7 Things To Know Before You Use Zelle

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When it comes to payment apps, Zelle is one of the most popular ones out there. While the money-transfer app makes it very easy to send and receive money to someone, there are some very big drawbacks that you should be concerned about.

Namely, Zelle has been exploited by criminals to defraud people out of their hard-earned money. The prevalence of Zelle scams — and the lack of accountability from the banks that partner with it — is one reason money expert Clark Howard is not a fan.

Zelle: What To Know About the Popular Payment App

In this article, we’re going to go over what you need to know about Zelle before you use it and how to protect yourself if something happens to your money.

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1. What Is Zelle and How Does It Work?

Zelle is a payment app run by Early Warning Systems LLC, a financial services consortium that is actually owned by a group of big banks.

The good thing is that Zelle itself doesn’t charge a fee to send or receive money. The banks and credit unions that use Zelle may have fees, though. You’ll have to check with your banking institution.

Zelle works as a standalone app or you may be able to access it through your bank’s website or app. To get started using Zelle, you can sign up either of two ways:

  • Download the Zelle app on Android or iOS
  • Enroll your email address or phone number from your bank account

Once you’re connected, you can send a payment by entering their email address or mobile phone number.

2. Can You Cancel a Zelle Payment?

The bad thing about Zelle is that there’s no way to cancel a payment to another user. That means if you send money to the wrong person, get hacked or your phone is stolen, you may be in big trouble!

Here’s what it says on Zelle’s website: “If your recipient has already enrolled with Zelle, the money is sent directly to your recipient’s bank account and cannot be canceled.”

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In a recent report on Zelle fraud prepared by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, only 47% of the Zelle users who file unauthorized transaction claims involving Zelle have been able to get their money back from their financial institutions. Of the four big banks that provided Zelle data, here are the refund/reimbursement figures in the period covering 2021 and the first half of 2022:

BanksReported Fraud CasesDollar Amount of Unauthorized TransactionsCases RefundedDollar Amount Refunded % of Cases Not Refunded
Bank of America81,797$125 millionN/A$56.1 millionLess Than 45% (dollar value)
PNC10,683$10.6 million1,495 $1.4686%
Truist24,752$24.4 million20,349$20.8 million18%
U.S. Bank28,642$16.2 million8,242less than $4.7 millionOver 70%

3. What To Do if You’ve Made an Unauthorized Payment on Zelle

If you’ve made an unauthorized payment on Zelle, one path of recourse that consumers can use is to contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

I called the CFPB to see how they handle Zelle complaints and the consumer support agent instructed me to follow these steps:

  • First, contact Zelle at 1-844-428-8542.
  • Contact your financial institution and tell them about the matter.
  • If neither can resolve the issue, go to cfpb.gov, create an account and file a complaint.

You might also want to file a fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.

4. What Banks Use Zelle?

On its website, the company says to “look for Zelle in your banking app” because so many of them include the service in their platforms. Here’s a screenshot of the Zelle portal inside the Wells Fargo app:

Everything you need to know about Zelle app

Zelle says it has more than 1.000 financial institutions on board. Here are some financial institutions that have Zelle integration in their apps:

  • Comerica Bank
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Regions Bank
  • Southern Bank & Trust Co.
  • TD Bank N.A.
  • U.S. Employees Credit Union

5. Why Zelle Is Controversial

Of all the popular payment apps out there, Zelle is one of the most controversial because it has been making the most headlines when it comes to common scams that criminals are committing with it.

Imposters have been using the service to defraud people, costing them in some cases thousands of dollars.

In Senator Warren’s report, the findings show that criminal activity is surging on the app.

“Increasingly, customers are being defrauded through sophisticated deceptions involving a bad actor’s use of a reputable institution’s name or branding to induce a fraudulent payment – known as ‘spoofing’ – or a bad actor’s use of a consumer’s own contact information to disguise a payment to the bad actor’s account as a payment to the consumer’s account – known as ‘me-to-me,'” the report says.

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Clark says typically if a fraudster hits up your bank account or credit union account, even if you got fooled by them and they are able to spend your money or withdraw funds, the bank has to restore your funds. “That’s just the law,” he says.

“But the banks are tying people’s accounts into Zelle, because their interpretation of the law is they don’t have to do that and for any fraud that occurs, it’s just too bad, so sad.”

6. Can You Remove Zelle From Your Bank Account?

We called a Wells Fargo banker to find out if Zelle could be removed from an account and was told that the best way to decouple the platform from your bank information is to unenroll from Zelle.

If you’ve never signed up for Zelle, then even though you may see a link to it in your banking app or financial institution’s website, it’s not necessarily connected to your account.

If you have signed up for Zelle, your banking institution assigned a deposit account to the email address or mobile number you used to register for the payment app.

To unenroll a deposit account from Zelle, log in to your bank account online and follow these steps.

Step One: How to remove your bank account from Wells Fargo.
Screenshot via wellsfargo.com
  • In the menu, click on “Transfer & Pay” then “Send Money With Zelle.”
  • (App only) Tap on “Zelle Preferences.”
  • Click on “Manage Payment Profiles” and toggle off the account you want to disconnect from Zelle.

When you toggle off the email address or mobile number associated with your account, this unlinks it from Zelle, effectively unenrolling you from the platform.

How to remove Zelle from your Wells Fargo account.
Screenshot via wellsfargo.com

Other financial institutions like U.S. Bank and Regions have similar steps or may ask you to call a customer service number. Contact your local bank for specific instructions.

7. Clark: The ONLY Safe Way To Use Zelle

Fraudsters are actively trying to exploit Zelle and other payment apps, so Clark advises using it only when transacting with a person you know.

In fact, on the Zelle website, it says, “You can send money to almost anyone you know and trust with a bank account in the U.S.” The “almost anyone” part means that Zelle intends this app to be used only by close associates.

But to be extra safe, Clark would rather you not use Zelle until they offer real protections. From your banking account website, he also wants you to unenroll from it.

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“The banks do not care about you,” he says. “And that’s why you have to make sure this is turned off and understand the scams, stealing your money through Zelle, will keep morphing.”

Final Thoughts

Zelle is a money transfer service that makes payments easy, but don’t expect the app or the banks to bail you out when something goes wrong.

That’s why Clark says it’s best to limit your exposure as much as possible.

“What I recommend is that if somebody wants to use Zelle or CashApp or Venmo, set up a separate checking account that has very small amounts of money in it.”

“That way, even if you are hacked, compromised or scammed, the amount of money that is at risk is really tiny, whereas if you have it with your regular checking account, all the money in it is at risk.”

And if someone calls or texts you purporting to be from your bank or another financial institution, “never trust them,” Clark says.

“You call your bank or credit union at a number that you know is valid and real on your account, and you ask them is there any activity like this that I’m getting phone calls and texts about. And you will find out, pretty much 100% of the time, that there is no such thing going on.”

Want more tips on how to stay safe? Read our guide on common phone scams and how to avoid them.

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