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Security & privacy

The Zelle app connects to your bank, but is it safe to use?

Social distancing has become a way of life for some during the pandemic, which has led to more and more people using contactless payment options. This alternative to cash lowers the risk of contamination. Payment can be made for goods and services or directly sent to others via swiping, waving or tapping cash apps or scanning QR codes.

PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, CashApp, Android Pay, Google Pay, Zelle and Square are some of the more popular payment apps. Though they are convenient, you must be careful when using peer-to-peer (P2P) apps. Tap or click here for tips on how to use these apps safely.

Zelle has been integrated into some banking apps, helping to legitimize its status as a trusted payment service. When you pay someone with Zelle, the money goes directly into their bank account. While convenient, this does have drawbacks. Read on for the pros and cons of Zelle and similar services.

Direct deposit

Zelle lets you send money from your account into another within minutes, even if you use different banks. This is great to use between friends, family, coworkers and other people you trust.

You don’t need to share personal information beyond your email address or mobile number tied to your bank account. When receiving money, Zelle notifies your bank of the incoming payment and directs it into your bank account.

According to Zelle’s official website, hundreds of banks and credit unions in the U.S. offer Zelle, and it is available to more than 100 million people. Visit zellepay.com/get-started to see if your bank is in the network.

If your bank doesn’t offer Zelle, you can download the app in Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store for Android and register an eligible Visa or Mastercard debit card. Both the paying and receiving parties need to be enrolled in Zelle to complete a transaction.

RELATED: Watch out for these scams if you bank with Wells Fargo or Chase

Fast but not necessarily safe

Zelle is not recommended for sending payments to strangers because it doesn’t provide fraud protection. Once you send the money, you have no way to get it back unless the other person chooses to refund you. Send payment to a scammer, and it’s as good as gone.

Zelle’s authentication and monitoring features help secure sent and received payments, but once they go through, that’s it. Think about Zelle as cash. Would you send cash to a stranger?

Other payment methods

You should not use Zelle for initial transactions with people you don’t know. Instead, try one of the following to make purchases or send money to strangers.

  • Paypal offers no-fee payments to friends and family members. PayPal’s website is secure and encrypted and personal information is not shared between parties. The company offers purchase protection and dispute resolution in case a transaction goes badly or you’re a victim of a scam. Watch out for fees when purchasing goods and services.
  • Google Pay doesn’t charge for sending money to family and friends. You can send money through email using Google Pay and Gmail. Google Pay has fraud prevention and you can reach out to the company if you need to. Tap or click here to read about Google Pay’s new banking features.
  • Venmo is primarily used for sending money between friends and family. It is a mobile-first app with a social spin. You can use it to split bills at a restaurant. Sending money is free using your linked debit card, but look out for the 3% charge when you use Venmo with a credit card.

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