A PayPal Email Scam Is Making the Rounds: Here’s How to Identify and Avoid It

Tips & Advice

Payment applications make splitting restaurant bills, taxi fares, and household expenses so much easier. Without having to tally totals at the table or fumble with crumpled bills, you and your companions can spend less stress and more time on the fun at hand. 

There are various payment apps available, and the company that may first come to mind is PayPal. PayPal is regarded as a safe platform where security and strong encryption are a priority; however, a recent and advanced phishing scam is putting PayPal users at risk of giving up large sums of money and their personally identifiable information (PII).1 

Let’s look at this “triple-pronged” PayPal phishing scam and review some tips to help you identify and proceed should you encounter it. 

1. The Email

The typical part of this three-sided scam is the phishing email component. According to one source, the phishing email comes from a legitimate-looking PayPal service email address. Luckily, the typos, odd punctuation, extra spaces, and grammar errors in the body of the email give away that it is a phishing attempt. Remember, phishing emails are often worded poorly or have errors. Large companies, especially ones like PayPal, have teams of content experts vetting all automated messages for such mistakes, so several mistakes in an email should set off your alarm bells. Proceed with caution and do not click on any links in the message. 

The email also included wording that encouraged the user to act quickly or be charged a lot of money. That’s another trademark of phishing emails: urgency. Take a deep breath and make sure to reread carefully all emails that “require” a quick response. Don’t be scared by dire consequences. Phishers rely on people to rush and not give themselves time to listen to their better judgement. 

2. The ‘One-ring’ Phone Scam

The PayPal phishing email included a support phone number that claimed it was toll free. In actuality, it was an international phone number. So, if the recipient of the phishing email didn’t quite believe the message but wanted to follow up, the scam could catch them with what’s called a one-ring phone scam.2 This occurs when someone unknowingly calls an international phone number and then gets charged by their phone company for the long-distance call. 

The best way to avoid one-ring phone scams is to never call a number you don’t recognize. Always go to an organization’s official website to find their contact information. 

3. The Fake Fraud Hotline

The third dimension of this PayPal scam was the international phone number in the phishing email connected the caller directly with the scammer who posed as the PayPal fraud department. The “customer service representative” then asked prying personal and financial questions to glean enough PII to break into a PayPal account or compromise the caller’s identity. This is the most damaging part of the scam. An excellent customer support team may be able to reimburse you your lost money; however, once your personal details are in nefarious hands, you can’t take them back. 

In addition to never calling numbers you haven’t verified, never give out passwords and never give out more personal information than you need to. Even in legitimate customer service calls, it’s not rude to ask why the representative requires the information they’re asking for. In a fake call, questions like that may fluster the scammer, so keep an ear tuned to their tone. 

For Peace of Mind, Partner With McAfee

Overall, our best advice for handling suspicious emails is to delete them. If it’s truly important, the sender will contact you again. And if a thief somehow stole money from one of your payment apps, the customer service team should be able to walk you through the steps to recover it. 

The transfer and handling of large sums of money would make anyone nervous. To give you peace of mind, consider partnering with a service that can help you recover should you ever fall for a scheme and compromise your PII. McAfee+ Ultimate helps you live your best life in private, and the service includes credit monitoring with all three credit bureaus, security freeze, and expert online support to help you navigate any scams you encounter. 

Having McAfee+ can protect you from email phishing scams like this. Here are some of the top agencies to report this scam to, if it happens to you: Paypal Fraud Department,  Federal Trade Commision , Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency USA.gov IC3 

“Report it. Forward phishing emails to reportphishing@apwg.org (an address used by the Anti-Phishing Working Group, which includes ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies). Let the company or person that was impersonated know about the phishing scheme.” – FTC.gov 

1ZDNET, “Watch out for this triple-pronged PayPal phishing and fraud scam.” 

2Federal Communications Commission, “‘One Ring’ Phone Scam.” 

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