Bank of America gives refunds to some victims of growing Zelle scam

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- New cases continue to accrue surrounding a nationwide scam using the Zelle quick payment app to swindle Bank of America customers

Our sister station KGO's 7 On Your Side team and reporter Michael Finney broke the story three weeks ago. Since then, more and more victims are saying 7 On Your Side is their only hope for getting their stolen money back.

7 On Your Side is now hearing from victims all across the country, their bank accounts were drained in seconds but the bank would not refund their money until they came to 7 On Your Side.

Claudia Rivera of San Jose was home with her kids when a text came in, saying, "Bank of America security. Did you use your debit card for these transactions..." including a $3,500 Zelle payment.

"When I saw the text message, right away I freaked out," she said. "I was shaking. I was like no, I never did those transactions.''

She replied "no," and her phone rang. The caller ID said Bank of America.

"This person told me someone was trying to scam me... he could help me out to get those funds back," Rivera said.

The man told her to open the Zelle app and quickly transfer $3,300 to a safe place. It was all the money she had.

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Bank of America has said it will not ask customers to transfer money between accounts or request sensitive information.



"By doing that, I could get my money back," Rivera said she was told.

The man said to use her own email to transfer the money so it seemed safe.

It wasn't.

"As soon as I sent it, he said 'OK, hold on,' and when he said hold on, he just hangs up on me. So I said, I think I just got scammed," she said.

The man was gone. So was her money.

"I called Bank of America right away... when they told me there was no solution, I said 'I didn't do this transaction because I wanted to... they freakin' scammed me... you should know I'd never send this much money to anyone.' It was all the money I had. I have three kids. We need it to pay rent, buy food. I was shivering, I was shaking," Rivera recalled.

Bank of America denied her claim, saying she was the one who requested the transfer and she might want to contact the person who got her money.

As though the scammer would return it?

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"I don't know who this person is. Where do you want me to find this person?" she asked.

The same thing happened to Page Pollack, the school nurse we reported about last month. After our story, Bank of America gave her money back.

Rivera saw our report and contacted 7 On Your Side. So did dozens of other victims.

Crystal Vaka of Antioch had just finished work at her elder care home in Concord. "It was an eye-opener, I try to tell myself," Vaka said.

Her phone rang. The caller ID said Bank of America.

"They said it's Bank of America, and they suspected there was fraudulent activity," she said.

A man on the phone persuaded her to quickly transfer $3,500 out of her account to "keep it safe."

It took days before she realized that wasn't really her bank.

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"I trusted my bank! That they have top-of-the-line security,'' she said. But Bank of America offered no solution.

"They started telling me, 'I'm sorry ma'am, you and many others fell for this kind of scam, and there's nothing we can do,'" she said.

Deborah Lagutaris of Oakland was still shaken up after thieves totaled her car. Then she got hit with the Zelle scam.

"It was probably one of the worst weeks of my life when this happened," Lagutaris said. "I'm a disabled senior and I'm 70 years old, it was all too much for me..."

The imposters tricked her into sending all the money in her Bank of America account through Zelle.

She thought it was going back to herself.

"The man called several times, he had me sending money back and forth between Wells Fargo and Bank of America. I thought I was sending my money between my accounts," she said.

She was actually sending it right to the scammers.

"I had borrowed that money to pay bills... it was a horrible blow," she said.

7 On Your Side's stories reached all the way to Georgia, where Donna Stoker fell for the same scam.

"I literally cried. I literally cried," she said. "And the lady's like, 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry...'"

She said Bank of America told her to report it to the sheriff and then get a subpoena for bank records if she wanted her money back.

"At that point, I was like, 'I'm done, I'm done,' and I cried me a river and threw that $3,500 away," she said.

The bank offered only a chance to fill out a form.

"She said, 'You can get a customer survey.' I'm like, 'You don't want me to fill that out right now. You really don't want me filling that out right now,'" she said.

After giving up on a refund, Stoker saw our stories.

