How to help protect your business from phishing and spoofing attempts.

Apr 10 2018 | PayPal editorial staff

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.

 
The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.

1 These products aren’t affiliated with PayPal and may require additional costs.

Frequently asked questions.

You may receive an email falsely claiming to be from PayPal. Sending fake emails is called "phishing" because the sender is "fishing" for your personal information. The goal is to trick you in to giving up your personal, financial, or account information. Phishing emails may ask you to visit a fake or "spoof" website, or call a fake customer service number. These emails can also contain attachments that install malicious software on your computer when opened.

Keep in mind that receiving a fake email doesn't mean your account has been compromised. If you think an email is fake, don't open it. Don't reply to the email, click any links, or download any attachments. If you clicked on any links are or unsure, log in to your PayPal account and check your recent activity to make sure everything looks right.

It's also important to report the fake email or website to PayPal as soon as possible. That way, we can help protect you and other PayPal members. Forward any suspicious email to spoof@paypal.com then, delete the suspicious email.

When you aren't sure if you can trust an email claiming to be from PayPal, here are a few guidelines that can help you spot the real from the fake:

Impersonal, generic greetings are used; such as “Dear user” or “Dear [your email address]”.
Emails from PayPal will always address you by your first and last names or by your business name. We never say things like "Dear user" or "Hello PayPal member".

Ask you to click on links that take you to a fake website.
If there's a link in an email, always check it before you click. A link could look perfectly safe like www.paypal.com/SpecialOffers. Make sure to move your mouse over the link to see the true destination. If you aren’t certain, don’t click on the link. Just visiting a bad website could infect your machine.

Contain unknown attachments.
Don't ever open an attachment unless you're sure it's legitimate and safe. Be particularly cautious of invoices from companies and contractors you're not familiar with. Some attachments contain viruses that install themselves when opened.

Convey a false sense of urgency.
Phishing emails are often alarmist, warning that your account needs to be updated immediately. They're hoping you'll fall for their sense of urgency and ignore warning signs that it's fake.
If there is an urgent need for you to complete something on your account, you can find this information by logging in to your PayPal account.

The following are some common scams where fraudsters use spoofed emails. When in doubt, always log in to your PayPal account and view the Resolution Center for any notifications.

"Your account is about to be suspended."
Many fraudsters send spoofed emails warning that an account is about to be suspended, and that the account holder must enter their password in a (spoofed) webpage. PayPal will never ask you to enter your password unless you're on the login page. Report any suspect email by forwarding it to spoof@paypal.com.

"You've been paid."
Some fraudsters try to trick you in to thinking that you've received a payment for an order. They want what you're selling for free. Before you ship anything, log in to your PayPal account and check that you were actually paid.

"You have been paid too much."
Fraudsters may try to convince you that you've been paid more than you were owed. For example, a spoofed email says that you’ve been paid $500 for a camera you listed at $300. The sender asks you to ship the camera in addition to the extra $200 you were “paid” by mistake. The scammer wants your camera AND your money, but hasn’t actually paid you at all.
Simply log in to your PayPal account and check that you were paid before sending anything.

If you received an email seemingly from PayPal that states you’ve received money, check to make sure the email isn't fake. Some signs:

The email does not address you by your first and last name.

The email says the money is “on hold” until you complete an action (i.e., send money through Western Union or click a link to submit a tracking number). You can easily see if you received money by logging in to your PayPal account (do not click any links within the email).  If you’ve been paid, you’ll see the payment in your account.

Here's a video on identifying suspicious emails:
 
PayPal approves transactions for the following AVS codes:
  • Domestic transactions: A, W, X, Y, Z, B, D, P, M, F
  • On international transactions PayPal will only deny: N, E
For definitions of AVS and CVV2 response codes, see the PayPal Developer Portal.
The PayPal Developer Portal offers support for developers who have questions about technical topics, such as APIs or integration. Below is a list of common topics searched for by developers. You can also browse and search on the Developer Portal for additional topics.

Account Authentication
Information about validating your visitor's PayPal account.

