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Payment Scams: How To Keep Your Money Safe

When you authorize a Zelle® transaction in Online Banking or the mobile app, it’s like paying with cash. Zelle® and other payment apps are safe and convenient, but you should only use them with people you know and trust.

As digital payments become a bigger part of your life, it's important to watch out for scams involving peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps like Zelle®, Venmo, PayPal and Cash App. Fraudsters like digital payments because they're speedy. Payment scams often originate in the same way that you interact with a legitimate business: through social media advertising, email and online sales, online marketplaces like Facebook, Craigslist or OfferUp, or anywhere people are buying and selling merchandise online.

You could be dealing with an imposter while you're trying to purchase event tickets, adopt a puppy, purchase or sell real estate, rent property, or buy or sell items in an online space. Your interactions with an unknown potential buyer, seller, or unsolicited communication might seem ordinary and completely legitimate – until it's time for the payment transaction.

A person becomes the victim of a scam when someone deceives them into authorizing a transaction, and the victim loses money as a result. Despite our efforts, we are typically unable to retrieve the funds after a payment has been authorized. This is why it's so important to be aware of the risks of engaging in business transactions with people you don't know. 

Why Payment Apps Appeal To Scammers

Peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps are a safe, easy, and super-fast way to send and receive money from your mobile device – as long as you know and trust the person on the other end of the transaction. Sending money to people you don't know is risky because the money leaves your account so quickly and transactions are final, which makes getting your money back unlikely.

We strongly recommend that you don't use a payment app for any transactions involving people you don't know or trust. Remember, using Zelle®, or any other payment app, is the same as using cash. If you can't verify the person's identity, it's not safe to send them money. 

6 Ways To Identify a Payment Scam

Fraudsters never stop thinking of ways to trick you into sending money or giving them access to your account. You could be targeted when buying or selling something online, or through an unsolicited email or text message. One of the best ways to protect your money is to recognize these warning signs and tactics commonly used in payment scams:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency: They pressure you to do something immediately or use an impending or urgent deadline to manipulate you to act quickly. 
  2. Offering only one payment option: They tell you their business only accepts P2P payments, prepaid cards or gift cards. 
  3. Insisting you use a specific payment app: They try to trick you into transferring funds by impersonating someone or a company you recognize or would be likely to trust to make the transaction seem legitimate. They'll send you email or text messages that look like they're from the payment service. These messages may include instructions for returning overpaid funds or returning the funds because of a problem.
  4. Changing the payment amount or asking for more money: They follow up on your initial payment with reasons why you need to pay more. 
  5. Using breaking news stories: Fraudsters use natural disasters, data breaches, or international events like the COVID-19 pandemic or the Ukraine-Russia crisis to urge payments or donations to illegitimate individuals or companies.
  6. Unsolicited contact: They send unexpected messages that are hostile or aggressive, urgent, sensational, or too good to be true. The messages contain links that the fraudsters want you to click on. Don't click any links in unsolicited messages because they can compromise the security of your device and your personal and financial information.

Tips for Avoiding Payment Scams

In addition to knowing how to recognize a potential scam, it's also critical to understand how to avoid a scam in the first place. Here's a list of things that can protect you from becoming the target of a payment scam:

  • Don't use payment apps with strangers: Never send or accept payments from someone you don't know. Only use these apps to transfer money with friends, family, those you trust and who you can identify. 
  • Double-check payment details before sending money: Take time to confirm that the person's name, phone number and amount you're transferring is correct so it's sent to the right person. If you send money as part of a scam, or even to the wrong person by accident, it may not be possible to get it back. 
  • Scrutinize email and text messages: Verify the sender and don't click links in unsolicited communications. Look for grammatical and spelling errors, or strange wording. These are clues that the message isn't authentic. If you're unsure, log in to your account or the app directly to see if there are any related messages. If not, you can ignore the notification – it's likely a scam.
  • Read the terms of service: Make sure you understand the fraud protection policies for any P2P payment apps you use. 

How To Report a Payment Scam

If you're concerned about a suspicious communication you've received or acted upon, please contact us at 800-233-2328. You can also send us a secure message using Messenger in Online Banking or the mobile app, or visit any BECU location. To find a location near you, visit our Locations page

How To Contact BECU's Fraud Department

Email our security team at to report this type of activity. We monitor these email notifications only during business hours. Please do not send confidential information via email. You can also call 800-233-2328 and follow the prompts to speak with someone in our fraud department.

Additional Ways To Report a Scam

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