(NEXSTAR) – Banks that use Zelle are refunding money to customers who were the victims of imposter scams carried out using the peer-to-peer network.
“As of June 30, 2023, our bank and credit union participants must reimburse consumers for qualifying imposter scams,” a spokesperson for Early Warning Services, LLC, the network operator of Zelle, told Nexstar.
Anyone who hasn’t yet filed to report an imposter scam should do so immediately, either with their bank or credit union if that’s how they used Zelle, or directly with Zelle if they used the Zelle app.
Zelle, which is owned by JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and five other large banks, allows customers to quickly send money to loved ones and friends in the way they might with payment services Paypal and Venmo.
The payment tool came under intense scrutiny after a March 2022 New York Times report detailed the tactics that scammers, often posing as bank and credit union representatives, used to siphon thousands of dollars out of people’s bank accounts in minutes.
Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, banks must repay their customers who fall victim to illegal, unauthorized transfers of money out of their accounts. With Zelle scams, however, consumers often found themselves with no way to get the funds back.
Unlike in cases of unauthorized fraud, banks in the past have pushed back against reimbursing victims of scams who themselves authorize payments using Zelle.
Banks were also concerned that if they began reimbursing imposter scams it could encourage more criminal activity, potentially saddling them with an enormous financial burden in the process, Reuters reported.
The banks that own Zelle declined to comment Tuesday, instead referring questions to Early Warning Services (EWS).
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a report in October accusing the banks of “breaking their promises to their customers and potentially violating federal law” by not refunding victims of “rampant fraud and theft on Zelle.”
The report stated that Zelle users lost an estimated $440 million in 2021 through frauds and scams.
EWS issued a statement days later saying that 99.9% of payments made by tens of millions of Zelle consumers are sent free of fraud or scams.
“As the operator of Zelle, we continuously review and update our operating rules and technology practices to improve consumer experience and address the dynamic nature of fraud and scams,” EWS told Nexstar Tuesday.
Ben Chance, chief fraud risk officer at EWS, told Reuters that Zelle has also instituted safeguards against scams that include a tool to flag transfers that might be risky. Banks are also able to pull money back from a recipient account and return it to the sender.
“About time!” Sen. Warren said in a statement Tuesday. “These refunds are long overdue. For years I’ve fought hard for victims who were defrauded millions of dollars while using Zelle … The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should keep up the pressure on the Big Banks and hold them accountable for scams on Zelle.”