How to help protect your business from phishing and spoofing attempts

PayPal Editorial Staff

PayPal Editorial Staff

September 18, 2022

Person in a hooded sweatshirt sitting at laptop and coding phishing software

It’s not always easy to spot a scammer, especially when they disguise themselves as a reputable brand.

When scammers make communications look, feel, and sound like the reputable organization they’re impersonating, it’s known as spoofing. Phishing is an attempt to gain access to your sensitive data via fake emails, websites, text messages, or voicemails. Here are a few things to watch out for, to help make sure you don’t fall for these types of scams.

  1. Fake emails

    One of the most common phishing scams involves sending an email that claims to be from a well-known company — like PayPal. The emails may ask you to:

    • Visit a fake or "spoof" website
    • Call a fake customer service number
    • Open attachments that install malicious software on your computer when opened or
    • Open attachments you didn’t request

    You may already have a good eye for fake emails but just in case, watch out for ones that:

    • Start with a generic greeting instead of your name
    • Have poor grammar or many typos
    • Create a sense of urgency or;
    • Ask for personal information like credit or debit card numbers, bank account information, driver’s license number, passwords or your full name. PayPal will never ask for sensitive information in an email.And when you suspect an email is fake, don't open it, reply to it, click on any links or download any attachments.Tip: Use caution if you get an unexpected payment notification via email. Always verify every payment notification by logging in to your PayPal account and locating the corresponding transaction. All transactions (even pending ones) sent by you, or to you, will show up in your transaction history.
  2. Fake websites

    A fake website usually works in tandem with a fake email. A link in the email takes you to a site that looks legitimate, and asks you for your password, credit or bank information and/or SSN. These are the red flags of a fake website:

    The URL includes non-secure links. To know if it’s a secure link, check that the URL begins with ‘https’, like in this one: https://www.paypal.com/us. Also look for the "lock" symbol that appears in the address bar or the lower right-hand corner of your browser. This symbol indicates you’re on a secure site.

    The URL directs to a completely different website.

  3. Fake text messages

    Fake text messages, also known as smishing, are when a cyber criminal is phishing using SMS. You receive an urgent text message with a fake phone number or URL that looks like this:

    Your PayPal account has been suspended due to suspicious activity. Please contact us immediately at 1-408-123-4567. It is imperative that we speak to you as soon as possible.”

    If you call the number, you’re confirming you have a PayPal account, and the scammer will ask for your account information.

    Scammers may also use a fake link instead of a phone number.

  4. Fake voicemails

    Fake voicemails, also known as vishing, are when a scammer uses an automated system to make voice calls. Typically, the calls mention an “urgent account problem” and ask you to share account information to remedy it. An example of a vishing attempt is:

    This is PayPal calling about a possible fraudulent transaction on your account. Please enter your PIN now to hear the transaction details.

    When you enter your PIN, the scammer gets the key they need to access your account.

    Never provide any account information unless you initiated the phone call. Caller IDs are also easily tricked, so don’t rely on them to verify the call is authentic.

How to protect yourself from phishing and spoofing

If you think you’ve clicked a bad link, close out of it immediately, run an antivirus check, and then change your password and security questions. Remember, it’s important you run an antivirus check first because you might’ve gotten malware from clicking the link, and the malware can still pick up your new password.

Then, contact your bank or card issuer and explain the situation. Make sure to review your transaction history over the next few weeks to ensure there are no unauthorized transactions on your account, and if there are, report them immediately.

Seems phishy?

If you receive an email that you believe could be phishing, don’t respond in any way and also don’t click any links or open any attachments. Instead, simply forward the email to spoof@paypal.com. In order to investigate the email just as you received it, we ask that you don’t change the subject line or send the suspicious email as an attachment. After forwarding to us, delete the email from your account so that there’s no further threat to you.

How do you know when the communication you’ve received is actually from PayPal?

Be assured that we will never send a request for information via email. Instead, we direct account holders to log in to their account and visit the Resolution Center. You know you’re working on the real PayPal site when the URL is https://www.paypal.com.

Additional tools

In addition, to help prevent a cyber criminal from using phished information in a transaction with your business, the following tools are available through PayPal and other fraud management vendors:

Address Verification Service (AVS). Use AVS to verify if the billing address matches the one the card issuer has on file.

Card Security Code (CSC). The CSC is the three- or four-digit number located on the back of the card that confirms the customer has the card in their possession.

Bank Identification Number (BIN). The first six numbers listed on a card are known as the BIN and identify the financial institution that issued the card.

IP geolocation. IP geolocation pinpoints the location of the computer used for the transaction; checking the geolocation details against the billing and shipping address your customer provided can flag possibly fraudulent transactions.

No matter how vigilant you are, inevitably, you will let down your guard and be tempted to click an unsecure link. To help protect you while you browse (and take away some of the stress), there are several site safety rating tools1 available:

  • SiteAdvisor.com
  • MyWOT.com
  • Safeweb.Norton.com

These services collect reports about suspicious sites and rank them. They can’t catch every bad link, but they can be a good first line of defense.

We want to help keep your information secure, and alerting us to possible scam attempts helps protect the PayPal community.

You can also access additional information on online security here or by reviewing our FAQs at the bottom of this page.

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