"I saw that article about Page Pollack and I had a glimmer of hope. All my friends were saying, 'Did you see this, did you see this?' I was like, 'I'm all over it,'" Stoker said.

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Bank of America denied refunds, telling victims they had authorized the transactions. And Zelle -- which is owned by seven major banks, including Bank of America -- offers no fraud protection.

Still, federal law requires refunds for fraudulent money transfers, and 7 On Your Side alerted the bank about all four victims.

Right away Bank of America refunded their money, without providing a reason, saying it considers each case individually.

"So happy! I want to cry!" said Rivera. "You don't know how excited I got. I have my money back."

"I was holding my head going, 'Oh my god, my money's back,'" said Lagutaris. "I was bowled over. It was amazing."

"I'm saying thank you three, five times in this video," Vaka said. "We will all be OK, thanks to you. Thanks to you."

Bank of America also said customers should see a warning before each transaction. It says the bank never asks you to transfer money through Zelle.

Full statement from Bank of America:

Bank of America and other legitimate companies would not ask a client to transfer funds between accounts in order to help prevent fraud nor request sensitive account information. We have a number of measures in place to proactively warn clients about scams, and we actively reach out to clients with information about how to stay safe and avoid scams. In addition, we keep clients informed real-time about new scam alerts through our Client Security Center on our website (https://www.bankofamerica.com/security-center/avoid-bank-scams/).

We work closely with other financial institutions, law enforcement, payment networks and carriers to identify and prevent fraudulent activity. We alert clients during the transaction if they are sending money to a new recipient that they should only send to people they trust. Additionally, they see: "BEWARE: Bank of America will never ask you to transfer money to anyone, including yourself. Don't transfer money as a result of an unexpected text or call." To move forward with the transaction, they need to click OK.

We encourage clients to contact the Bank directly if they have a question about any transaction, claim or communication. We review and evaluate every claim based on the unique circumstances. Clients can request an additional review if they disagree with the initial decision.

Specific Questions You Posed: Why don't you claw back the money if someone notifies you immediately? We have a dedicated team that works aggressively to recover any available funds on behalf of our clients when a scam occurs.

Regarding regulations: On June 4, 2021, the CFPB updated guidance related to Unauthorized Electronic Fund Transfers and Error Resolution. Bank of America is operating in compliance with the guidelines.


Full statement from Early Warning Services, LLC., the network operator of Zelle:

The scam that you describe is a sophisticated phishing scam that unfortunately preys upon unsuspecting victims. In this particular instance, these scammers are spoofing legitimate bank phone numbers and attempting to convince consumers to provide their personal information and send them money. The scammer poses as a legitimate company and uses different tactics to get consumers to provide sensitive information that enables the scammer to trick the consumer into moving the money into an account controlled by the scammer. We want to remind consumers that a bank or credit union will never call to ask for sensitive information, and they would not ask a consumer to transfer funds between accounts to prevent fraud. The consumer should hang up and call their bank or credit union at the phone number listed on the back of their bank-issued debit card or the bank or credit union's official website if they must provide information over the phone.

As part of our ongoing efforts to help combat fraud and scams while evolving with consumer expectations of payments, we recently introduced an offering called Risk Insights for Zelle that allows financial institutions to better identify potential fraud and scams to help protect consumers. With Risk Insights for Zelle, the sending financial institution can assess critical information about the recipient's token behavior in the Zelle Network. If there are risk indicators about the transaction, the sending FI can provide an alert and education on scams and fraud to give the consumer the ability to pause before sending the money. While no single tool can solve for widespread fraud, Early Warning continues to work to discover ways that data and technology can help predict what might happen next and help augment the capabilities of participating FIs.

Lastly, we provide consumer resources on our website to help protect consumers from fraud and scams. If appropriate, would you reference our site https://www.zellepay.com/pay-it-safe/resources-and-tips in your story, so consumers have a resource on how best to use Zelle?
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