Popular app used to send money putting some at risk of being hacked

CHARLOTTE — Money-sharing apps are a fast and convenient way to give money to friends or pay bills, but using one may open your account to thieves.

Consumer advocates told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke that one app in particular – Zelle, which is linked to your bank account – can put users most at risk.

Last year, people sent more than $300 billion through Zelle; but as Action 9 discovered, many people became victims to scammers while using the app.

Natalie Liberman said someone hacked into her Zelle account and stole more than $15,000 from her bank account. “I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. It made me feel so incredibly vulnerable and exposed,” she said. “I felt as if, honestly, I had been terrorized, and it made me realize how incredibly vulnerable all of us are.”

Ashley Field said a thief hacked into her Zelle account through a hotel’s WiFi. “They got my login and password, and they logged in right behind me,” she said.

Another victim who didn’t want to be identified emailed Stoogenke and said hackers used Zelle to steal $999.99 from her bank account.

Jeremy Kelly said he was the victim of a rental scam. He said the scammer wanted him to use Zelle, which actually made him trust the person more. He thought since the app was through a bank, if anything happened he could go to a bank to stop the transaction; but he ended up having to move his belongings into storage.

Action 9 also discovered that some banks automatically sign you up for Zelle without you knowing. In addition, since money-sharing apps are so new, there are not many consumer protections.

One of Channel 9′s sister stations contacted Sherrod Brown, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, hoping he could do something about that.

“I’m concerned about hacking and bad actors, and will continue to monitor how banks are keeping consumers’ money safe,” he said.

The company that runs Zelle, Early Warning Services, said it “continually invests in fraud-fighting resources.”

Zelle also has a policy that states you can get your money back “if a fraudster or hacker gains unauthorized access to a bank account,” and that “victims can work directly with their bank in recuperating funds.”

However, Liberman said she didn’t get anywhere with Bank of America for four months, until Channel 9′s sister station reached out to the bank on her behalf.

Stoogenke offers these tips to help protect your money:

  • Ask your bank if it automatically signed you up for Zelle. This way, if you don’t want to use it, you can ask to be removed from the program.
  • If you are going to use a money-sharing app, open a separate account to link it to, and only deposit money into that account for those transactions.