“Free Msg – BANK OF AMERICA Fraud
Alert – Did You Attempt A Zelle
Payment For The Amount Of
$3,500.00 Rely YES or NO or 1 To
STOP Fraud Alerts”
Mindy Philips, a longtime Bank of America customer, said the message startled her, so she replied “No”.
Immediately, Philips’ cell phone rang. The caller ID showed “Bank of America.” She answered. The person on the other end calmly told Philips her account was compromised so in order to protect her money, she needed to make a Zelle transfer.
“I didn’t hesitate because I thought that my money was gone,” Philips explained. “But the moment I got off the phone, I knew that I had done something terribly wrong.”
By then it was too late. Philips lost nearly $3,000 to the scam.
“I looked at my account and everything was zeroed,” she said. “I felt very vulnerable.”
Others across the country have also reported falling victim to a Bank of America impersonation scam.
A CBS 11 I-Team investigation found this scam to be targeted and sophisticated. The scammers are exploiting a loophole in the federal consumer protection laws by having their victims pay with payment apps.
Unlike many random phishing scams, these scammers had enough personal information about Philips to make their story more believable. They knew Philips’ name, her cell number, and knew she had an account with Bank of America. All of this information they likely obtained from a data breach.
Then when they called, spoofing computer software would have allowed the scammers to manipulate the caller ID to make it come up as “Bank of America”.
However, consumer advocates point to the final step of this scam that makes it irreversible.
When Philips transferred money from her bank account, she used the payment app Zelle. Money sent with payment apps, like Zelle, PayPal Friends and Family, Venmo, and Cash App, are instantaneous.
“That’s the reason payment are the perfect payment method for scammers,” said John Breyault with the National Consumer League.
Federal regulations require banks and credit card issuers to provide fraud protection for consumers who use debit and credit cards.
However, users of payment apps are not provided with the same fraud protection because of loophole in the federal Electronic Funds Transfer Act.
The law says transactions on payment apps initiated by the consumer cannot be considered an “unauthorized transfer” and thus are not protected.
Breyault, who testified in front of Congress, said the same fraud protections provided to credit and debit card users should be extended to payment apps users.
“When consumers lose money because of fraud, we want them to be made whole,” he said. “We think the responsibility for that should lie on the banks and the credit card companies and the payment platforms that are making billions of dollars off of these transactions. “
Analysts estimated fraud on payment apps are nearly four times higher than on debit and credit cards.
When Philips called Bank of America about the scam, she was told to file a fraud claim. Two months later, she said she received a letter from the bank telling her there was nothing the bank could do.
Philips then reached out to the CBS 11 I-Team.
Shortly after the I-Team contacted the Bank of America corporate office, the bank credited Philips’ account for the money she lost in the scam.
In a written statement, Bank of America spokesperson told the I-Team:
“In cases like this, scammers may spoof legitimate phone numbers and impersonate legitimate businesses and attempt to convince individuals to provide their personal information. We remind clients that they should not provide confidential account information to unidentified individuals. Bank of America and other legitimate companies would not ask a customer to transfer funds between accounts in order to help prevent fraud nor request sensitive account information. We have a number of measures in place to proactively warn clients about scams, and we periodically reach out to customers with information about how to stay safe and avoid scams. In addition, we keep clients informed about new scam alerts through our Client Security Center on our website (https://www.bankofamerica.com/security-center/avoid-bank-scams/).”
Fraud experts say the single best tip to avoid becoming a victim to scams like this is whenever someone claiming to be from your bank, credit card, or payment app calls, hang up. If you are still concerned the call may have been legitimate, find the phone number on your bank statement or on the back and your credit card and call.