Did You Get Scammed on Zelle? Don’t Panic! Do This
Toni Landi quickly answered the phone when her caller ID showed “PNC Bank” — the name of her financial institution. And when the caller claimed to be from the bank’s fraud department and was calling about a suspicious $1,000 Zelle transfer from her account, Toni was ready to follow his instructions.
The only way to reverse the charge, she was told, was to go into her Zelle account and send $1,000 to an account that the caller provided. Toni was suspicious, but the caller knew her personal information — such as her full name and address — and pushed her to act quickly.
So she did — unknowingly sending her money straight to scammers [*].
Zelle scams like this one are among the fastest-growing crimes in America. Zelle handled over $490 billion in transactions last year, making it a massive target for scammers. According to a recent report from senator Elizabeth Warren’s office [*]:
Zelle users lost over $250 million to scams in 2022 — with only 9.6% of victims being reimbursed by their banks.
If you’ve been scammed on Zelle, there are steps you can take to recover your lost funds. But you need to act quickly. In this guide, we’ll cover what to do if you’ve been scammed on Zelle, and how to try and get your money back.
Will Zelle Refund Money If You’ve Been Scammed?
In most cases, the answer is no.
Peer-to-peer payment systems like Zelle (along with Cash App and Venmo) treat transactions like cash — meaning there’s no way to cancel a Zelle payment once it’s been sent.
Even worse, unlike other payment apps such as Venmo, Zelle doesn’t offer any form of payment protection. This means that even if you send money for a product which never arrives, you have no official recourse.
And if you are scammed, banks often deny claims, stating that they’re not covered by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (more commonly known as Regulation E) — the federal law that covers electronic transfers.
This is because victims are technically authorizing these payments, even if scammers are impersonating bank employees in order to trick their victims into making payments.
Banks will only step in if there was an unauthorized payment disbursed from your account — for example, if cybercriminals stole your Zelle account password in a phishing scam and sent payments to another account that they control.
There is some good news: Banks are apparently discussing a standardized refund process for money lost to Zelle scams. However, it’s unlikely that these rules will be put in place until mid-to-late 2023 [*].
Currently, the odds of recovering your lost money on Zelle are slim (especially compared to other payment options like credit cards or PayPal). But, there are still steps you can take.
How To Get Your Money Back From Zelle If You Were Scammed
- File a fraud claim
- Ask the recipient for a refund
- Try to cancel the payment
- Contact Zelle support
- File a police report
- Inform your bank or credit card company
- Report and block the Zelle scammer
- Freeze your credit
- File a complaint with the FTC
- Sign up for a digital security solution
If you’ve been scammed on Zelle, or if you sent money to the wrong person, here’s what you can do to try and get your money back.
Note: These steps apply mainly to people using the stand-alone Zelle app. If you’re using Zelle through your bank’s mobile app, the steps may be slightly different.
1. File a fraud claim with your financial institution under Regulation E
The good news is that fraudulent Zelle transactions can be refunded.
But while you might think that losing money to a Zelle scam is an obvious form of fraud, you will find that banks, Zelle, and the law think differently.
According to Zelle’s policy — as well as Regulation E — for a transaction to be determined as “fraudulent,” it must be:
- An unauthorized transfer — for example, if someone steals your phone and accesses your Zelle account.
- An incorrect electronic transfer from or to your account — for example, if you mistype the phone number or email address of the person to whom you meant to send money.
- A miscalculation made by the financial institution — for example, if you meant to send $10, but a Zelle error caused $100 to be sent instead.
If you lost money because of one of these reasons, or think that you should be covered, you can contact your financial institution and ask about a Regulation E dispute.
You typically have 60 days from the date of your last statement to make the claim. You’ll also most likely be asked to supply a written statement of events as well as other information, including:
- Your account number.
- Details of the unauthorized transactions and errors (types, amounts, dates, and transaction numbers).
- A timeline of your dispute — such as when your statement that reflected the unauthorized transaction was sent, and the date when you first notified the bank.
- The type of resolution that you are requesting.
Banks have 45 calendar days to investigate claims and two days to provide provisional crediting.
2. Ask the recipient for a refund
If you technically didn’t lose money to a fraudulent transaction, then there are only three scenarios in which you’ll be able to recover lost funds on Zelle:
- The recipient agrees to send the money back to you.
- You manage to cancel a transaction that hasn’t been accepted.
- You successfully dispute the transaction with Zelle or your bank.
Your first step will always be to try and get the person to send back the money that you transferred to them.
Here’s what to do:
- Open the Zelle app (or your bank’s mobile app) and tap “Request.”
- Look for the contact information of the person to whom you sent money.
- Enter the amount of money that you want to request.
- Include a note.
- Tap “Request” (or confirm).
You’ll be notified in the app (or via email) if the person denies the request.
3. Try to cancel the payment
In the unlikely chance that the person to whom you sent money hasn’t yet enrolled in Zelle, you may be able to cancel the transfer.
Here’s what to do:
- Open the Zelle app or your mobile bank’s Zelle tab.
- Find the payment that you want to cancel.
- Tap “Cancel This Payment.”
- The payment will then be refunded back via your original payment method.
4. Contact Zelle support and report the scam
If you’re unable to cancel the transaction or get the scammer to send your money back, you should still report the scam to Zelle’s customer support.
Zelle explicitly states that they “are unable to assist with getting your money back.” However, reporting the scam will help them identify future scams and alert Zelle about the scam user.
Use this online form to report the scam, and include as much information as possible. You can also report online fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
5. Report the fraud to your bank and request a chargeback
You may have better luck dealing with your bank’s fraud department than dealing directly with Zelle. In some cases, you may even be able to request a chargeback and recover your lost funds.
