Scammer used Zelle to steal $7,000 from CA couple's bank account. How to protect yourself

There are many convenient ways to send and receive money these days -- but they are also a convenient opportunity for scammers.

In an interview with our sister station KABC-TV, a Southern California couple recounted how a scammer used the banking service Zelle to steal about $7,000 from their Chase bank account.

"My house payment couldn't get paid," Lisa Hamel said, her voice choking with emotion. "Gas, electric, water. My dog, honestly, needs surgery -- we don't have the money. We don't have the money, so it's hard."

She and Jeff Datin said it all started when they got a call from a number that showed up on caller ID as their bank, asking about money being transferred.

"When they called, the phone that appeared on the actual display said Chase Bank with an 800 number that's on the ATM card," Hamel said.

"Any of these calls, you have to be very, very cognizant of and check your own," said Dario Pellegrino, a cybersecurity expert with the K2 Tech Group.

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Bank of America has said it will not ask customers to transfer money between accounts or request sensitive information.



The call turned out to be from a scammer that used Zelle, a service that a number of banks use where customers can send and receive money.

"These are things that are kind of trusted, but at the end of the day it's essentially like handing cash over," Pellegrino said. "Once you hand the cash over, how are you going to find that person?"

"I hung up and I looked at my account," Datin recalled, "I called Chase back and I said, 'What's going on?' And they go, 'There's no record of that what are you talking about.' I said, 'I just talked to you.' And so I looked at my account and I go, 'Oh -- all my money's gone.'"

Similar scams using Zelle have occurred across the country, in which a victim receives a text message and then a phone call from a scammer.

Pellegrino recommends that no matter who calls you, even if it appears legitimate, do not give out information. "Call inbound yourself," he said. "Don't ever receive those phone calls and give information at that moment."

KABC-TV contacted Chase and told the bank about what happened to Hamel and Datin. Investigators looked into the account and on Thursday they said that the bank would credit the full amount that was stolen.

"Words can't express honestly. I mean, it was hard. It's like I can breathe again," Hamel said.

"I'm kind of in shock," Datin said.

"Yeah," Hamel said. "We're in shock."

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