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Security & privacy

Watch out! Fake Paypal invoices tricking people into paying up

These days, there’s no shortage of ways to send money online. Whether you’re paying for goods and services or simply sending cash to family, you can easily transfer money securely with the help of an app like PayPal, Venmo or CashApp.

Which of these services is the best for your needs? Tap or click here to see our comparison of the most popular money apps you can download.

When it comes to moving money online for business, PayPal is still the undisputed king. One of its biggest advantages lies in its invoicing system, which lets you write up custom bills when requesting money. Unfortunately, it appears that cybercriminals are also aware of PayPal invoices — and now, they’re using them to make bogus requests.

Bill of wrongs

Have you received an unusual invoice through PayPal for a service or item you didn’t order? If so, you’re not alone. According to numerous social media reports, a spam epidemic is targeting PayPal users with invoices designed to trick people into paying money they don’t owe.

Here’s how it works: Users with a PayPal account will receive an email informing them that an invoice is awaiting payment. Typically these invoices appear to come from well-known entities like the World Health Organization, DirectRelief and GoDaddy. The invoices are usually for small amounts around $35 or less, but some are climbing as high as $100 or more.

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If you make the mistake of clicking pay, the money is immediately extracted from your account as if you’d sent someone a payment. This means your money is gone without much recourse to get it back. What gives!?

Are these invoices even real? Has someone managed to hack into PayPal? As it turns out, the truth is far more annoying than you could even imagine.

What’s causing these fake PayPal invoices to come through?

Let’s clear up a misconception first: These are not fake invoices. They’re 100% genuine and created within PayPal using the same tools that all PayPal users have access to. Unfortunately, they’re being misused as part of an aggressive spam campaign and sent to hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of random users in the hopes that someone will bite.

That’s why you’re seeing names like GoDaddy and WHO in the invoices. This lends the spam invoices a sense of credibility and makes it more likely that someone will fall for the scam.

To protect yourself, the most important thing you can do is to be skeptical of any new invoices coming into your account. If you work with PayPal invoices regularly, don’t click on email links to view them. Instead, open PayPal in your web browser and log in to your account to see what invoices are waiting for you there.

If you recognize the name behind an invoice, or if you were expecting an invoice, you are probably in the clear. If you don’t (or the timing doesn’t make sense), you might be safer deleting the invoice. If you want to be 100% clear on what’s real and what isn’t, contact the person sending the invoice (if you know them) and confirm they actually sent it.

If you did manage to fall for one of these invoice tricks, there isn’t much you can do to recover your money other than filing a dispute with PayPal for fraud. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your PayPal account and click on the three-dot icon labeled “More” on the right-hand side next to Request.
  2. Click on Go to resolution center.
  3. Click Report a problem.
  4. Scroll through your list of transactions until you come across the fraudulent invoice. Click the white bubble next to the listing and click Continue in the bottom-right corner.
  5. Follow the onscreen steps to complete your dispute.

From here, PayPal will communicate with you via email to let you know the status of your dispute. Should everything work out, you will receive a refund of the amount that you paid in your PayPal balance.

It’s aggravating to hear that our trusted financial apps are being targeted by scammers now, but in reality, it was only a matter of time before they made this move. Sending money via payment apps is usually a one-way street with little-to-no recourse, after all. Tap or click here to see how scammers are operating on Venmo.

But by reporting spam as it happens, you’re doing your part to expose these scammers before they have a chance to hurt anyone else. In the war against fraud, a little help can go a long way.

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