How to Stop Scammers in their Tracks

How to Stop Scammers in their Tracks

By: Chief Fraud Risk Management Officer Ben Chance, Early Warning Services

As temperatures heat up across the U.S., so does criminal activity.  

At Early Warning Services, the network operator of Zelle®, our top priority is to provide a safe, reliable, and easy way for consumers to send money to people and businesses they know and trust. From 2022 through 2023 there was a nearly 50% decrease in reports of fraud and scam payments processed on the network. As a result, 99.95% of Zelle payments last year were completed without a report of fraud or scams – while we simultaneously grew our network and increased transaction volume by 28%. We are always working on new scam prevention techniques and technologies to build on our strong security foundation from Zelle. 

We are proud of the work we have done and remain relentlessly committed to these efforts to ensure that the 120 million consumers and small businesses who use Zelle for critical payments like rent, wages, emergency relief – and daily conveniences like birthday presents and splitting the cost of bills – can do so with peace of mind.   

Working in partnership with over 2,100 participating banks and credit unions, we have created a multi-layered approach that puts healthy friction in our system. That approach recently caught the attention of Kiplinger readers who named Zelle an “Outstanding Peer-to-Peer Payment Service of 2024” for its free and speedy transactions. This approach includes in-app messaging that validates the name of the intended receiver during the payment initiation, as well as additional security alerts prior to payment confirmation which reminds senders to only use Zelle to pay people they know and trust. Behind the scenes, we provide tools like Risk Insights for Zelle which is used by all of our participating financial institutions to help potentially identify suspicious payments. If there is a report of fraud or scam from a consumer to their financial institution, we use those reports to create fraud investigation cases and remove bad actors from our network.  

Our consumer education campaigns help empower Zelle users to identify common scams and avoid them, including our recent campaigns with the Better Business Bureau, Institute for Marketplace Trust and the National Council on Aging (NCOA). 

“Consumer fraud and scams are a costly issue affecting Americans of all ages and walks of life. The stakes are high – fraud and scams are a $1 trillion issue globally that we need to unify around as we help folks protect themselves in a rapidly evolving digital landscape,” says Jessica Johnston, senior director, Center for Economic Well-being, NCOA.   

There is no silver bullet to eliminate scams and fraud. It will take a mix of law enforcement, public policy, coordination across industries, technology, and vigilance by savvy consumers to stay ahead of crime. Here are a few tips to help Zelle users keep ahead of scammers and send money safely.

Only send money to those who you know and trust: Zelle is designed to send and receive money with family, friends and local businesses who you trust. The best way to ensure that you are keeping yourself and your money safe is to never use it to send money to a stranger whose identity you can’t verify. When setting up the payment, confirm you have your recipient’s correct U.S. mobile phone number or email address.   

If it sounds too good to be true, it is: Many scammers try to play on the emotions of potential victims by presenting them with incredible deals on sold-out experiences or on hard-to-get goods.  

Treat Zelle like cash: Though there are differences between Zelle and cash, it can be helpful to think of them in similar terms. Zelle is a way to provide a recipient with fast access to money that you send them. It can be an easy way to split the cost of the bill with friends or tip someone who provides a service. But just like your grandma wouldn’t mail a birthday card with cash inside without confirming your mailing address, when you use Zelle to send someone money you should make sure your money is going to the right contact.   

Ask for contact details, don't hand over your phone: Some in-person scammers and criminals are preying on the generosity of others by asking victims to hand over their phone to easily donate to a cause or pay for a good or service. Once the scammer has the victim’s unlocked phone, they send themselves hundreds or even thousands of dollars, with the victims unaware until they check their bank statements. It’s best practice to enter contact information yourself rather than handing over your phone to the person you are trying to pay.   

Beware of bank imposters: Some scammers convince unsuspecting victims to send funds or share log-in information through very convincing bank imposter scams, including incredibly convincing emails, phone calls, and text messages. If your bank reaches out to you asking to share private account information, to send funds to “reverse a transfer,” or to authorize a transaction you didn’t initiate, you should call your bank directly – using the number on your statements or the back of your card.   

Learn to spot and stop scams: Our participating banks and credit unions work tirelessly to keep their customers safe from fraud and scams. Many of them offer tips and comprehensive guides on their websites to help customers identify and avoid common scams. Next time you log into your banking app, check out the resources they offer around Zelle safety tips.  

In addition, you can learn more about fighting scam and frauds from the following education campaigns: 

By working together to advance scam prevention, and remaining vigilant as individuals, we can help Zelle users securely send and receive money quickly and easily with people they know and trust.