Fraud & Scams

Crooks Are Impersonating FBI Agents in a New Zelle Scam

Cameron Huddleston
Cameron Huddleston
January 2, 2024
Crooks Are Impersonating FBI Agents in a New Zelle Scam

Scammers have increasingly been using Zelle and other payment apps in a variety of schemes to steal money from consumers. One of the most common scams involves a text message that appears to be from a bank. However, in the latest twist, scammers are impersonating FBI agents, according to reports received by Carefull’s Scam Check. 

Here’s what to know about the new FBI Zelle scam and how to avoid falling for it.

How the scam works

You receive an email claiming that a payment made to you through Zelle can’t be credited to your account because the amount exceeds your current limits and a business account is needed to give you a higher limit. It provides a link with instructions to create a business account and asks that you contact the person who made the initial payment to send an additional payment to “expand” your account limit.

Then, you receive a second email that appears to come from the FBI. It claims that a complaint has been filed against you by the person who sent the initial Zelle payment. The email threatens legal action if you don’t issue a refund.

One of these emails shared with Carefull’s Scam Check appears legitimate, at first glance, because there is an image of the ID of an FBI agent, who supposedly has sent the email. However, on closer inspection, there are several red flags that the ID and the investigation are fake.

For example, there are grammatical errors on the ID and throughout the email. There are multiple punctuation mistakes and incorrect words (such as “in other for” instead of in order for) in the email. And the government agency names listed on the ID are incorrect, with the United States Department of Justice identified as the Federal Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as the Department of Investigation. 

If you follow the instructions in the email and send a payment as a refund, the money will end up going to scammers.

How to avoid being scammed

Sending money through payment apps such as Zelle is like sending cash. Once the transaction is complete, it can be very difficult to get your money back if you authorized the payment—even if you were tricked into making the payment. That’s why it is important to know how to avoid Zelle and payment app scams.

  • Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or text messages, even if they appear to come from a trusted source such as a government agency or your bank. Contact the source directly to see if it is trying to reach you.
  • Don’t be pressured by threats. Scammers use scare tactics to get you to make payments quickly without thinking. Government agencies won’t make threats or tell you to transfer money using payment apps. 
  • Never use payment apps to send money to or receive money from someone you don’t know.  
  • Never provide personal information in response to unsolicited calls, emails or text messages. Bank and payment app representatives won’t reach out to ask you to provide your account login credentials or other sensitive information. 
  • Link payment apps to a credit card rather than a debit card or bank account because credit cards offer more protections if you don’t receive a good or service you paid for.
  • Enable security features on money transfer apps, such as multi-factor authentication that will require using a one-time passcode, face or fingerprint recognition to authorize transactions. However, never provide one-time passcodes that you receive to someone who asks because this is a tactic scammers use to hijack victims’ payment app accounts.  

Using an account monitoring service such as Carefull also can help. Carefull can monitor your bank and credit card accounts 24/7 and alert you if it detects payments made through a peer-to-peer payment app (as well as many other signs of fraud). This will help you catch any fraudulent transactions if someone gained access to your app account without your permission so that you can quickly alert your bank or credit card provider about the fraud.

What to do if you become a victim

Immediately report that you were scammed to your payment app service so it can investigate the transaction. In most cases, payment app services will only reimburse fraudulent transactions that you didn’t authorize—such as someone gaining access to your account and making transactions without your permission. Payments that you authorize, even if you were tricked into making them, typically aren’t considered fraudulent.  

If your bank or payment app service refuses to reimburse you, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB will send your complaint to the company for its response, but there’s no guarantee it will lead to reimbursement.

You could go after the scammer to attempt to get your money back by filing a report with local law enforcement, as well as the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

[ Keep Reading: How to Avoid Payment App Scams and Fraud ]

Cameron Huddleston

Cameron Huddleston

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