Problem Solved: Zelle Scam Costs $2,500

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Fransua Garcia just lost $2,500 after scammers claiming to be from Citibank called her. Can she retrieve her money, which she transferred using Zelle?

Q: I recently received various texts about suspicious activities with my bank account. I contacted Citibank to get more information. A Citibank representative told me that nothing was wrong and that my account would be monitored. The representative took all the info regarding those text messages.

Later that day, I got a call from a Citibank number, which I assumed was my bank with more information about my concern. By then, I had received multiple emails from my bank about different money transfers from my savings to checking, which I did not perform. However, I did not see them in time because I was working.

When I answered the call, the representative told me it was from the security team and that in order to get my money back, I needed to make a transfer to myself. The representative had my login information for security reasons. She had information about the content of the emails from Citibank (which I opened while on the phone). I was advised not to open my bank app on my phone. I thought that maybe my phone was hacked.

It turns out I hadn't spoken to a bank employee and instead transferred $2,500 to a scammer using Zelle. I have disputed the charges but Citibank has turned me down. I'm currently appealing. I don't want to lose $2,500. Can you help me? -- Fransua Garcia, Port Washington, N.Y.

A: Unfortunately, you fell for a clever scam. Scammers posing as bank employees have been hoodwinking customers into transferring money through Zelle, and in the past, there was nothing anyone could do to reverse these fraudulent transactions.

Fortunately, all that has changed recently. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has pressured banks to enforce a little-known rule called Regulation E that protects Americans from fraudulent money transfers like the one you made. But banks have been slow to apply these changes to all of their customers who have been scammed. Often, at least in my experience, they only do it when the bright spotlight of the media is turned on them. That is what's happening in this case.

How do you avoid a problem like this? It's easy. Never initiate a money transfer as a result of an unsolicited call from your bank. And even if you receive a call you are expecting, hang up and call the bank back through its main number.

These scams are preying on elderly bank customers who are more likely to trust someone who calls them from "the bank" and not pay attention to the details of the Zelle transfer they've been asked to initiate. So if you're a senior citizen, this Zelle transfer scam is aimed directly at you.

The best solution? Disable Zelle and delete it from your phone. I know this sounds a little simplistic, but if you have a target on your back, you do not want to be using Zelle. Ever.

I publish executive contacts for both Citibank and Zelle on my consumer advocacy site, You could have appealed to one of them and possibly reversed the charges. And you might have filed a complaint with the CFPB, which would have turned up the heat on the companies to do the right thing.

I contacted Citibank on your behalf. A few days later, you received an update on your dispute. You got your $2,500 back. But Citibank added, "We maintain our position that the decision to deny this claim previously is absolutely appropriate." So even though it isn't really sorry, you still got your money.

But banks have a lot to be sorry about. Consumers have lost untold millions of dollars on scams like these. They should be doing more to stop these scams by actually monitoring your account when they say they will and by putting safeguards in place to stop thieves from luring people like you into making fraudulent transfers. And until they do, I'm sure I will stay busy trying to help resolve Zelle scams.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy (, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at or get help by contacting him at

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