PayPal's profoundly financial nature has made the company all too tempting for hackers and scammers to trick unsuspecting users. Unfortunately, PayPal scams are all too common, especially since its platform has more than 244 million users.
It is one of the most impersonated brands by scammers, along with Facebook, Netflix, and Microsoft.
PayPal is a money-transferring service. It essentially acts as a middleman, allowing you to send funds directly from your bank account to other individuals or registered companies without either party having to reveal personal bank account information. It also works in reverse, allowing businesses to accept these same types of payments from customers. In return, PayPal collects a fee off of certain transactions.
As one of the original online money-transferring services, PayPal has grown to become one of the most popular of these services globally. The ability to transfer money back and forth between international accounts through the platform is one feature that has made PayPal so ubiquitous.
Over the years, however, PayPal has steadily expanded its services. Besides paying out people or businesses directly, customers today can also extend a line of PayPal credit (purchasing something through the company and paying for it later, in increments, at a relatively steep interest rate). And contractors can also use the service to create and facilitate invoices, with the company handling the lion’s share of the tricky tax information.
Services like PayPal have made so many aspects of modern life more convenient, whether it’s paying a friend or family member back for some borrowed money or having a faster and easier way to purchase goods and services from an online retailer.
But its ties to such sensitive information as bank account numbers and other transactional data have made PayPal scams all the more common among imposters and scammers.
It’s important to remember: For every bit of convenience the site provides, you should take care to act with equal parts caution.
Most PayPal scams come in the form of messages impersonating the company. This allows scammers to ask for information that could allow them to hack into your PayPal account directly or possibly even infiltrate your bank account.
A message from PayPal will always address you by your first and last name, never by "Dear User," or "Dear [your email address]." If an email looks suspicious, it’s best to report it to PayPal then delete it.
But many also attempt smaller-scale scams perpetrated by beating businesses out on details like payment or shipping options. Of course, this works both ways, with some scammers posing as sellers, collecting payments but never actually delivering the promised goods.
Generally, there are two main ways scammers try to intrude into PayPal customers’ lives: by sending fake emails and fake payments.
PayPal scam emails are arguably the most widespread scam to look out for when dealing with the company. By and large, these are emails supposedly sent from the company, and they will almost always ask for your personal information in one way or another. (The email may ask you directly for details or include a link you’re meant to click on.)
If the email does include a link, it’s important to never click on it. Enter “www.paypal.com” into a different web browser instead.
It’s also imperative to never give out identifying details—including your address, birth date, and especially your password or any specific account numbers—in response to an email. The company itself says it will never ask for your bank account, credit card information, or password via email.
Another class of common PayPal scams includes those dealing with shipping and payment information.
These mainly target businesses that offer PayPal payments as an option. Scammers posing as customers will try to get their goods for free—or at least try to get some money back—through a variety of tricks, including alleging they’ve already paid for their product or that they’ve overpaid.
Scams that impersonate other brands may also bring PayPal into the mix. For example, a Venmo phishing email scam tricks victims into believe there is a large sum of money waiting to be sent to them via PayPal.
A few types of PayPal email scams are particularly prevalent—and, unfortunately, continue to be quite effective.
When using PayPal, whether as a buyer, seller, or for a money transfer between friends, make sure to stay wary of these types of scams.
Several PayPal scam emails fall into this category, including messages informing you that you:
It may sound great—and oh so tempting—to believe that you’ve suddenly come across a bundle of money that you never knew previously existed. But try to push past the temptation to see the truth: These things hardly, if ever, actually happen.
Most of the time, these emails will ask you to make a small payment (via PayPal) to facilitate the money transfer. Sometimes they’ll also include forms to fill out with personal data.
Aside from the apparent “too good to be true” signs, red flags to look out for include lousy grammar and questionable return email addresses.
Another popular form of a PayPal email scam includes an urgent message sent to you, supposedly from the company, to alert you to some issue with your PayPal account.
Many times, these include links to send you to a site to “fix the problem.” They can send you to a site that looks very much like PayPal, but be wary of the domain name—it will be slightly different.
However, the best route is to never click on the links at all.
They can easily download spy software or other viral information onto your device, or the sites they lead you to could be feeding your information directly to the scammers. Instead, access your PayPal account by typing in the PayPal URL directly into your web browser.
Other times, the scammers will ask for sensitive information, including your account password or bank account number. It is imperative to never give out such information over email. Remember: PayPal will never ask you for your bank account, credit card number, or password via email.
Primarily impacting those who sell items and use PayPal to collect payments, these types of scams supposedly come from—or are on behalf of—customers.
The simplest version of this involves a customer claiming that they’ve overpaid for a product and asking for the difference back. (The easiest solution to this is to cancel the transaction entirely and start fresh, rather than refund anything.)
Sometimes, scammers will send an email, making it appear as they’ve already paid you in an attempt to coerce you into rushing out a delivery.
And sometimes, the scam involves a delivery address bait-and-switch. The scammer will provide the wrong delivery information, then file a complaint after several failed delivery attempts (and finally “correct” the shipping address) to get the product for free, with a complaint filed against you, as the seller, to boot.
To ensure you’re not scammed by someone impersonating PayPal, it’s important to remember the following:
Remember, if there’s anything fishy about an email you received from PayPal, don’t click any of the links.
The safest thing to do is access your PayPal account by typing in “paypal.com” directly into your web browser. This way, you know you’re visiting the real PayPal site and not a fake link sent to you by a scammer.
Thankfully, PayPal has several ways to deal with these types of scams or any other fraudulent or suspicious activity you may notice on your PayPal account.
If you’ve been the recipient of—or think you’ve received—a PayPal email scam, the best thing to do is report the email directly to PayPal. Forward the email to [email protected], where the company will evaluate the message. Then, once it’s been forwarded, delete it from your inbox.
PayPal also offers a Resolution Center where you can make individual claims or disputes about specific payment activities, including money you sent and money you received. Simply sign in to your PayPal account to access the Resolution Center.
The Resolution Center handles most fraud-based inquiries, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, you can send a secure message to PayPal while logged into your account.
PayPal will send you an email notification if your account is changed—including a password change—or the company detects what it perceives to be unusual account activity, such as signing in from a unique location or device.
If you receive one of these notifications but don’t remember taking the action in question, it could be a sign that your account has been hacked. Here's what to do next:
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