Money Transfer Scams

A growing trend in financial crime is the use of money transfer applications to move money out of victims’ accounts and into those of fraudsters.  All money transfer applications are subject to this form of fraud; however, Zelle, a popular digital payment app, has been identified as a primary method used to execute money transfer fraud. 

In money scams, fraudsters will either pose as a legitimate source using “Phishing” or “Smishing” methods to persuade you to send money to them, or attempt to gain control of your account to send money to themselves. Given the nature of these scams, it can be difficult to contest money transfer charges, often resulting in lost funds even when a scam is detected.  Below are a few examples of the methods used and steps to avoid falling victim to such scams.

Impersonation Scam

The fraudster will impersonate a friend or family member in an emergency and request money immediately.  This request may come in via text, email, direct message on social media, or a phone call.  Avoid replying or clicking any links provided as these can lead to further issues.

If you receive a message like this, stop and ask some questions before acting upon the message.

  • Was I expecting this message?
  • Did the message come from a known point of contact for that person?
  • Can I contact the individual via a known method like a verified phone number?
  • If contacted via social media, is the account legitimate?  Newly created accounts may try to replicate an existing account by copying pictures over.
  • If the social media account reaching out is their legitimate one, is their recent activity suspect?

If you have any doubts as to the legitimacy of the message, do not reply or act on their request. 

How do I avoid this?  Reach out to your friend or family member directly and confirm they need funds. 


Phishing or smishing will typically come in the form of an email or text to you claiming to be a legitimate business, organization, or government agency.  They will warn about a penalty, fee, or past due payment which needs to be paid immediately, creating a sense of urgency.  Often, they will request the payment comes via Zelle, as these payments are processed very quickly.

If you receive a message like this, do not reply or click any links.  Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is there a valid website with contact information you can reach out to?
  • If you can reach out to the organization, are they able to verify the transaction in question?
  • Have you done business with the organization contacting you before?

If the organization in question is unable to verify the transaction requested, report any relevant information to their security team.

Emergency phone scam

Some fraudsters will attempt to transfer money to themselves in person.  They may request to borrow your phone in a pinch to reach out to someone or check on some matter.  Once your unlocked phone is in their hand, they’ll go to a money transfer app of their choosing and send a payment to themselves quickly.

If you are using money transfer applications, many will require a password or biometric authorization before being able to send a payment.  It is advised that you have this set up on any money transfer applications you may use.

How do I avoid this?  As a general security recommendation, never give anyone access to your online banking or financial accounts. Keep your passwords private and secure, and do not enter login credentials into any online form unless you are certain that the site is legitimate.  


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