(WSVN) - It is the season for giving, but one South Florida man has a word of warning about giving money through a popular banking app. 7’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

This little house in Miami-Dade has been in Mike Albarran’s family for decades.

Mike Albarran: “This house has been my parents’ house since November of 1969.”

It has held up pretty well. At least until Hurricane Irma hit and damaged the roof.

Ever since, Mike has been fighting with his insurance company to get it fixed.

Mike Albarran: “All this delay has created additional damage.”

That additional damage created a major problem earlier this year.

Mike Albarran: “During those real heavy rains in April, the ceiling just collapsed.”

After the ceiling fell in his 91-year-old mother’s bedroom, Mike couldn’t wait for the insurance company any longer.

He saw an ad on Facebook for a local roofing company.

Mike Albarran: “I got to get this thing done. They did it on a Saturday, and they wanted half of the money up front.”

Mike says a woman from the company asked him to pay a deposit of $2,000 through Zelle to get the work started faster. The digital payment service is available on most banking websites and apps.

Mike Albarran: “So she gave me the option of going with Zelle, and I took it rather than giving her cash. My mistake.”

According to this invoice, four major leaks on the roof were patched. Mike then paid the remaining balance of $2,500, also through Zelle.

But he says the leaks never stopped, and the ceiling fell again.

Mike Albarran: “And almost fell on top of my brother here in the living room, right where I’m sitting.”

Mike says he tried to get the roofing company to fix the work or refund his money, but no one would answer his calls.

He soon found out the company he hired is not a licensed roofing business.

Mike Albarran: “I found this out because I had to go to Miami-Dade County Contractors Licensing Board to place the complaint.”

While Mike sent the money through Zelle, he was told to send it to “Stephanie,” the woman he spoke to at the roofing company.

Zelle transfers money from your bank account to users who are only listed under a phone number or email address. You never see where your money is deposited.

Michael Goldstein, IT expert: “You really have no recourse at all.”

IT expert Michael Goldstein says banks that offer Zelle have clear disclaimers saying that purchases made with the service are not protected by the bank.

Michael Goldstein: “Like anyone else, no one really reads all the details.”

We reached out to Zelle. The company says: “Zelle does not hold or handle any funds; instead, we provide messaging between the sender’s financial institution and the recipient’s financial institution to facilitate the payments.”

If you do send money, treat it like cash.

Michael Goldstein: “I’m a business. I don’t take Zelle or Venmo for us, because I want something traced back. I need to report the cash; I want someone to feel comfortable.”

When sending money through Zelle, you may get this notification: one that warns you to only send money to people and businesses you trust. It’s up to you to decide how much you actually trust them.

Mike Albarran: “This was under an assumption that this was a reputable company, so had that message or warning been there, I would have ignored it for that same reason.”

Mike’s mother passed away three months ago. Her beloved home has extensive water damage and needs a new roof.

If insurance doesn’t pay for it, Mike will have to find the cash, but he knows what to do now.

Mike Albarran: “Write a check. Write a check, or use your credit card.”

He hopes his advice keeps someone else from making an expensive mistake.


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