Personal Finance

Federal consumer finance watchdog to tighten bank rules around money-transfer scams, report says

Key Points
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to issue guidance in coming weeks pushing banks to repay customers who fall victim to alleged money-transfer scams, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
  • Banks generally don't have liability in instances when the transaction is authorized.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to tighten rules around fraudulent money transfers via services like Zelle by pushing banks to repay more customers harmed by these alleged scams, according to a report published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal.

These services facilitate quick and digital payments from person to person.  

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The CFPB, a federal agency created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, is preparing to issue guidance in coming weeks that would raise banks' financial obligations to customers who lose money in a payment-services scam, according to the report.

Banks generally only have liability for such transactions when they're unauthorized by customers, but the CFPB may raise the bar by deeming payments made to a scammer as unauthorized, according to the WSJ report.

IRS to crack down on tax reporting from Venmo, PayPal and Cash App
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A CFPB spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the report.

"Reports and consumer complaints of payments scams have risen sharply, and financial fraud can be devastating for victims," the spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "The CFPB is working to prevent further harm, including by ensuring that financial institutions are living up to their investigation and error resolution obligations."

A spokesperson for Early Warning Services, LLC, a group of seven banks that own Zelle, said the service had helped millions of consumers in their everyday lives, whether to pay rent, get money quickly when in need or satisfy debts to friends quickly.

"Protecting consumers is one of our top priorities," the spokesperson said. "As a network, we constantly adapt consumer protection measures to address the dynamic and evolving nature of deceptive activities fraudsters employ."

Scammers flock to P2P apps 'like moths to a flame'

Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree, said there's "no question" scammers on peer-to-peer payment services are generally "a big, big problem," though.

"They're attracted to these apps like moths to a flame because there's just so much money flowing through them and because transfers happen so quickly," he said in an e-mail.

It's important for consumers to proceed with caution when using these apps because making a mistake may mean they'll never see the money again, Schulz said.

"This isn't like credit card fraud where the problem can often be handled with a quick phone call," he added. "With P2P fraud, real money is often taken from a real account and oftentimes is gone for good. That's a huge problem, especially in a time of rising inflation when so many Americans live on a tight budget."