Here’s what to do:
- Contact your financial institution’s fraud department, either by using their official phone number or their mobile banking app.
- Explain that you’ve been the victim of a scam and want to try to request a chargeback.
- Provide details of the scam as well as the transaction (time and date, amount, recipient’s information, etc.).
- Ask them to investigate. You may need to send them your evidence as well as a written request.
- If they won’t investigate or are slow to respond, you can report them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your Bank Account Number? →
6. File a police report
Your financial institution may require a police report before they’ll move forward with an investigation.
Contact your local law enforcement’s non-emergency line (i.e., not 911) and ask for their fraud department. Explain what happened, and tell them the steps that you’ve already taken. Provide as much information as you can about the fraud and how it occurred.
The police will create a file that you can reference when you continue trying to get your money back.
7. Report and block the Zelle scammer
To stop further scams or harassment, you should also block the user in the Zelle app. Bear in mind that you can only block users on the official Zelle app — not via your bank’s mobile app.
Here’s what to do:
- Open the settings tab (the gear icon at the bottom of your screen).
- Select “Privacy Settings” and then “Block Requests.”
- Choose the user you want to block. They don’t need to be in your contacts.
- Tap “Confirm.”
Once users are blocked, they won’t show up in your network, be able to find you on Zelle, or send money requests or payments.
8. Freeze your credit
If you’ve given any sensitive information to a scammer, you’ll want to freeze your credit.
Fraudsters use information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN), or bank account information to open new accounts or take out loans in your name.
A credit freeze stops anyone from accessing your credit report and opening new accounts in your name.
To freeze your credit, contact each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and request a credit freeze.
9. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracks and reports on scams. If you’ve lost money or given up sensitive information that could be used for identity theft — such as your name, address, credit card number, Social Security number (SSN), etc. — you should report it to the FTC.
Report the scam to official government authorities by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or by visiting ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
10. Consider signing up for a digital security solution
In the best case scenario, you’ll only lose a small amount of money to a Zelle scam. But if scammers have your personal information, the consequences could be much worse.
Fraudsters use your personal information for identity theft — which can cause serious damage to your credit, identity, and reputation.
Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution monitors your most sensitive information while also proactively protecting you from identity theft and fraud.
- 24/7 credit monitoring with 4x faster fraud alerts. Aura monitors your bank, credit, and investment accounts in near real-time for signs of fraud. If anything suspicious is detected, Aura will alert you up to 4x faster than the competition.
- A secure password manager that warns you if your accounts are compromised. Aura scans the Dark Web as well as recent data breaches to see if your usernames and passwords have been leaked. If your passwords are found online, Aura will alert you and then help you replace them with new, more secure passwords that you can manage with a single click (so that you don’t ever have to worry about remembering them).
- Antivirus and a VPN to keep your devices safe from hackers. Hackers can come after your money transfer apps and devices. Aura’s antivirus software and virtual private network (VPN) ensure that your devices and networks are secured against hacking.
- #1-rated identity theft protection. Aura constantly monitors your most sensitive personal data (such as your SSN, name, address, home title, and more) for signs of fraud. You’ll be alerted in near real-time of any suspicious activity.
- $1,000,000 insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft. If the worst should happen, you have 24/7 access to a team of fraud resolution specialists as well as insurance protection that covers damages caused by identity theft.
How To Secure Your Zelle Account Against Scammers
Even if you go through all of these steps, there’s no guarantee that you’ll recover your lost funds. Instead, it’s always better to take a proactive approach to safeguarding your money against scammers.
Here’s how you can secure your Zelle account and avoid being a victim of fraud in the future:
- Use strong and unique passwords for your Zelle and online banking accounts. Passwords are often your first and only defense against hacking and many other types of scams. Use a password that is at least 10 characters long and includes a combination of upper and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers.
- Secure your phone with biometric security measures. Make sure criminals can’t access your Zelle account if they steal or find your phone. Set up biometric security measures such as facial recognition or fingerprint ID, and set your phone to auto-lock for 30 seconds or less.
- Add multi-factor authentication to your account (MFA). Multi or two-factor authentication (2FA) requires a special code along with your password to log in to your account. It’s a good idea to set up 2FA on all accounts that allow it. For added security, use an authenticator app rather than SMS.
- Sign up for text or email alerts on your account. Most banks and credit unions offer transaction notifications. Sign up for these, and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Aura can also monitor your bank, credit, and investment accounts and alert you of any potentially fraudulent activity.
- Learn the warning signs of a phishing attack. Zelle scams almost always start with a fraudulent email, text message, or phone call. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of phishing emails, fake text messages, and phone scams.
- Never give away your personal information or Zelle login information. Zelle and bank employees will never ask you for passwords, PINs, or 2FA codes. If someone calls or asks for this information, it’s a scam.
- Protect yourself against hackers. Scammers can spy on you over public Wi-Fi or hack your devices to gain access to your Zelle and bank accounts. Aura’s powerful antivirus software and military-grade virtual private network (VPN) can protect you against hackers.
- Only send money to people you know personally. Zelle is safest when you use it only with friends and family. Don’t send money to strangers, and always double-check account information before you hit “send.”
The Bottom Line: Secure Your Zelle Account Against Scammers
Zelle (and its parent company, Early Warning Services) are owned by some of the biggest banks in America — including Wells Fargo, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, and Bank of America. But don’t let the payment service’s credentials distract you from the red flags of a Zelle scam.
While it hurts to get scammed out of money, the consequences can be much worse if you accidentally give fraudsters easy access to your identity and other financial accounts.
Don’t become a repeat victim of fraud and scams. Instead, let Aura monitor and protect your sensitive information, assets, and accounts from criminals.