Encrypted Website Payments
To make online payments more secure, you can make Encrypted Website Payment buttons that rely on standard public key encryption for protection.

Identity API
PayPal offers a secure commerce Identity API that lets your customers sign in to your web site using their PayPal credentials.

Instant Payment Notification
Instant Payment Notification is a message service that automatically notifies merchants of events related to PayPal transactions.

Invoicing
Merchants, developers, and business solution providers use Invoicing APIs to automate the creation, delivery, tracking, and reconciliation of invoices with an integrated payments solution.

Mobile SDK
Accept PayPal, credit cards and other payments methods through mobile apps.

Name-Value Pair (NVP) API
Information and support on name value pairs and NVP SDKs.

PayPal Checkout
PayPal Checkout gives your buyers a simplified and secure checkout experience that keeps them local to your website or mobile app throughout the payment process.

Payflow Gateway
Payflow Pro is a high performance TCP/IP-based client-server architecture solution. It includes a secure payment gateway that gives merchants total control over the payment process.

PayPal Sandbox Support
Information and support for users testing in the PayPal Sandbox environment.

PayPal Shopping Cart
The PayPal Shopping Cart system allows buyers to select multiple items on your website and pay for them with a single payment.

Permissions Service API
PayPal's permissions service enables you to request and obtain authorization to make API calls and take action on behalf of your customers.

SOAP
The PayPal SOAP API is based on open standards known collectively as web services, which include the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Definition Language (WSDL), and the XML Schema Definition language (XSD).

Testing Your Apps in Sandbox
A guide for developers testing their apps in the PayPal Sandbox environment.

Virtual Terminal
Information about PayPal's Virtual Terminal - a web-based application that processes credit and debit cards, replacing swipe machines.

Website Payments Pro
PayPal's Website Payments Pro is an API-based solution that enables merchants and developers to accept credit cards, debit cards, and PayPal payments directly on their website.
 
PayPal Payments Standard
You can accept credit cards online easily and offers a streamlined checkout experience to customers using mobile devices.

Here are some definitions to help you understand the status of a payment you send:

  • Canceled: You canceled your payment, and the money was credited back to your account.
  • Cleared: Money from an eCheck that you sent has been deposited in the recipient’s account.
  • Cleared by Payment Review: We reviewed the transaction and the money is in the recipient’s account.
  • Completed: The transaction was successful and the money is in the recipient’s account.
  • Denied: The recipient didn’t accept your payment, and the money was credited back to your account. View the transaction details to see why your payment was denied or contact the recipient for more information.
  • Failed: Your payment didn’t go through. We recommend that you try your payment again.
  • Held: We’re reviewing the transaction and your payment might be reversed. You should check the Resolution Center for more information.
  • In progress: Your payment was sent, but the recipient hasn’t accepted it yet.
  • On hold: We’re holding the money temporarily because either you filed a dispute or we’re reviewing the transaction. Look for an email from us with more information about this transaction.
  • Paid: Someone requested money from you and you sent them a payment.
  • Partially Refunded: Your payment was partially refunded.
  • Pending Verification: We’re reviewing the transaction. We’ll send your payment to the recipient after your payment source has been verified.
  • Placed: We have placed a temporary hold on your payment. Look for an email from us with more information.
  • Processing: We’re processing your payment and the transaction should be completed shortly.
  • Refunded: The recipient returned your payment. If you used a credit card to make your payment, the money will be returned to your credit card. It can take up to 30 days for the refund to appear on your statement.
  • Refused: The recipient didn’t receive your payment. If you still want to make your payment, we recommend that you try again.
  • Removed: The hold on your payment was removed and the transaction should be completed shortly.
  • Returned: Money was returned to your account because the recipient didn’t claim your payment within 30 days. PayPal members can manually reverse unclaimed payments before the 30-day automatic reversal.
  • Reversed: Either you canceled the transaction or we did.
  • Temporary hold: Money from your account is being held temporarily during the authorization process. The recipient isn’t able to use or withdraw this money until the authorization is complete.
  • Unclaimed: The recipient hasn’t accepted or received your payment. Unclaimed transactions are automatically canceled after 30 days.