The 5 most common Zelle scams (and how to avoid them) [2023]

Adam Rozsa

Thinking of using Zelle for fast, easy bank payments, but worried about getting scammed? Read on, as we’ve put together a helpful guide to the most common Zelle scams. And crucially, how to avoid them.

And remember, Zelle isn’t the only option for sending money. If you want to make an international payment outside the US, you’ll need to find an alternative, as Zelle doesn’t work internationally.

Wise is the perfect solution, letting you send money worldwide in just a few clicks. You’ll only pay low, transparent fees¹, and you’ll always get the fair mid-market exchange rate - more on this, later.

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Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing: Only Pay for What You Use for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information.

How does Zelle work?

Before we get into the most common Zelle scams and how to protect yourself, it’s useful to know a little about how Zelle works.

If you’ve not heard of it, Zelle is a digital payment bank owned by a number of major banks. It’s also offered by around 1,700 participating banks². When you log in to online banking or your mobile banking app, you should find it there.

Zelle is designed to make it easy to send money between friends and family within the US. Both sender and recipient will need to opt in, if of course your bank offers Zelle.

Once you’re signed up, you can use Zelle to send money directly from your bank account in a matter of minutes - fee-free².

But although it’s easy to use, Zelle is also the subject of a number of scams. It’s targeted by fraudsters partly because it’s so popular, with billions of dollars being processed through its platform. Zelle payments are also near-instant, and can’t be reversed³. Scammers like this, as it makes it more difficult for you to recover your money.

The most common Zelle scams (and how to avoid them)

Knowledge is power, so here’s some crucial info on the most common Zelle scams going around. And just as importantly, a few tips on how you can protect yourself and your money from fraudsters.

1. Fake Zelle emails and texts

This is a common scam which can take many different forms. But in most cases, you’ll receive an email or text which appears to be from Zelle. These communications could appear legitimate, making it hard to tell that it’s not actually Zelle contacting you.

In some scams, the victim will receive a phishing email which flags up a suspicious login or purchase. It may ask the recipient to click a link or fill in details, and could even trigger a follow-up call from someone impersonating Zelle or your bank.

Other scams are more complex, involving multi-stage processes where you need to pay to upgrade your account or recover money. They’re all designed to trick you into clicking a link or handing over your details. Or worse, actually make a payment.

How to avoid this scam

According to Zelle, it will never ask for money via emails or phone calls³. There are also warning signs to look out for, such as:

  • The sender’s email address - if it doesn’t look official or contains a typo, it’s likely a scam
  • A tone of forced urgency
  • Questionable grammar and spelling.

2. Zelle transfers ‘to yourself’

This Zelle scam is sadly becoming all too common. It’s where the scammer asks you to send a Zelle payment supposedly to yourself, in order to cancel fraudulent withdrawals.

In one notable case³, a woman from Illinois received a call which showed up on her caller ID as ‘Bank of America’. But it was actually a scammer, who told her that thousands of dollars in fraudulent withdrawals had been made from her bank account via Zelle. To reverse these transactions and get her money back, the scammer told her to Zelle herself $3,500. In a panic, the woman did.

At all stages, the call and subsequent link to send a Zelle to herself seemed legitimate. But the details changed to a different bank at the last minute, and the $3,500 was lost.

How to avoid this scam

Quite simply, never Zelle yourself. You should also be wary of someone calling out of the blue claiming to be your bank.

3. Fake job offers

Also known as ‘money mule scams’, these are where scammers post a work-from-home job offer online. It’s aimed at luring in jobseekers, offering an attractive job offer with an equally enticing pay packet.

A common feature of these scams is that anyone who responds to these job ads will be asked to pay something upfront. It’s usually under the guise or purchasing work equipment.

And of course, there’s no job - it’s all just a ruse to get you to send over a Zelle payment.

How to avoid this scam

Remember that legitimate jobs don’t usually involve interview processes which take place solely through text messages. Nor do they ask you to pay for your own equipment upfront.

4. Fake Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist listings

One of the most common ways to get scammed online is when buying something using a platform like Craigslist or Facebook marketplace.

Scammers post a listing, you get in touch to buy and they ask for a Zelle payment upfront. But you never receive the item. The most worrying cases are fake rental listings on Craigslist, where victims send Zelle payments to cover security deposits, after signing a fake lease.

It can also work the other way around. In a few cases, the scammer has responded to a Facebook Marketplace listing asking if the item is still available. They ask for the seller’s email address or phone number so they can send over a Zelle payment. Then a phishing email purportedly from Zelle arrives, asking you to pay to upgrade to a business account.

How to avoid this scam

Bear in mind that you don’t need a Zelle business account to make and receive payments. It may also be worth avoiding using Zelle for commercial transactions. And be very wary of sending any money before you’ve received the goods.

5. Scam refund and recovery processes

Lastly, there are refund and recovery scams. These are designed to trick people into thinking they’ve lost money, usually through a phone call impersonating your bank. The scammer then walks the victim through a complicated and completely fake Zelle refunds process. They think they’ll be getting their money back, but they’re actually paying the scammer.

How to avoid this scam

Be very wary of calls from someone claiming to be a bank representative, especially if they talk about making payments or handing over details. It could be worth hanging up and calling the bank back (looking up the number separately), so you can check it’s legitimate.

Low-cost international payments with Wise

While Zelle may not be used internationally, remember that banks also aren’t the only option out there. Make sure you also consider solutions like the Wise Account.

Open a Wise Account to send, convert and hold 50+ currencies at once. It also offers:

  • Low-cost money transfers, using the mid-market rate plus a small fee
  • Local bank details to get paid in 10 different currencies
  • Multi-currency direct debits
  • For a fee, order the Wise international debit card, for low-cost spending in 174 countries.

See how much you can save with Wise:

Tips for avoiding Zelle scams

  • Check your bank statements regularly
  • Double-check payment requests from people you don’t know
  • Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your Zelle account
  • Opt to make transactions with a Zelle-connected email address
  • Always be wary of ‘urgent’ payment requests.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed on Zelle

You can contact Zelle’s customer support team on 1-844-428-8542. It’s also worth contacting your bank’s fraud department, and submitting a report to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center³.

Sources used for this article:

  1. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing: Only Pay for What You Use for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information.
  2. Zelle Pay

Sources checked on 08-Feb-2023.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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