SAN FRANCISCO, California -- A scam spreading across the country is targeting Bank of America customers, tricking them into sending money to fraudsters through the popular Zelle payment app.
A school nurse near San Francisco, California was among the latest to fall victim, just as she was working to get students safely back to school amid the threat of COVID-19.
"With the pandemic and kids coming back to school, yeah it's crazy,'' said Page Pollack, the nurse for the San Carlos School District. "I have eight schools and I am the only nurse. So it's a pretty big job."
Immersed in the task of getting schools open with ever-changing pandemic conditions, the last thing she expected was to be blindsided by a con artist.
"$3,500 is a lot of money to me,'' Pollack told our sister station KGO-TV. "School nurses don't make a ton of money."
The scam has been reported far and wide by thousands of victims across the country. Now, Bank of America is warning customers as many scammers are posing as BofA representatives helping them "avoid a hack in their account."
"I saw Bank of America on the caller ID so I thought, 'OK, this is legit,'" Pollack said.
The imposters struck just as Pollack was running to catch a flight to Utah to visit her kids in July.
As she was getting dropped off at the airport, a text message popped up on her phone.
It read: "Bank of America Fraud Alert - Did you attempt a Zelle transaction of $3,500? Reply yes or no or 1 to decline fraud alerts."
"So I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't authorize a $3,500 transfer through Zelle,'" Pollack recalled. "So I typed 'no.'"
Immediately, her phone rang. The caller ID said Bank of America, so she believed it really was her longtime bank.
"A really friendly guy said, 'Oh, so you didn't authorize this transaction?' I said, 'Absolutely not.' And he said, 'Well, get your mobile app open...we're gonna go get you your $3,500 back."
The man told her to push several buttons on the Zelle mobile payment app. Then he put her on hold.
"By that time, I was panicked, because I had to get to the airplane," Pollack said. "My flight was leaving and something (about that call) just was not sitting right with me."
As she boarded the plane, the school nurse grew more suspicious and opened the BofA app on her phone.
"Sure enough, I looked at my account and $3,500 was gone, right then and there," Pollack said. "You see that $3,500 and your heart just sinks."
She called the bank from her plane seat.
"And I got put on hold for a million hours, and by that time, the flight attendant yelled at me because I was on the phone and it was time to take off," Pollack said.
She said she begged the flight attendant to let her stay on the phone to try to block the fraudulent transaction.
"She was really not empathetic at all and I had to hang up," Pollack said.
Pollack had to sit tight for two anxious hours until the plane landed in Salt Lake City. Then she quickly called Bank of America to file a claim for the return of her money.
A month later, the verdict arrived.
"(They said,) 'sorry, you're outta luck, lady,'" she said.
BofA denied her claim, but what really amazed her was the bank's reasoning.
The bank's notice read: "Page, unfortunately, we're unable to approve your recent claim...we didn't receive approval from the payee to reverse the $3,500 transferred into your account."
The payee in this case was the scammer.
The bank added, "We recommend you contact the person you sent the funds to directly for further assistance."
"So they want me to contact the person who scammed me?" Pollack said incredulously. "And I'm like, 'Who is that even? How would I know?'"
However, KGO-TV alerted Bank of America that this was a fraud, not a legitimate transaction.
The next day, Pollack got a call from the bank. But unlike last time, she did not jump to answer it.
"I saw the phone ring and the caller ID is Bank of America and I was like, 'I'm not falling for that trick again.' So I didn't answer," Pollack said.
But this time it was real.
Pollack called the bank and found out it had reversed its decision.
"I said, 'So that means I get my money back?' She says, 'Yes.' So I just started crying," Pollack told KGO-TV. "I am just beyond grateful, beyond appreciative. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
The takeaway: A call from your bank might not really be your bank.
Bank of America warns it would never call and ask you to stop a fraud by using the Zelle money app or any other bank transfer. If you get such a call, hang up and call the bank directly using the number on your debit card or bank statement. Don't respond directly to the text or call that came in on your phone.