Recognize fraudulent emails and websites
We invest a lot of time and energy to make sure PayPal users are secure, and thieves know it. They may try to impersonate us to gain your trust so they can access your account. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can make sure it’s really us.
Phishing and spoof emails aim to obtain your secure information, passwords, or account numbers. These emails use deceptive means to try and trick you, like forging the sender’s address. Often, they ask for the reader to reply, call a phone number, or click on a weblink to steal personal information. If you receive a suspicious email, FORWARD it to email@example.com. Our security experts can take a look to determine if it's a fake. If it is, we'll get the source of the email shut down as quickly as possible. Reporting these emails helps protect yourself and everyone else, too.
There are some hints about identifying scam email below, but it’s often difficult to be sure if something is real or fake since scammers adjust their tactics. So, if you have the slightest doubt, send it to our experts for investigation.
Note: Please FORWARD the suspect email –– don’t cut and paste the contents, because valuable tracking information about the source will be lost.
“Phishing” is an attempt to steal your information. Criminals pretend to be a legitimate business to get you to disclose sensitive personal information, such as credit and debit card numbers, bank information, account passwords, or Social Security numbers.
One of the most common phishing scams involves sending an email that pretends to be from a well-known company. However, it can also be carried out in person, over the phone, via malicious pop-up windows, and "spoof" (fake) websites.
How phishing works
- A criminal sends emails to people that appear to be from a well-known company. A common tactic involves a made-up story designed to lure you into clicking on a link or calling a phone number.
- The phishing email may ask you to fill out a form, or click on a link or button that takes you to a fraudulent website.
- The fraudulent website mimics the company referenced in the email, and aims to trick you into volunteering sensitive, personal data.
In essence, you think you're giving your information to a trusted company when, in fact, you're giving it to a criminal.
Note that phishing emails can also lure you to open suspicious attachments or visit websites that can infect your computer with malicious software or malware.
Phishing scams almost always imitate a well-known company complete with company logos, official looking email templates, or scripts that are similar to genuine communications but there are a number of hints that can help you tell the difference.
- An account related email will always address you by your first and last name or business name as it appears on your account. For example, if you signed up as JOHN SMITH (all caps), emails will be addressed to JOHN SMITH, not John Smith, john smith, some other variation, or customer.
- Spelling and Grammar: Are there mistakes or odd wording?
- Closely examine links: hover your mouse over the link. Does the link in the email match what appears when the mouse is hovered over it? If not, don’t trust it!
- Attachments. Were you expecting an attachment from PayPal? Do the file name and extension match what you were expecting? If not, don't click!
- Threats or a sense of urgency: Scammers may claim that your account has been breached and will be closed unless immediate action is taken. Anything of true importance can be verified by opening a new browser window and logging directly into your account at www.paypal.com.
If you're not sure whether a PayPal email is legitimate or not, here is what you do: don’t click on any link in the email. Instead, go to PayPal.com and log in. If there is any urgent message for you, you will see it here.
Here are some useful links to more on phishing:
Here are some examples of fake emails:
You receive an email stating: “Your order #ZK04769 is confirmed for shipment tomorrow. Please click here to review the shipping details.” But you never placed an order, so you click on the link and login to see what it is. Only later do you realize that the link took you to a bogus website.
You receive an email stating: “We have noticed suspicious activity on your account. Please click here to review your recent transactions.” Once again, the link takes you to a page that looks correct but is really a bogus link.
“We would like to offer you a special $50 coupon for being such a good customer. This offer is limited to the first 100 people so click here immediately to claim your reward.” Instead of a reward, you are directed to a fake website where you might give up your account ID and password which the scammers can then use to spend from your account.
For more examples see these sites:
Phishing can come through your phone via voice or SMS. Smishing is when a scammer sends an SMS message to your phone number with a bogus phone number or URL. The message is usually urgent like:
“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 immediately.”
“PayPal: You spent $1293.17 USD at The Home Depot. If you did not make this transaction please call us immediately at 1-408-123-4567. Thank You.”
