Banks tell customers they're responsible if they pay Zelle scammers

ByMichael Finney KGO logo
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Banks tell customers they're responsible for paying Zelle scammers
Bank of America tells customers Zelle is a separate company -- even though B of A and other banks own Zelle and add it to their menu of services.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- More bank customers are coming forward, saying imposters tricked them into transferring money through Zelle, the popular quick payment app.

Banks usually tell customers they are responsible for Zelle transactions even if they get scammed.

A woman in Oakland in northern California said she had never even used Zelle - until scammers tricked her into sending them money.

You may have noticed it: most banks automatically add Zelle to their customers' banking services. After all, Zelle is owned by seven major banks. And yet the banks say it's not their responsibility when scammers use it to get at your money. Now some customers are pushing back.

Katie Singer was at work when the alarming text popped up on her phone. It said "Bank of America. Did you attempt a Zelle transaction for $3,500?"

"I felt violated. Like, extremely violated and upset," Singer said.

"And then it said, 'Reply yes or no,' so I replied no..." she continued.

Minutes later, her phone rang, showing a B of A number.

"He asked me, 'Do you know this person?' I was like, no..." Singer said.

The man on the phone said the person was transferring her money. He could help her get it back.

"He said I needed to reverse the transfer and I needed to transfer it to myself..." she said.

The man told Singer she was sending the $3,500 back to her account.

"He got me in the Zelle app, he was sending me all these codes," Singer recounted.

And suddenly, the call dropped.

"I thought, 'Well that's funny,' so I tried to call back," she said.

The man was gone. And so was her money.

The scam was sweeping the country -- imposters posing as bankers, tricking customers into sending them money.

"So then I was scared... Does he have access to other accounts? So yeah, it was very scary. I cried for several days," Singer said.

Right away Singer filed a claim. Right away, Bank of America denied it.

"They told me because Zelle is a third party company... they basically, they didn't have any control over that," Singer said.

"So I was like, 'Well if you contract with this third party company, I don't see how my money isn't protected with you'... and they're like, we can't do anything about it," she said.

Bank of America tells customers Zelle is a separate company -- even though B of A and other banks own Zelle and add it to their menu of services.

"To the average consumer, it doesn't feel like a third-party, it feels like it's Bank of America," Singer said.

Cybersecurity journalist Bob Sullivan says banks should be using fraud filters to stop the crime. "I've talked to so many people who had never heard of Zelle, and all of a sudden their money's gone because of Zelle."

"I was very frustrated. I have my money in your bank to be protected. No one seems to be able to do that for me," Singer said.

B of A says it now displays a warning every time customers use Zelle to send to someone new. It says the bank would never ask them to transfer money, even to themselves.

B of A also promises to consider each case individually.

After we told them about Katie Singer, she got a call.

"Oh my god I literally couldn't believe it," Singer said.

B of A refunded her money after all.

"Thank you so much, the work you do is really great, thank you for helping myself and others," said Singer.

We are very happy for Singer. However, B of A doesn't refund all victims of the scam. It still tells folks they are at fault for authorizing the transactions.