KSL INVESTIGATES

Bank employee impostors are using Zelle money transfer app to drain accounts

Apr 14, 2022, 6:22 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:54 pm

FARMINGTON, Utah — A new scam centered around the cash payment app, Zelle, is hitting a fever pitch as it drains money directly from bank accounts.

Zelle works like Venmo and many other cash payment apps; it allows people to send money from their accounts to almost anyone. Zelle is also used by many banks and credit unions and now fraudsters using that link to con people out of thousands of dollars.

“They’ll call up and say, we need to verify some recent activity on your account,” said Colton Christensen about several past calls he has received from his credit union’s fraud department.

Each of those past calls was legitimate. When a new call came to review a handful of new charges, Christensen was not startled. After all, he said the caller had the right account info, the caller ID matched up, and seemed to have spotted a bogus charge.

“(They) went through the most recent ten transactions and then added one in saying like $108 to Chipotle,” Christensen recounted. “And I’m like, obviously, that that wasn’t me.”

Colton Christensen explains to KSL’s Matt Gephardt how a fraudster locked him out of his bank account and then used Zelle to swipe his money. (KSL TV)

The agent told him they are shutting down that phony charge and asked if he wanted to enroll in a text messaging service for real-time fraud alerts.

“They said ‘We’re going to send you a text message with an enrollment code to prove that you own the line that it’s your phone number,’” Christensen said.

What he did not realize was he was talking to a fraudster. When he repeated the code back, the crook used it to reset the account password and lock him out of his own account. Then came the money transfers via Zelle, which partners with many banks and credit unions including the one Christensen banks at, America First Credit Union.

“I couldn’t get in and do anything about those transfers or see the next ones popping in,” he said. “So, they ended up taking about $5,000 – actually $4,990.”

Christensen is far from alone in this. In fact, many people around the country have been targeted by bad guys using Zelle to drain accounts from its partnering financial institutions.

Some variations of the scheme are leaving many of those victims unable to get their money back.

Zelle did not respond to our inquiry, but on its website, it says it is considered fraud when “someone gained unauthorized access to your money” and you are “typically able to get your money back.” But it is considered a scam when “you authorized a payment,” even if “you were tricked or persuaded into authorizing a payment” and “you may not be able to get your money back.”

We also reached out to America First. A spokesperson told us “The financial security of the membership is our highest priority, and we are vigilant and proactive about the financial safety of our members.” They did not talk specifics in Christensen’s case but warned “Incidents of fraudsters using Zelle as a vehicle for soliciting money transfers are on the rise.”

“There was one point where I was like, I wonder if I should just hang up and call the bank back to make sure that this is legitimate,” said Christensen.

What does this all mean for Christensen? He told us America First stepped up and credited that $5,000 back into his account.

Christensen’s advice is the same experts give; if you get a call from someone claiming to be your bank or credit union, hang up, look up the number and call them yourself, directly.

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Bank employee impostors are using Zelle money transfer app to drain accounts