Help! After suspicious texts from Citibank, I’ve lost $2,500

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By Christopher Elliott

Fransua Garcia just lost $2,500 after scammers sent her suspicious texts claiming to be from Citibank. Can she retrieve her money, which she transferred using Zelle?

Question

I recently received various texts about suspicious activities with my bank account. I contacted Citibank to get more information. A Citibank representative told me that nothing was wrong and that it would monitor my account. The representative took all the info regarding those text messages.

Later that day, I got a call from a Citibank number, which I assumed was my bank with more information about my concern. By then, I had received multiple emails from my bank about different money transfers from my savings to checking, which I did not perform. However, I did not see them in time because I was working. 

When I answered the call, the representative told me it was from the security team and that in order to get my money back, I needed to make a transfer to myself. The representative had my login information for security reasons. She had information about the content of the emails from Citibank (which I opened while on the phone). The representative advised me not to open my bank app. I thought that maybe my phone was hacked.

It turns out I hadn’t spoken to a bank employee and instead transferred $2,500 to a scammer using Zelle. I have disputed the charges but Citibank has turned me down. I’m currently appealing. I don’t want to lose $2,500. Can you help me? — Fransua Garcia, Port Washington, N.Y.

Answer

Unfortunately, you fell for a clever scam. Criminals posing as bank employees have been hoodwinking customers into transferring money through Zelle, and in the past, there was nothing anyone could do to reverse these fraudulent transactions.

Fortunately, all that has changed recently. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has pressured banks to enforce a little-known rule called Regulation E that protects Americans from fraudulent money transfers like the one you made. But banks have been slow to apply these changes to all of their customers who have been scammed. Often, at least in my experience, they only do it when the bright spotlight of the media is turned on them. That is what’s happening in this case.

How do you know if suspicious texts from your bank are real?

Scammers are smart. You have to be smarter. Here are some ways to ensure the text messages from your bank are real. (Related: Why won’t Citi remove these fraudulent charges from my card?)

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Check the sender’s number

The text messages should come from a verified number that is associated with your bank. Be cautious of unfamiliar or suspicious phone numbers. (Related: I never received my dresses. Why won’t Citibank refund my money?)

Beware of grammatical errors

Real banks don’t make grammatical mistakes when they send you a message. But scammers often do. If you see a text message that’s ungrammatical, do not respond.

Never click a link

Don’t. Click. A. Link. Just don’t. A legitimate bank will find another way to verify it’s you. And never, ever sign into your account based on a link you get from a text message. (Related: How can I make Air France send my refund now?)

Verify your requests for personal data

If your bank asks for personal information like your date of birth or your password, don’t walk away — run. No legitimate bank will do that. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

If you ever have doubts about the authenticity of a text message from your bank, call the bank to verify the text. Make sure you get the bank phone number from an authoritative third party, like our company contacts list.

How do you avoid a problem like this?

Never initiate a money transfer as a result of an unsolicited call from your bank. And even if you receive a call you are expecting, hang up and call the bank back through its main number. 

These scams are preying on elderly bank customers who are more likely to trust someone who calls them from “the bank” and not pay attention to the details of the Zelle transfer they’ve been asked to initiate. So if you’re a senior citizen, this Zelle transfer scam is aimed directly at you.

The best solution? Disable Zelle and delete it from your phone. I know this sounds a little simplistic, but if you have a target on your back, you do not want to be using Zelle. Ever.

I publish executive contacts for both Citibank and Zelle on this site. You could have appealed to one of them and possibly reversed the charges. And you might have filed a complaint with the CFPB, which would have turned up the heat on the companies to do the right thing.

Will you get your $2,500 back?

I contacted Citibank on your behalf. A few days later, you received an update on your dispute. You got your $2,500 back. But Citibank added, “We maintain our position that the decision to deny this claim previously is absolutely appropriate.” So even though it isn’t really sorry, you still got your money.

But banks have a lot to be sorry about. Consumers have lost untold millions of dollars on scams like these. They should be doing more to stop these scams by actually monitoring your account when they say they will and by putting safeguards in place to stop thieves from luring people like you into making fraudulent transfers. And until they do, I’m sure I will stay busy trying to help resolve Zelle scams.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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