If you use Zelle, you should keep an eye on your bank accounts.
Sending money to family or making a rent payment via Zelle has many advantages, including the fact that it is instant and does not incur the fees that many traditional e-transfers do.
The instant payment service was launched in 2017 through a collaboration between Bank of America (BACXL), JP Morgan Chase (JPM) – Get JP Morgan Chase & Company Report, and Wells Fargo (WFC). Along with being faster than a traditional transfer, Zelle was promoted as a way to transfer funds directly between two people’s banks rather than through an external fintech company such as PayPal (PYPL) – Get PayPal Holdings Inc. Report or Venmo.
Other banks later joined in, and Zelle’s parent company is now owned by the seven largest banks in the United States, including Truist, Capital One (CPFLP), PNC Bank, and U.S. Bank.
However, anything done quickly can bring its own set of issues. Zelle has become associated with much higher rates of fraud and bad actors in the five years that it has been around.
Common Zelle scams include impersonating a distraught person who calls to say they “accidentally” transferred money to the wrong account and impersonating a bank agent who asks bank customers to cancel a “suspicious purchase.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) published a report last month describing “rampant fraud and theft” via the payment app. According to data provided by four banks that use Zelle, scams and fraud claims took $90 million in customer money in 2020 and are on track to exceed $255 million in 2022.
According to Warren’s report, Wells Fargo was the bank with the highest rate of Zelle fraud, with the number of fraudulent transfers increasing 2.5 times between 2019 and 2022. According to the senator, the bank “attempted to mislead” by capping the data it provided in 2021.
The report sparked a heated debate between Warren and Wells Fargo, with a spokesperson for the bank calling the analysis “misleading and inaccurate,” while Warren published another letter dismissing the response as “extraordinarily high and rapidly increasing instances of fraud and scams affecting Wells Fargo customers.”
“Your customers, who have endured dozens of instances of lawbreaking and mistreatment by your bank in recent years, deserve better,” Warren wrote in a letter to Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf on Monday.
Wells Fargo, the third largest bank in the United States, has been embroiled in a number of scandals over the last decade. In 2013, the company agreed to pay $175 million to settle allegations that it offered higher interest rates and mortgage fees to Black and Hispanic candidates.
The Department of Labor accused the bank of discriminating against Black job applicants in 2020, and the bank agreed to pay approximately $8 million in back wages. Scharf himself became the center of controversy after sending a memo stating that Wells Fargo wants to ramp up diversity efforts but is having difficulty finding qualified Black candidates.
However, the problem with Zelle is its immediacy; while appealing to those looking to pay quickly and without extra fees, bypassing the longer bank clearance process makes it prime territory for fraudsters.
Because Zelle is a peer-to-peer app, money lost to fraud is not protected in the same way. According to Warren’s report, those who reported unauthorized payments via Zelle in 2021 and the first half of 2022 received only 47% of the dollar amount back.
“Limit who you send money to via payment apps to people and businesses you trust, and secure your accounts by strengthening your passwords,” NerdWallet’s Sean Pyles said on the Smart Money podcast.