Urgency and secrecy: They will insist they need money immediately to resolve their emergency—perhaps for bail, hospital bills, car repairs, or a plane ticket home. They might plead with the victim not to tell anyone else in their family or friend group, supposedly out of embarrassment or fear, further isolating the victim from potential reality checks.

Protect yourself against online scams

An illustrated chart with some best practices to protect oneself from Zelle scams.

The Federal Trade Commission reported U.S. consumers had lost nearly $8.8 billion to scams, with the most common being imposter and online scams.

Avoiding identity theft and scams, especially those involving immediate payment platforms like Zelle, requires vigilance and a consistent approach in handling any requests for money or sensitive information. Here are six best practices that can help protect against a wide range of scams:

  • Verify identities and claims: Always double-check and verify the identity of anyone who contacts you with a request for money. If it's someone claiming to represent a company, charity, or even a family member, do not use the contact information they provide. Instead, use official channels to confirm whether the request is legitimate.
  • Be skeptical of urgency: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to prevent you from thinking critically or consulting others. This urgency is a classic sign of an identity thief. Regardless of the pressure or dire claims, take the time to think things over.
  • Never share sensitive information: Be cautious with your personal or financial information. Never share sensitive details with unverified sources, especially over the phone, via email, or social media.
  • Use secure and traceable transaction methods: For payments, especially significant amounts, use methods that are secure and have a traceable record. Services like Zelle payments are quick transactions that are difficult to trace.
  • Conduct thorough research: Before making any donations, purchasing tickets, investing in opportunities, or responding to job offers, do your due diligence. Look for reviews, ask for references, and search for additional information online. Authentic companies and offers will have a traceable history and verifiable references.

If you’ve shared personal information with scammers, they can utilize it to gain access to your other digital accounts that use the same credentials. Avoiding identity theft requires vigilance and proactive security. LifeLock Ultimate Plus will monitor the unnatural use of your personal information and help prevent account takeovers.

FAQs about Zelle scams

Still have questions? We’ve compiled some answers for you to better understand Zelle scams below.

Is it safe to accept Zelle from strangers?

Accepting Zelle payments from strangers can be problematic due to scam potential, money laundering, and personal information risks. Zelle’s instant transfer of funds means it leaves no money trail. Scammers can withdraw funds instantly compared to money transfers from banks and financial institutions.

Can someone reverse a Zelle payment?

Once users send and receive money on Zelle, they cannot cancel a transaction. Therefore, under normal circumstances, there is no straightforward way for senders to reverse a completed Zelle payment if they sent it to the intended recipient and it was accepted.

Will Zelle cover me if I get scammed?

If you authorized a payment through Zelle, even if you were tricked or scammed, Zelle does not cover losses. Since the service is intended for transactions between people who know each other, their stance is that users should never use Zelle to buy from or send money to people they don't know or trust.

If you suspect you've been scammed, you should contact your bank's customer service immediately. They can guide you through their process for handling these issues.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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