The money-payment service Zelle is a popular way to make free, near-instantaneous digital transfers between your bank account and someone else’s, perhaps to repay a coworker for lunch. Last year, 1.8 billion Zelle payments were sent from mobile devices, totaling nearly a half-billion dollars. Problem: That convenience has made Zelle a scammer favorite. Even worse: If you get burned, your bank won’t be of any help.

Zelle is built in to mobile software apps from hundreds of banks around the country. The company is run by a consortium of major banks including Bank of America, Citibank, Chase and Wells Fargo. Problem: Zelle doesn’t offer fraud protection…and federal law covering electronic transfers requires banks to reimburse you for stolen funds only when a transaction is “unauthorized.” Con artists often trick Zelle victims into sending money, technically making those transactions “authorized.” Example: You purchase an item on Facebook Marketplace and “Zelle” the money to the seller. But if you never receive the item, your bank won’t replace the money in your account. Or: You’re contacted by a con artist posing as a bank official who says your account has been hacked. You are told that a new account has been established to keep your funds safe—all you have to do is Zelle the money in your old bank account over to the new account, which is in reality, controlled by the thief.

How to protect yourself…

Never share your Zelle credentials with anyone who calls or texts you…and never Zelle yourself money to a new account. If you are alerted to a possible fraudulent Zelle transaction, call back the bank to investigate.

Use Zelle for only small trans-actions with people you trust. For commercial transactions, use PayPal which offers more robust fraud protection.

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