“Hello, we see suspicious activity in your account. Did you just book a $3,500 limo ride in New York City using Zelle®? If not, then we will be sending you a one-time passcode to verify your identity before we reverse the charges.”

Have you ever received a call like this? Cybercriminals and fraudsters now use coercive and intimidating methods to convince unsuspecting people into giving up personal information like a One-time Passcode (OTP) or downloading software to their personal computers, tablets, or mobile phones giving criminals access to online banking accounts.

Today, I’ll focus on fraud carried out using the payment platform, Zelle®.

You’ve probably heard of Zelle® or used a similar service to pay your friends back for dinner, pay the babysitter, or maybe even make a purchase from a small business. Zelle® is a person-to-person payment provider. Zelle® is a fan favorite here in the US because it is a fast and convenient way to send money to your friends and family. Fraudsters also love Zelle® because of the real-time nature of the payments. Once a payment is sent, the money leaves your bank account almost instantly. By the time you realize that you have been defrauded the money is gone. Unfortunately, the process for recovering money lost in a Zelle® scam can be long and arduous.

There is a new scam making its way across Zelle® accounts.

The Reverse Zelle® Fraud is a complicated scam but is simple for criminals to execute. First you get a call that looks like it comes from your bank, a person claims there is a suspicious Zelle® transfer from your account and that the bank has stopped the transfer, BUT in order to get the funds back, you would need to make a “reverse transaction” by sending the money to yourself via Zelle®. In the meantime, the cybercriminal would have already created a new Zelle® account linked to their bank account but with your phone number. When you send a Zelle® payment to “yourself” you actually direct the money to leave your account and be transferred to the criminal’s bank account. And because Zelle® payments are real-time transactions, your money is gone before you know it!

Scammers and cybercriminals are smart and manipulative, even the smartest folks can fall victim to a complicated scam.

As consumers, we can take precautions to protect ourselves against cybercrime. Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t use the same username/password for all your accounts such as bank accounts, credit card accounts, email accounts, many sites where you set up a username/password. Use password manager software like LastPass, Dashlane and 1Password, etc. to create and use long, secure and different passwords for each site.
  • Set up Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) wherever possible.
  • Never give up any One-time Passcode that you receive from a financial institution. Your bank will never ask for it. If anyone calls and asks for it, don’t believe them, hang up the call even if it appears that the caller’s number belongs to your bank.
  • Never make any payment, especially Zelle® payments to people you don’t personally know. If somebody is selling something online or in social media, don’t purchase from them unless it’s a reputed, well-known organization.
  • If you are ever in doubt, the safest thing to do would be to call your bank’s customer service line that is on the back of your ATM/debit card, even when using Zelle®.

Hope this was helpful. Protect your private information and stay safe!

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