If you call the number, you’re confirming that you have a PayPal account. You'll be talking to a fraudster who will ask for your account information so he can steal from your account.
Similarly, a URL link in a text message on a smartphone could be bogus.
“PayPal: You spent $1293.17 USD at The Home Depot. If you did not make this transaction please login at paypal.mobileservice2013.com/txn?id=178948 to stop this transaction. Thank You.”
Fraudsters sometimes use an automated system to make voice calls, reporting urgent account problems and asking for account information. This is called Vishing. Here’s an example of what a vishing call might sound like:
"This is PayPal calling about a possible fraudulent transaction on your account. Please enter your PIN now to hear the transaction details. We need your immediate response to block this transaction."
When users enter their PIN or password, scammers get vital information to access the account. So never provide any account information unless you initiated the phone call.
Caller ID can’t be trusted. Even if the Caller ID says “PayPal,” it’s not enough for you to trust the call. Scammers can easily fake a Caller ID, and it’s impossible to be sure the call is coming from where it says it is.
Sometimes automated calls will ask you to call back. They leave a number or make it simple to click-call from your smartphone. Don’t call these numbers. If you need to contact us, visit the Contact Us link on any PayPal page for the real phone number.
Note the bogus URL in the message. You should be suspicious of text messages containing links. If you are ever in doubt about the validity of a link, manually type www.PayPal.com into your browser to log in.
How to spot a spoof website
You can’t always tell a website is authentic just by looking at the pages, since it’s very easy for scammers to simply copy the real website’s content. You need to look at the URL to be sure that you are on the real website.
- Does your browser warn you that the site may be malicious? This recent development in web security is helping customers identify many phishing websites before they are accessed.
- The URL should start with https:// (not http://) and you should see the web security icon – a lock – in the browser address bar. It the URL starts with http or the green lock isn’t present, don’t interact.
- Does the URL look overly complex or is something other than PayPal after www.?
Here are examples of two fake PayPal addresses:
Real PayPal URLs start with https://www.PayPal.com. Sometimes the “www” may be replaced with other letters, but “PayPal.com” should immediately follow. The second example includes “PayPal.com," but the website is really hmmmm.com – which is very suspicious.
We also commission third party domain addresses using the format paypal-xxxx.tld, which attempts to keep PayPal at the front of the hyphen (unlike the first example). But this format isn’t exclusive to PayPal, as anybody can purchase a domain name and add “-paypal.com” to make it seem legitimate. So for you to confirm that the site is truly PayPal, check that:
- The format keeps with PayPal third party domain naming guidelines – namely paypal-xxxx.tld (where “tld" is Top Level Domain). So country domains are acceptable here (for example “.us,” “.cn,” “.ru” or “.de” as well as “.com” or “.net”).
- The Green EV SSL secure logo is present in the web address bar. This looks like a green lock and identifies the site as owned by PayPal, Inc.
If you come across a suspicious link or website, tell us. Just copy and paste the site’s URL into an email message and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our security experts will investigate, and if it's a bad website, we will get it shut down. Reporting a suspicious link helps protect yourself and other people too.
Site safety rating tools
You can’t always catch suspect links before you click on them. But several site safety rating tools can help protect you while you browse. These services collect reports about suspicious sites and rate them. They can preempt you from going to a site that might infect your system with malware:
These tools can be a good first defense, but you should still be careful of strange links. These services can’t catch every bad link because the bad guys will keep creating new ones.
If you fall for phishing, vishing, or smishing
There are plenty of clever scam attempts, and new ones are being created all the time. So despite your best intentions, it could still happen. If you think you may have fallen for a scam, here are some steps to protect yourself:
- Run an anti-virus scan on your system to make sure that you didn’t pick up a virus. Make sure that your system and anti-virus software are up to date.
- Change your account password, PIN, and security questions immediately. Do this for your PayPal account, email account, and other online accounts.
- Check your online account statement vigilantly over the next few weeks (and months) for unexpected actions.