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: 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 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
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:
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.

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Frequently asked questions.

Having a secure, unique password for each of your online accounts is critically important. If a scammer gets just one password, they can begin to access your other accounts. That’s why it’s important to have a strong, unique password for your PayPal login.

A strong password should have the following characteristics:

•    More than 8 characters long.
•    Use lower case, upper case, a number, and a special character [like ~!@#$%^&*()_+=?><.,/].
•    Not a word or date associated with you (like a pet’s name, family names, or birth dates).
•    A combination of words with unusual capitalization, numbers, and special characters interspersed. Misspelled words are stronger because they are not in the dictionary used by attackers.
•    Something you can remember.

How often should I change my password?

Normally, there should be no reason to change your password or PIN. But there are a few cases where it's a good precaution. For example:

•    You notice something suspicious on your PayPal account.
•    You suspect that someone you don’t trust has your password.
•    You notice something suspicious in your email account or other online accounts.
•    You have recently removed malware from your system.
•    PayPal asks you to change your password.

If one of these occurs, change your Password, PIN, and security questions immediately. You can change these under personal settings.

If you receive an email asking you to change your password, it could be a case of phishing. Instead of clicking on a suspect link in an email, just log into your PayPal account by manually typing the URL. Click the Settings tab, and then Personal Info. You will find the password, security questions, and PIN (if you've set one up) on this page.
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 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 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

"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.
Here is how you can view your transactions for your PayPal Business Debit MasterCard:
  1. Select PayPal Business Debit MasterCard on the left hand side of your PayPal account (directly under your balance).
  2. Your recent transaction history will be listed on the right side. Additional details regarding your Business Debit MasterCard transactions are available by selecting a particular transaction.
You can also view details including a running balance by selecting the ‘completed’ option on the right side of the PayPal account.

You can view the last month of debit card activity from your PayPal transaction Summary page. If you’d like to see all your PayPal payments, or more than the last month of activity, you can view those from your PayPal account Activity. You can also print your statements by selecting Reports at the top of the page, then click Statements on the left side of the page.

Withdrawal statuses:
  • Pending - A debit card purchase can be Pending because of these reasons:
    • It takes between 1-5 days for funds to move from your PayPal account to the merchant.
    • The merchant uses the hold as an authorization as is the case when you check into a hotel.
    • The merchant (typically gas stations) will send out a small funds inquiry to make sure that you have the funds available. Check back in a few days as the "Pending" status will likely change to either "expired” or “completed”. See expired and completed status definitions below.
  • Placed - A temporary hold has been placed on the funds in your account for a purchase. This expires when the payment is completed.
  • Completed - Your debit card purchase is completed.
  • Debit Card Credit Received - This means the merchant has issued you a refund. The funds have credited to your PayPal balance.
  • Expired – This appears 5 days after the authorization was initiated. If the merchant has not collected the funds the funds are released back into your PayPal balance. The authorization is still available for the merchant to capture the funds and complete the transaction.
  • Canceled Transfer – This is found in the details of the expired authorization. The merchant did not collect the funds within 4 days. At this time, any money that was placed on hold is credited back to your PayPal account balance. The merchant can still collect those funds at any time.
You can view the details of the purchase, including the purchase and settlement dates, by clicking on the transaction.