PayPal has been a convenient way to make financial transactions since 1998. And with more than 300 million PayPal users, it has attracted the attention of thousands of scammers looking to steal your money or identity.
According to a survey by the AARP, around 50% of seniors use PayPal for their transactions, and that number is growing, making seniors susceptible to falling victim to PayPal scams.
Though PayPal has put several protective measures in place, they still can’t prevent all of the scams, especially with new ones popping up all of the time. And unfortunately, PayPal’s protective measures don’t always work the way they were intended. And scammers have learned how to work the system in their favor using the company’s guidelines to scam unsuspecting victims.
Unfortunately, PayPal scams come in various forms, including phishing emails, pop-ups, and more. But like with most cons, if you know how to identify them, you are more likely to avoid them. Though there are always new fraudsters coming out of the woodwork, most of them use one of the scams below.
Avoiding scams is always the best way to protect yourself, but sometimes criminals still find their way into our wallets. And if you find yourself on the wrong end of a scam, it is vital you report it and do what you can to attempt to recover your lost money. This is true for any type of scam, including ransomware scams and telemarketing scams.
The first thing you need to do if you’re the victim of a PayPal scam is to change your password and security question; this will help protect your accounts from future fraudulent transactions. After updating your account, you should contact PayPal through the PayPal Resolution Center to report the scam.
You will need to log into your PayPal account to access the Resolution Center. Once on the right page, you can then choose which scam best pertains to your situation. Then follow the directions on the selected page and submit your form for evaluation.
Below are the top PayPal scams you may encounter, though even if something is not listed here, but you feel something is off you about a PayPal communication, it is best to trust your gut and report it.
Top PayPal Scams
- Fraudulent Emails
- Compromised PayPal Account
- Held Funds
- Friends and Family Discount
The Scenario: In July of 2020, more than 1,000 people reported an email that appeared to be from PayPal but was, in fact, from a fraudster. Phishing emails that appear to be legitimate emails from PayPal are among the most common PayPal scams around.
The emails being sent state something to the effect that the person’s account has been limited or frozen due to suspicious activity or a policy violation. However, whatever the email claims, there is always a request that the customer takes immediate action.
The email will instruct the customer to click on a provided link to update their personal information to ensure the security of their account. And of course, most seniors feel the urgency to keep their PayPal account safe so follow the provided instructions.
The Scam: After clicking on the link in the email, a website will appear, one looking identical to the PayPal website, and direct the user to log in. Unfortunately, the website is not the real PayPal site, and once you log in, you have given the criminal what they need to get into your real PayPal account.
How to Avoid It: Never click on a link provided until you are 100% without a doubt the sender is who they say they are and not a scammer. The easiest way to see if the sender is legitimate is to look at the sender’s full email address. Unfortunately, the sender’s name listed is not the address, so you need to make sure the email contains @paypal.com.
Most scammer’s email addresses will be a long string of letters and numbers followed by @ and something other than PayPal.
Another red flag is if the email is addressed to “PayPal Member” instead of your first and last name. Plus, the body of the email will make the situation sound urgent, encouraging you to take immediate action. Other identifying characteristics that it is a PayPal scam include:
- Asking for personal information such as credit card or bank account information
- An included software update attachment
Lastly, if you do click on a link and the website address is anything but https://www.paypal.com/ you know it is a scam.
Compromised PayPal Account
The Scenario: You check over your PayPal transactions either in your PayPal account or on your PayPal debit card account and see an unauthorized charge.
The Scam: A common scam for cybercriminals is to use spyware to access senior’s account information, including user names and passwords. Once the scammer obtains this information, they start charging things to that account as fast as possible. They know that they will be locked out of the account as soon as the victim realizes what has happened.
How to Avoid It: The best way to avoid having your personal information stolen is to avoid clicking on links from unauthorized senders or popup windows. Additionally, you must check your accounts regularly to catch any unauthorized transactions right away so you can stop the criminal before things get too far.
Gaining access to your PayPal account may not always be from a PayPal scam email either, so always be on the lookout for suspicious popups and phishing emails.
If you suspect an unauthorized person has accessed your account, remember to change your password right away.
The Scenario: You are selling something online, and the buyer sends you more than the asking price. After they’ve sent the money, they will claim that the overage was either a mistake or is for shipping. In either scenario, the scammer will ask you to wire the overage back to them or a fake shipping company.
The Scam: Once you have been paid in PayPal, you are not guaranteed that money. For example, if the scammer used a stolen credit card, the charges will be reversed back even if you have already shipped the goods. What’s worse is that the money you wired back to the buyer will not be reversed since it is a wire transfer.
Most scammers know that credit card charges are reversed as soon as the card is reported stolen, so they ask for money to be wired to them since they know that it cannot be taken back once paid.
How to Avoid It: First, never wire money to the requester. If they overpay and ask for the money back via money transfer, you can be sure it’s a scam. If this happens, cancel the order and do not continue the transaction, remember money sent via wire transfer cannot be recovered.
The Scenario: Many seniors use Craigslist, eBay, or other online options to sell things they no longer need online since they are easy and safe ways to sell things. If you happen to be selling something online and ask the buyer to send you money via PayPal, be sure to check your account before shipping anything.
The Scam: The scammer will act as if they are buying your item, and you will receive an email that appears to be from PayPal stating you have received a payment that will appear in your account once the item has been shipped. However, the email is not really from PayPal and is instead a scam that allows the criminal to receive the goods without actually paying you.
How to Avoid It: Before shipping any items, check your PayPal account first, but do not use the link in the email. Instead, go to the PayPal site manually and check your account to see if funds are waiting for you; if no money shows in your account, do not send the buyer anything until you confirm an actual payment has been sent.
Friends and Family Payment
The Scenario: There are different types of PayPal payment options. Some carry a nominal fee, whereas others are free of charge. The Friends and Family payment option is free to use, which makes it an appealing transaction option. However, it is critical to note that Friends and Family payments are non-refundable, so when seniors use this option, they do so at their own risk.
The Scam: You are purchasing an item from a private party, and the seller requests you pay them using PayPal Friends and Family to save on fees. You agree since you like the idea of saving a few bucks, but after sending the money, you never receive your goods. Additionally, when you reach out to the seller, the email address is no longer active, or the seller is non-responsive to your emails.
Then when you contact PayPal for assistance, you learn that Family and Friend Payments are non-refundable for authorized payments. And technically, you did “authorize” the payment when you sent the money to the seller.
How to Avoid It: The best way for seniors to protect their money when buying goods online is to use the Goods and Services transaction option. Goods and Services payments may cost you a little bit, but it is worth the cost to protect your money.