If you’ve been paying attention, you might be familiar with how gift cards are used in scams. Money loaded onto gift cards is hard to trace and even harder to get back after a cybercriminal has obtained the card info. So, now that you know that gift cards are a red flag for scams, please also consider Zelle requests as similar red flags.

What Is Zelle?

Zelle is a payment network and service that is free for all to use. It works with virtually any US bank account, allowing you to instantly send money to someone else. If your bank offers Zelle services, then you can use it to send money to a friend or family, simply by using their phone number or email address. It’s fast and easy!

The Devil’s in the Details

Zelle is intended for lightning-fast money-transmission, but because the dollars move so fast, it is side-stepping a lot of the security checks present in other financial transactions. Once you Zelle some cash to someone, it is gone from your account, in mere minutes! This is great if you’re paying back your friend for lunch, or sending a cash gift to mom for Mother’s Day. It’s really lousy if it happens while a scammer has you in his/her thrall.

This is why scammers try to convince their victims to use Zelle. If their story is good enough to trick you into Zelling them some money, it’s instantly theirs. And if you initiated the transaction, there is little chance of you getting it back.

Zelle May Be Getting Safer

Zelle was created by all the big banks we know in this country. So it has been a bit surprising that they wouldn’t help much, after crime occurs over their Zelle network. Consumer advocates state that Zelle has no fraud protections in place for its transactions. But in some rare cases, some banks are starting to replace funds lost in Zelle-based schemes. And some other banks are starting to limit how much money they allow to pass through Zelle, or putting a small wait-time on when new Zelle accounts can be used.

Treat It Like Cash

Still, the burden of responsibility lay on you. Zelle is similar to Venmo and Cash App, in that it seeks to be a cash-replacement. That means you should think of it and treat it as you would a fistful of dollars.

You can dispute a credit card transaction. You can put a stop-payment on a check. But you can’t get those dollar bills back after you’ve handed them off. Be aware, and only use Zelle with known, trusted people!

If someone is calling you and pressuring you to satisfy a bill or make a payment with Zelle, reframe the situation in your mind: This character is essentially asking me for cash right now. Is this how a legitimate company is supposed to act? The answer is usually NO, and you should shut that scam down!