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Staying Protected Against Digital Payment Scams

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Power Financial Credit Union has partnered with Zelle® to make quick and easy digital payments accessible to our members.

As one of the most popular digital payment options available today, Zelle® allows you to send money to friends, family, and even many small businesses. The money is typically available within minutes between enrolled users, and it works with almost any US-based financial institution1.

Unfortunately, criminals have been targeting digital payment users with a variety of scams. In the following article, we discuss the most common scams and share some tips for staying safe.

How Do Scammers Target Digital Payment Users?

Scammers use increasingly diverse and sophisticated methods. Awareness of common scams and applying a few simple tips is more important than ever.

Impersonating a Financial Institution

A common scam is to impersonate a financial institution or claim to be a representative of the payment platform (i.e., Zelle®). These financial scams can be more or less sophisticated depending on the amount of information the criminal has on their victim.

Contact methods include email, phone, and text messages. The goal of the scammer is usually to trick the victim into sharing their online banking credentials, but some schemes are about deceiving the victim into sending funds to the criminals:
  • Phishing emails are the simplest and one of the most common form of impersonation. You'll typically receive an email that resembles an official message from your financial institution. The email asks you to follow a link to a fake login page that will send your credentials to a criminal if you attempt to log in.
  • In a more advanced form of this scam, criminals will call or text you and ask you to update your account information. This scheme usually conveys a sense of urgency by claiming that your account will be blocked or terminated if you don't share the information.
  • Some scammers have also been impersonating financial institutions and tricking victims into sending them funds by claiming they need a money transfer to unlock a large payment or refund.
Impersonating a financial institution is an increasingly common method used by criminals. According to the FTC, it's the most common type of text message scam.

Another report shows a 967% increase in malicious phishing emails in 2023. This worrisome trend illustrates how criminals leverage generative AI tools to create and distribute malicious emails. Using AI often allows for greater sophistication and personalization, making these fraudulent messages more difficult to spot.

How to Help Protect Yourself From Phishing

We recommend following these fraud protection tips to help you stay safe:

1.    Always be wary of emails and text messages that claim to be from a financial institution. Watch out for typos and compare the sender's email address with a legitimate email from your financial institution.
2.    Never follow a link shared via email or text message. If you do, double-check the URL of the page.
3.    Don't share your personal information or password via text, email, or phone. Your financial institution will never ask for your password, PIN, one-time passcode, or card numbers.
4.    If you doubt a message, call us at 800-548-5465 to find out if the message is legitimate.
5.    Help stop scammers by flagging phishing attempts in your mailbox and forwarding us these messages at [email protected].

Always be mindful that the emails, calls, or text messages you receive could be phishing attempts, and keep in mind that we will never contact you to request your password or personal information.

Unfortunately, older adults are often targeted for these scams. Help protect your loved ones by discussing how common phishing scams are and sharing our fraud protection tips with them.

Scammers Payment Requests

There are multiple ways for scammers to use personal information for financial gains, but an increasingly commonplace scam involves sending fake payment requests using a digital payments platform like Zelle®. These types of requests usually have a sense of urgency attached to them. 

For instance, a criminal can take over a person's social media account or use stolen personal information to create a convincing fake bank account. They can then use this account to send a Zelle® payment request to their victims, usually with a story that creates a sense of urgency.

How to Help Protect Yourself From Payment Request Scams

You should never assume a payment request is real, especially if the sender claims to need the funds immediately or asks for a large sum. If you receive a payment request, call the sender or ask them in person if the request is legitimate.

Fake Charities

There is a growing number of fake charities, non-profits with questionable practices, and scammers impersonating legitimate organizations. For these criminals, platforms like Zelle® are often the easiest way to collect donations.

The criminals behind these schemes have no qualms about taking advantage of people's generosity and will often use popular causes, natural disasters, or wars to ask for donations.

Donating Safely

Before donating to a charity, take a few minutes to use this mobile tool from the IRS and double-check that you're contributing to a legitimate tax-exempt organization. This tool lists official mail addresses and websites to help you spot impersonators.

Unfortunately, not all non-profits use donations as intended. Charity Navigator is a helpful tool for checking charity ratings and discovering trustworthy organizations if you want to support a specific cause.

Marketplace Scams

Marketplaces are a great way to find deals and buy locally. However, these platforms usually have very little oversight, creating an ideal environment for scammers.

A common scam is to list an item for sale and request a payment using a digial payment platform like Zelle®. The seller might promise to ship the item or meet once they receive the funds.

The price is usually attractive, and the scammer might create a sense of urgency by claiming it's the last item available or that they have another interested buyer.

Marketplace scams can include many items, including puppies, concert tickets, and even real estate.

Tips for Using Marketplaces Safely

These tips will help you conduct safe marketplace transactions:
  • Be wary of sellers who request upfront payment using digital payment platforms like Zelle®. A safer way to conduct a transaction is to meet in person in a police station parking lot or coffee shop and pay the seller once you have the item.
  • If an ad is too good to be true, it's likely a scam. Refrain from trusting sellers who pressure you into making a purchase.
  • If you have doubts about an ad, right-click on the image and select 'Search image with Google.' You can copy and paste the ad's text into a search engine. If the ad is a scam, you will likely find the same ad targeting victims in other areas.
Additional Tips for Using Zelle® at Power Financial Credit Union

Zelle® is a fast, safe, and easy way to send money to people you know, and it is best to think of using Zelle® the same way you do when using cash. To protect yourself and your money, always ensure you know the person and confirm their contact information before you send them money using Zelle®.
  • Only use Zelle® to send money to friends, family, and others you trust.
  • Treat Zelle® like cash. Once you authorize a payment to be sent, you can't cancel it if the recipient is already enrolled.
  • Ensure your recipient's name, U.S. mobile phone number, and email address are correct before sending money. Send a test transaction for a small amount to make sure you have the correct information.
  • If a payment situation feels off, it probably is. Trust your gut and investigate.
  • Protect your phone with a PIN and install an app that can locate and remotely wipe your phone in case of loss or theft.
  • Contact us at 800-548-5465 to verify the legitimacy of a request.
  • Never share account passwords, PINs, one-time passcodes, Social Security numbers, or credit and debit card numbers.
Staying Safe With Power Financial Credit Union

At Power Financial Credit Union, we take pride in delivering a safe and convenient banking experience to our almost 35,000 members.

We recommend following these protection tips to send or request money safely. If you suspect that a scammer is targeting you, contact our team at 800-548-5465.

We'd also like to invite you to contact us to find out more about our convenient shared branching network and the wide range of affordable banking products we offer.

1 U.S. checking or savings account required to use Zelle®. Transactions between enrolled users typically occur in minutes.  

Zelle® and the Zelle® related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.