PAYPAL and other online payment mechanisms are a target for identity thieves.
PAYPAL and other online payment mechanisms are a target for identity thieves. Chris Owen

OPINION: Careful, that PayPal-paid sale could be a scammer

PAYPAL and other online payment mechanisms are a target for identity thieves.

On the dark web at present, PayPal accounts are going for as little as 50 cents each, allowing criminals to assume compromised accounts to facilitate the buying products from unsuspecting sellers.

Eighteen cases have been reported to iDcare over the past couple of months relating to sellers on eBay, Gumtree and other marketplaces that have fallen victim to a very simple and common scam.

Here's how it works.

You advertise a product you want to sell on eBay or Gumtree. You receive an expression of interest from a prospective buyer - the fraudster.

The fraudster is usually keen to do one or two things.

Firstly, getting you to believe they have paid the agreed amount by sending a fake PayPal email saying that the money has been transferred into an escrow account - in other words a holding account by PayPal/Gumtree/eBay.

This is to entice the seller - the victim - to release the goods as per the fraudster's instructions.

The second thing we've seen is for the fraudster to negotiate a money transfer from the seller to cover shipping costs and even insurance.

Here's the catch. No money is transferred to the escrow account.

Goods are often sent with payment never received.

We had a client who released an $8000 diamond ring that made its way to South Africa to the hands of fraudsters with no payment - a bitter end to an engagement that was called off.

The shipping costs and insurance paid to the fraudster via money transfer, usually international transfer, is the icing on the cake. 

Not only are they getting the goods, they are getting some additional cash as well.

One client last week lost $950 on an apparent shipping fee negotiated with a fraudster, but luckily wised up before he lost his boat as well.

There is no denying the convenience of these online services.

So how can you use these confidently and safely? What do you need to look for? PayPal advise to look for the following:

  • False links: Hover over a link or tap and hold it on a mobile device to see its destination (it won't be @pay or
  • Requests for personal information, including financial information (PayPal never requests these via email).
  • Upsetting or urgent statements demanding you react immediately.
  • Bad spelling and grammar.

If you are unsure whether a notification is genuine, forward it to then delete it.

Calling PayPal can be painful, most tech companies don't like to offer up humans to converse with. PayPal is no different.

Following the PayPal advice is good, but I'd recommend also calling 1300 432 273 (1300 IDCARE) for free and anonymous support (with a human).

This is particularly relevant to those who may have clicked on links or provided personal information.

If you've done this you are going to need to talk with a lot more people than just a PayPal voice recording.