I sent a stranger money through Zelle by mistake. How do I undo it?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Maura Ruzhnikov sends money to a stranger by mistake on Zelle, she tries to undo the transaction. That’s easier said than done. Will she ever get her money back?

Question

I accidentally transferred $3,825 to the wrong person through Zelle via First Republic Bank. I entered the wrong email address. 

The person who received the deposit was initially going to send it back, but his bank advised him against this since he does not know me. He asked me to file a claim with Zelle. 

The stranger now claims the money is being “held” by Zelle. He told me to contact them, but a Zelle representative told me that is not possible and I must go through their bank partners. 

I tried going to a local branch of the recipient’s bank, who advised me to file a police report and said they could not help me as I am not the account holder with their bank. 

Then I filed a police report, and I have filed two separate claims with my bank explaining all of this and that the person who received the deposit seems willing to return it. But at this point, I have no idea where the funds are. I communicated with my bank earlier this month, and a representative promised an update by the end of the day, but I haven’t heard back since. Can you help me get my money back? — Maura Ruzhnikov, Great Falls, Va.

Answer

I’m sorry for all the trouble you experienced. But the stranger did the right thing. 

The reason? Sending money to someone you don’t know is one of the biggest Zelle scams. Here’s how it works: A criminal will create a Zelle account and link it to a stolen credit card. Then the scammer uses Zelle to send payments to a stranger. The sender asks for a refund but then swaps out the stolen credit card for a real one and receives your money. The person with the stolen card then disputes the charge — meaning you lose the amount you paid back.

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Pretty clever, huh?

Zelle is a peer-to-peer payment system, so the money is transferred directly from your bank to the recipient’s bank. Each participating bank has a dispute process, and I asked about your situation, but your bank would not tell me who had the money and when. In the end, it doesn’t really matter — it’s your money and you’re entitled to it. If necessary, you could have petitioned a small claims court for a refund, and you would have received it. (Related: Is your restaurant safe? Maybe – maybe not.)

Always double check the email address of the recipient before you send

But working your way through the system — however painful it may have been — was the right move. I outline the ways to get your money back in my guide to getting your money back from a Zelle scam or accidental money transfer. It looks like you followed the Elliott Method but still fell short. I would have leaned on your bank for a resolution, since you are using Zelle through the bank.

Here’s my guide on how the Zelle dispute process works.

How do you prevent this? Make sure you always double-check the email address of the recipient before you send. If you send money to someone by mistake, cancel immediately. Your bank may be able to reverse the transaction.

I contacted First Republic Bank on your behalf. A representative contacted you and told you that the money had been moved from the recipient’s account to his bank, where it was being “held.” A month after your erroneous transaction, you received a full refund.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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