COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Jessica Birtcher said it started in November of 2022. She wanted to stop a transaction her husband made through Zelle.
“I’d never used Zelle before,” said Birtcher. “So, I didn’t know what to do.” Birtcher said she got on the Zelle app, found a number for customer service, called, and a man named “Steve” answered.
Birtcher said “Steven” told her that she would need to send herself a payment, so he could verify her account. Then, told her to make another transaction. “My gut was telling me this doesn’t feel right,” said Birtcher. But trusting the “customer service rep,” Birtcher did it. Then, called her bank.
“I told them what had happened, and they were like, ‘I’m sorry, but I think you’ve been scammed.” Birtcher went back to the Zelle app, and the customer service number had changed. She called again and asked for her money back but was denied. So, she called back the bank, but was denied, again.
I reached out to the bank, but a representative told me any refund would have to come from Zelle. I then reached out to Zelle, and received a statement from Early Warning Services, LLC, the network operator of Zelle, which reads in part:
“Our team investigated the matter and based on the provided information, we found no related cases. The customer service number in the screenshot is not associated with Zelle® and is not displayed anywhere in the Zelle® mobile app.
Due to the lack of additional information, we are unable to further investigate the matter.”
“I don’t think the banks are being immoral, I don’t think they’re being evil, but they are being amoral and uncaring, not taking the steps that they need to take to make their customers safe,” said consumer and finance expert Clark Howard. He said there’s a reason why Birtcher’s bank and Zelle are able to deny a refund — there are no rules on the books for payment platforms, meaning they aren’t liable if something goes wrong.
“When you deal with these payment apps, nobody anticipated them. So, they don’t have any of the protections that you need to be safe with your money,” Howard said. His advice if you use these payment platforms — set them up through a separate, secondary bank account, where you don’t keep all of your money. Or get rid of them altogether, like Birtcher.
“With our new bank and the banking app, no Zelle,” Birtcher said. “I think if they’re not going to support their customers using Zelle, then they shouldn’t have it.” Howard suggested Birtcher to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He said that triggers a 30-day period in which the bank has to work to see if she is eligible for a refund.