Zelle Customers to get refunds for money lost in imposter scams, report says

by Elizabeth Napolitano (11/13/23 10:57am)

Banks that participate in Zelle, a peer-to-peer payment service, have begun refunding money to victims of fraud amid pressure from lawmakers. 

Since June 30, more than 2,000 financial firms have begun reversing transfers their customers made to scammers who impersonated officials from government agencies, banks or other service providers in so-called impostor scams, Zelle’s parent company, Early Warning Services (EWS), told Reuters. 

Banks have historically resisted calls to reimburse victims of these types of scams, arguing that federal rules only require them to issue refunds for money taken out of customers’ bank accounts by hackers, as opposed to fraudulent payments customers are duped into authorizing, the wire service noted.

The new policy offers consumer protection services “well above existing legal and regulatory requirements,” Ben Chance, chief fraud risk officer at EWS, told Reuters.

EWS has not publicly disclosed how much money it plans to return to customers. The company also has neither provided a timeline for refunds, nor offered instructions on how fraud victims can request them. It remains unclear whether banks will retroactively reverse any fraudulent transactions that occurred before the new policy went into effect. 

Seven large banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, launched Zelle in 2017 to compete with PayPal, Venmo and other payment apps.

EWS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Reports of widespread fraud 

Financial institutions’ about-face comes roughly a year after the New York Times and lawmakers raised concerns about the prevalence of fraud on Zelle and other payment applications. 

According to an investigation led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other lawmakers, Zelle users lost roughly $440 million to various types of fraud in 2021 alone. Another report from Sen. Warren’s office, which cites data collected by four banks between 2021 and the first half of 2022, found that banks reimbursed less than a quarter of Zelle customers who fell victim to any type of fraud, while just roughly 2% of impostor scam victims were reimbursed.

Impostor fraud accounted for $2.6 billion in losses in 2022, making it the most widely reported scam last year, Federal Trade Commission data shows.   

In addition to recovering funds from scammers and reimbursing impostor scam victims, Zelle has implemented other policy changes to combat fraud on its network, Reuters reported. For example, lenders on Zelle have implemented a tool that flags risky transfers, such as those involving recipients that have never processed transactions on the payments network. The change has lowered the number of frauds on the platform, Chance told Reuters.

“We have had a strong set of controls since the launch of the network, and as part of our journey we have continued to evolve those controls… to keep pace with what we see is going on in the marketplace,” Chance told Reuters. 

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