Think Before You Click: Sneaky Paypal Scams to Avoid at All Costs


As more consumers embrace PayPal, hackers come out of the woodwork. Remember, think before you click! Learn how to identify and avoid PayPal scams on the spot.

There are currently 277 million active PayPal accounts in use around the world. This is hardly surprising.

PayPal offers the opportunity to safely wire money in a matter of seconds. It operates in 100 currencies across 200 markets.

And we trust it. After all, PayPal’s been around since 1998. We’re all familiar with that blue logo.

But don’t let yourself get complacent. Every year thousands of people become victims of fraudulent PayPal scams. If you’re lucky you can catch them quickly but if not it could cost you dearly.

So what’s the best way to avoid these PayPal frauds and scams? Well, being aware of them is a good place to start.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about PayPal scams and how to avoid them.

What Do PayPal Scams Want?

Well, there are a few things.

The most obvious one is money. A lot of scams entice you to send money or goods to someone you don’t know. Or they want you to share your bank details online.

But this isn’t the only thing a scammer could be after. The other valuable currency online at the moment is data. Getting access to your name, email address and other personal information can leave you vulnerable to hackers. They might try to access your bank accounts. Or they might use the information to access corporate data.

Whatever their plan, these scammers can take a variety of different approaches. So let’s take a look at some of them.

Basic PayPal Fraud Scams

These are some of the most common PayPal scams but are arguably the most dangerous. This is because they’re hard to spot. You receive an email that appears to be from PayPal. It is complete with the logo and everything.

It explains that there is an error in your account or asks you to verify your personal information. It contains a link for you to follow, which takes you to a website that looks exactly the same as PayPal.

Malware Infection

It invites you to input your login details along with your security information. Then it asks you for your bank details. So you give them. Just like that, your PayPal account and bank details are in the hands for a scammer. And sometimes you don’t even realize it has happened.

Advance Fee Frauds

These types of frauds come in all shapes and sizes. And they often sound too good to be true. This is because they are.

One way or another the scammer makes contact with you and offers you something of interest for free. Often this will be money. For example, you might get an email about some inheritance money you weren’t expecting. Or you might have won a cash prize in a competition you don’t remember entering.

Either way, it can be hard to turn down free money. But try to see beyond the scam. The scammer will also explain that in order to release the money to you they need a small, one-time fee. Often they’ll claim this is for tax or legal fees. And this fee will usually feel negligible compared to the amount you could receive.

But once you’ve sent the money the trail will go quiet. The scammer won’t respond to emails or return your money. Because you have sent it willingly it can also be hard to retrieve this sum.

Overpayment Scams

These ones are particularly sneaky because they seem innocent enough. Anyone who uses PayPal to sell goods should keep an eye out for them.

They begin with a payment into your PayPal account. This is the first thing that can throw you off the scent. After all, they’ve sent you money, so how could they be a scammer?

This payment gets followed up by a message from the customer explaining that they’ve overpaid by accident. They ask if you can wire back the difference in price. They may even ask you to wire the money to a different account.

It’s an easy trick to fall for because nothing seems untoward. But the payment into your account will often come from a stolen account or payment card. This means it may be withdrawn again once the real owner realizes what’s happened.

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At that point, you’ll be out of pocket. You won’t have your product, its cost to you or the shipping price that you paid. And you’ll have lost the money you returned to the fake customer. It’s a horrible way to be stung by online fraudsters.

Fake Charity Emails

It takes a particular type of criminal to appeal to your caring instincts in order to steal your money. But that’s exactly what these fraudsters do.

You will receive an email outlining details of a recent disaster somewhere in the world. Often these emails will update so they appear to relate to current events. The email appears to be from a charity that is making an urgent appeal for donations.

In reality, any money you send will go straight into scammers’ pockets and you’ll never hear from them again.

You can protect yourself by using charity checkers online before donating. The following sites can help:

They contain lists of all existing charities and their contact details.

Investment Scams

These scams feel like a long shot but it might surprise you how often they work. Emails land in your inbox offering you the one-off opportunity to invest in a “great deal”. And don’t assume you’re immune to this kind of persuasion.

The emails are often carefully worded to entice you. They contain action statements, such as “Act now!” to make you behave in ways you often wouldn’t.

Shipping Scams

Shipping scams are a little bit more complicated. And some fraudsters carry them out using scam PayPal accounts or hack other users’ accounts.

One scheme involves a product buyer asking you to use their preferred shipping company. Often they will claim they get a discount through them or that the service is quicker. They might even ask you to wire a shipping payment through to this other account.

In this scenario, they are also in control of the ‘third party’ shipping account. They can use this access to reroute the delivery. Then they’ll contact you as the buyer claiming your product never arrived.

Because you used a third party shipper, it won’t be possible to track your product. And you won’t be able to recover any shipping costs. You’ll also lose out as you’ll have to refund the buyer.

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In this case, it’s particularly hard to prove that the same person runs both accounts. So getting your money back can be very difficult. Fake buyers can also con you out of money by providing fake addresses on their original orders. If this happens the shipping company can’t deliver it.

But these scammers monitor the package’s progress online. Once they see that the company failed to deliver the package they change the delivery address. Then they receive the package at their address.

However, PayPal only lets you track a package to the address given on the ‘Transaction Details’ page. So the buyer can then claim they didn’t receive it and request a refund. This leaves you out of pocket in shipping fees. And you might even have to pay an extra fee to the shipping company.

Employment Opportunities

Some PayPal scams work differently. They actually involve you in a scheme so that you lose out on time, money or both.

One example is a fraud in which the scammer places you at the center of the transactions. They approach you with a ‘job opportunity’ which involves you listing products for sale on your website. They explain that you can use the money from orders to send to the supplier.

This all seems straight forward. And so that they can deal with other admin they ask you to put their address as the shipping address on your PayPal account.

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But after a while customers start to get in touch asking where their purchases are. So you get in touch their the supplier. They have no idea what you’re talking about. In this scam, the fraudster tells the supplier an entirely different story. They claim that you will be wiring them money in exchange for goods of some value. Then the supplier sends the goods to the shipping address on your account – which is the fraudsters’ address.

You can’t complain about the supplier, because they’ve done their job within the guidelines. And you have to reimburse the customers. So you’re left out of pocket and with no way of following up the scammers.

Some scams also involve getting you to ship merchandise on the behalf of the ’employer’. This is a way of them getting stolen goods out of the country. And the cheque they promise to send you in the post won’t ever arrive.

Signs Of Common PayPal Scams and How to Avoid Them

We know what you’re thinking – this sounds like a lot. It’s almost enough to put you off using PayPal altogether. But there are ways to avoid scams. A big part of this involves knowing how to spot them.

Scams often begin with phishing emails. These drop into your inbox without warning, which should seem suspicious already. To learn more about them, check out this Spear Phishing Blog.

One of the key things to check is the email address. Scammers don’t have access to proper server emails. So they have to make them up and bank on your not reading them.

Checking the email and IP address of any links is a good place to start. But there are some other things you can do to protect yourself.

  • Question it: If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t follow links in emails. Always take yourself to the PayPal site and log in from there. If there are any errors in your account it won’t make a difference and you can be sure you’re in the right place.
  • Don’t reply to fake emails.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know.
  • Never put anyone else’s address or email address on your PayPal account. This gives them the power to access it.

The Bottom Line

PayPal scams don’t have to ruin the benefits of sending money online. Just be aware of them and think before you hit send. Check out the rest of our site for more on technology.