SAN FRANCISCO -- A notorious Zelle scam is back as bank imposters trick customers into sending them money through the quick pay app. Banks are now sending fraud warnings to Zelle users -- but it may not be enough.
Crooks are always one step ahead of the banks. Imposters know Bank of America is sending out warnings when it detects a suspicious money transfer, but the imposters simply tell victims: you're gonna get an alert. Just ignore it.
Rachael Adler believed the man on the phone was really from Bank of America.
"The guy was very friendly, calm, kind, clearly educated ... it was very creepy in retrospect," she said.
Adler had just received a text -- did she charge $432 at a Walmart in Texas? She replied "no." Her phone rang.
"Hi, this is the Bank of America fraud department," said the person at the other end of the line.
The man told her someone was using Zelle to withdraw money from her account.
"'Now I see Zelle for $2,000 taken out of your account. Did you just do that?' 'No.' 'I also see one for $1,500. Did you Zelle anyone for $1,500?' 'No, I did not,'" Adler recounted.
The man told her she had to quickly send the money back to herself through Zelle. She followed his instructions. Adler had no idea the man was an imposter, and she was really sending her money straight to the crooks.
Then, the imposter went one step further. He told her she'd be getting a fraud alert from Bank of America -- but she should just ignore it.
"You're gonna get a text saying that we've detected suspicious transfer activity, that it could be possible fraud or scam. Don't worry about that. We're taking care of that right now in this phone call," Adler said she was told.
Sure enough, a real Bank of America fraud alert came on her phone --
"Rachael Adler we have detected suspicious transfer activity ..."
Just like the man said! She ignored it.
Another text said "beware," and, "did she still want to proceed?"
She replied "yes."
And $5,500 was gone.
"It's a hell of a lot of money. It's stunning," she said.
Bank of America started sending fraud alerts to Zelle users after the scam exploded last year. Now imposters are using them as part of the scheme.
"I trust nothing that the bank sends me right now. Like nothing," Adler said.
Bank of America sent 7 On Your Side this statement: "Bank of America will never ask a client to send money to themselves or anyone, ever. Spoofing and fraud communications often have urgency, typos, asking clients to send money etc. They use more and more sophisticated methods to appear to be authentic from the bank. Bank of America prioritizes client protection and works with clients to mitigate risks. When sending money using Zelle, clients receive several messages alerting them to red-flags that indicate a scam. Clients with questions should call the customer service number on their debit or credit card or bank statement to confirm any questionable or fraudulent inquiries."
The best way to protect yourself is never to respond to a text message or phone call that seems to be from your bank. If you do get any kind of fraud alert, call your bank directly using a phone number you know is real.