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Grand Strand man loses $3.5K ahead of holidays in banking app scam

Experts say you should beware of sophisticated call scams that pose as your financial institution
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 7:42 PM EST
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MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WMBF) - A Murrells Inlet man is now out of thousands of dollars just before Christmas because he thought he was talking to someone from his bank who wanted to help him not become a victim of fraud.

But instead, that’s exactly what happened.

Finding his account sapped of $3,500 certainly wasn’t how Taylor Sellers foresaw the upcoming holiday season when an apparent scammer got into contact with him just before Thanksgiving.

“I never would’ve expected that I would fall for something like this, but it seemed like it was a professional doing it,” he said.

Sellers said he had received a random text message warning him about an unauthorized transaction being made through a digital money transferring service app.

At first, he ignored it. A few minutes later, that message was followed up by a phone call with a caller ID belonging to his bank, Wells Fargo. The woman on the other end sounded professional and said someone was trying to Zelle money out of his account.

“She told me that someone had hacked into my bank account, and was trying to send themselves money via Zelle, from my bank account to themselves,” he explained. “And to cancel that out, I needed to go in, add myself in Zelle, and send myself money to cancel out those transactions.”

Zelle is somewhat similar to Venmo or Cash App, but actually cuts out having a middleman app, and lets you transfer money from within your existing banking app to someone who belongs to another financial institution. You can send funds to people by finding them through contact information, like their email or phone number.

She guided Sellers through the process on how to do so since he hadn’t used it before.

By the time he got off the phone and checked his bank account, the money was gone. Sellers immediately called Wells Fargo who confirmed with him that that wasn’t them. Sellers then began filing claims with the bank.

“I thought I was sending money to my email address and myself, and they were able to access my email and I guess route a different bank account number,” he said. “How are they able to link another bank account or divert the money elsewhere using my email address? I’m not sure, to be honest. I still haven’t figured that out.”

A letter sent to update Sellers on the status of his claims said Wells Fargo had closed them after notifying “the receiving financial institution and the Zelle Network about the scam. Additionally, we submitted a request to the receiving financial institution to have the funds returned; however, a refund is not guaranteed.”

A South Carolina spokesperson for Wells Fargo provided the following statement to WMBF News in response to Sellers’ case.

15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated, especially in just the last couple of years.

“It can get anybody and – the push is the panic,” he said.

And it’s not difficult for scammers to get ahold of your personal information to manipulate you into believing they’re legitimate.

“It is reassuring when a person knows your name or knows certain information about you. Because on the level, you think, ‘this must be, because I’ve given it to you,’” he said. “But it really could be from a hacker.”

Unfortunately, he said there wasn’t much in the way of law enforcement’s ability to retrieve someone’s money after they’ve been scammed.

“Once it’s happened, it’s happened and you may be able to get some help back from your bank,” Richardson said. “There’s very little that the police are going to be able to do. Ultimately, it’s going to end up in another country. And by the time that they run it through five or six, seven bank accounts, there’s no way you can get back to it. Too many rabbit holes.”

Wells Fargo provided the following information to help protect consumers.

  • Never share your temporary access codes (for example, a one-time passcode) or PIN with anyone who calls you unexpectedly. Your bank or the government will never ask you for this information.
  • Avoid sending money or giving your account information to anyone you don’t know or a company you can’t verify as legitimate.
  • Wells Fargo will not contact a customer and ask them to send money to themselves or anyone else to prevent or stop fraud on their account.
  • If you are uncomfortable with a request received by phone call or text that you didn’t initiate, don’t respond and hang up immediately. Contact the company using legitimate sources such as a phone number on their website or the number on the back of your debit card.

In an email, Zelle said “robocalls are impacting several industries, and financial services are not immune. The scammer spoofs a Bank phone number and attempts to convince individuals to provide their personal information. Part of our commitment is to inform and remind consumers that their bank or credit union will never call them to ask for sensitive information. They would not ask customers to transfer funds between accounts to prevent fraud.”

Zelle is working to increase consumer education by partnering with MTV’s Catfish host and executive producer, Nev Schulman, to explain trending scams and how to avoid them via TikTok; as well as running a campaign with Vox Media to explain how scams work and how to avoid them.

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