Q: I use PayPal to accept credit cards for my online collectibles business. I recently received an email that my PayPal account was going to expire in five days if I didn't click a link in email and give them my PayPal account information. Being naturally paranoid I decided not to give this information and I'm happy to say that my PayPal account did not expire. Was this a scam? -- Brenda A.
A: Be thankful that your paranoia kicked in, Brenda, because you were about to fall victim to scam of week, this one aimed at 35 million merchants and individuals who use Paypal.com as their online payment processor.
The email you received was not from PayPal, but from an Internet bad guy behind a forged email address using PayPal.com domain. You should understand that no reputable online company will ever ask you to provide your account information. Think about it. They already have this information. Why would they ask you to provide it.
Since I use PayPal for several of my online ventures, I, too, received email in question. The email first seeks to instill fear in you by saying that your PayPal account will be closed if you do not provide personal information. You are then directed to open an attached executable file and enter your PayPal account information and other personal information that PayPal doesn't even require, including your social security number, checking and savings account information, driver's license number, and other personal information that can be used to clean out your PayPal account and perhaps even steal your identity.
If you're not familiar with PayPal, it is a hugely successful, web-based company (purchased by eBay in 2002) that many online retailers and eBay sellers use to accept electronic payments for everything from newsletter subscriptions to consulting services to just about any product for sale on eBay.
The allure of PayPal is that it does not require seller to have a bank merchant account through which to process credit cards. Anyone with a verifiable email address and bank account can use PayPal and service can be implemented almost immediately after registering. When someone places an order on a website that uses PayPal for online payments, that customer is directed to PayPal.com to complete payment process using a credit card or electronic check. The merchant can transfer money collected in his PayPal account to his checking account any time he likes. Since many larger merchants make this transfer just once a week or so, their PayPal accounts are ripe for picking from those who have cunning and lack of ethics required to gain access.
The shear number of PayPal customers is one reason it has become a popular target of scam artists trying to steal personal information from individuals and businesses alike. Identify theft is on rise. Thanks to Internet stealing someone's identity has never been easier. At any given moment, there are any number of Internet thieves using all manner of high tech wizardry to steal personal and business information from unsuspecting souls, and many times they can gain access to this information simply by asking person to provide it through fraudulent means.
The PayPal scam is just latest in a long line of sophisticated attempts to steal personal information through online means, Amazon, eBay, Dell Computer, and many others have been brunt of many such scams in recent years.