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Woman Says Scammers Drained Her Account Through Zelle, But Fifth Third Bank Told Her They 'Can't Prove Anything'

UPDATE: The bank has now refunded the money taken from the account.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Vernon Hills woman says someone stole thousands of dollars from her through the payment service Zelle, which is built into most major banking apps.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas explains two risky things to avoid to help other consumers avoid becoming victims.

It all started in late June, when Deborah Steidl walked into a Vernon Hills store.

"My debit card wouldn't work, and I knew that I had $2,000 in the account," she said.

Steidl, 69, checked her Fifth Third Bank app, which told her the account was nearly empty after a large transaction.

So she went to her bank in Vernon Hills, trying to figure out what was going on.

"I told them that I didn't do that. Somebody obviously must have gotten into my account, because that's the only money that I have. Why would I just get rid of all my money? They said, 'Well, it went through a Zelle account,' so I must have did it," Steidl said. "I said, 'What are you talking about, a Zelle account? I don't have a Zelle account.'"

Zelle is a digital payment network that allows customers to transfer money online. All you need is the email address or phone number of the person you're sending to.

Fifth Third gave Steidl three transaction details to the supposed recipient; all Zelle transfers on June 21 and June 22 to someone named Mutiat Shobajo, totaling $2,540.

Steidl said she's never heard of Shobajo.

Fifth Third's website says they offer multiple layers of fraud protection, but the bank denied her fraud claims, stating "we have determined the transaction is valid."

"They said it was over, that here was nothing more they could do. They don't know where the money went, and they can't prove anything," Steidl said.

It's still a mystery how someone got into her funds.

A police report indicates Steidl's husband accessed his Fifth Third account from a public library computer in June, and might have left the computer open while he used the bathroom. But the Zelle transactions all happened after library hours.

"I don't know. I mean, I just don't know how they did it," Steidl said.

Nonetheless, Fifth Third said customers should never access their accounts from public computers for that very reason. The bank also pointed out scammers sometimes will call people, pretending to be an employee, and convince customers to find and reveal one-time passcodes for features like Zelle.

Her husband vaguely remembered giving some information to someone who said they were from the bank, but Steidl said no one has told her if that had anything to do with her problems.

"I wasn't working, and that was my Social Security that check he stole," Steidl said.

Both Zelle and Fifth Third would not comment on the specifics of Steidl's case.

We'll let you know what the Vernon Hills Police Department finds in their investigation.


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