A week ago, Chicago business owner Brinda Gupta received a seemingly legitimate text message warning her Zelle account had been compromised.
That was followed up by a phone call appearing to be a Bank of America number that went to her voicemail. When she called back, she went through the automated menu, and soon received another call from a man identifying himself as a fraud officer from the bank.
Unknown to Gupta at the time, he was a scammer who had spoofed real Bank of America phone numbers in his text and calls to make it appear they were legitimate.
And while he was talking Gupta through steps that supposedly would protect her accounts online, he actually was gleaning information that allowed him to set up a parallel Zelle account — and transfer more than $6,000 from her account to his in two transactions that took a few minutes to complete.
With peer-to-peer digital payment apps increasingly popular — it’s estimated that four of five Americans use them as a way to quickly and easily pay a bill or transfer money to a friend — they’ve become a growing target for scammers.
The nonprofit U.S. PIRG Education Fund consumer watchdog organization says complaints about the apps have surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
The payment apps — which include Zelle, Venmo, Square and others — can be more convenient than a credit card. But they don’t offer the same protections as credit cards, for instance, to go to the credit card company and dispute a fraudulent charge.