BALTIMORE — Dennis Kokoskie had never heard of Zelle, but there were several Zelle transfers from his bank account.
“I didn’t know what Zelle was. I had no clue what Zelle was,” said Kokoskie.
The feature is available through most banks’ websites or apps. Like PayPal and Venmo, it makes sending money fast and easy. And Kokoskie only learned about it after a scammer used it to steal nearly $3,300 out of his account.
“This is a huge issue,” said Kokoskie.
Kokoskie and his girlfriend, Beth Elgort, were trying to buy a movie on Amazon Prime. They had issues logging into their account and called the support line. However, they didn't reach a customer service representative. They were connected to an impostor.
“And we were told that our account had been hacked and that someone charged $799 on our account and that they needed to do some things to prevent it from continuing,” said Elgort.
The impostor had them download an app giving them remote access to Kokoskie's phone, and somehow his banking app.
“They’re like we’re going to do some tests to make sure that your account, this can’t be hacked and at one point, I said to Dennis, we need to end this call, something is very wrong, like my gut, my stomach was just turning,” Elgort said.
They hung up and saw four transfers, two for just under a thousand dollars.
Kokoskie filed fraud claims with his bank. Three days later, he received a letter from M&T Bank that after a thorough investigation the transactions were processed correctly and no error had occurred.
“I just don’t understand why you would have an item on a bank’s website that you’re not going to insure,” said Kokoskie.
According to Zelle, there are limited protections.
If a customer knowingly sends the money, even if it’s to an impostor, that’s a scam and you likely won’t get your money back.
However, if someone gained access to your account and made a payment with Zelle without your permission and you weren’t involved in any way with the transaction, this is considered fraud and you are typically able to get your money back.
“I’ve been round and round with M&T Bank and I get nowhere,” said Kokoskie.
A spokeswoman with the Maryland Bankers Association said in cases where a consumer’s bank account or debit card have been compromised and unauthorized Zelle payments made, consumers have rights under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.
“And this was an unauthorized transaction,” Kokoskie said.
“Right, it’s not like he would send thousands of dollars to people he doesn’t even know,” said Elgort.
WMAR-2 News contacted M&T Bank. After reviewing the claim again, the Bank reimbursed Kokoskie the amount stolen.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii also contacted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government agency ensuring banks treat customers fairly, to better understand when a bank would reimburse customers using Zelle. Sofastaii asked for their definition of an unauthorized transaction and clarification on what protections exist for consumers defrauded. After two days and several back-and-forth emails, the Bureau denied the request.
If you’re concerned about fraudulent transfers with Zelle, you can call your bank for instructions on how to deactivate feature.
If you do use the service, only send and accept money from people you know and trust.