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Fake PayPal emails lead to nearly £8 million in losses this year

Action Fraud is warning people selling items online to be on the lookout for criminals sending fake PayPal emails.

  • Between January 2020 and September 2020, 21,349 crime reports were made to Action Fraud about fake PayPal emails.
  • Victims reported losing a total of £7,891,077.44 during this time.
  • Those targeted included people selling jewellery, furniture and electronics via online marketplaces.
  • Reports of fake PayPal emails to Action Fraud made up a third of all reports of online shopping and auction fraud during this period.

Criminals have been targeting people selling items online, by sending them emails purporting to be from PayPal. The emails trick victims into believing they have received payment for the items they’re selling on the platform.

Typically, after receiving these emails, victims will then send the item to the criminal. This leaves them at a further disadvantage having not received any payment for the item and also no longer being in possession of it.

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said:

“We know that criminals will go to great lengths to target people on online marketplaces, especially now many more people are selling items online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Criminals have taken advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to commit fraud and will continue to do so.  We are working hard, together with our partners, such as PayPal, to raise awareness of the types of scams being committed and prevent people from falling victim.

“It’s really important to follow our advice to help protect yourself. If you receive a suspicious email claiming you’ve received payment for an item you’re selling, take five minutes to check directly with PayPal that the communication is genuine. If something feels wrong then always question it.”

Action Fraud issued a similar warning earlier this year, after it received 3,059 crime reports about fake PayPal emails between October 2019 and December 2019. Victims reported losing a total of £1,121,446 during this time. Reports of fake PayPal emails to Action Fraud made up almost 18% of all reports of online shopping and auction fraud during this period.

In one instance, a victim received a fake email purporting to be from PayPal claiming the buyer accidently paid more than they should have. The buyer then asked the victim to pay the difference by sending a gift card to them with the difference loaded which they dutifully did.

In another case, the fake email from PayPal claimed the buyer had accidently paid for the item twice. The buyer then asked the seller to wire the overpayment to a bank account in a different country.

What you need to do?

  • Sellers beware: If you’re selling items on an online marketplace, be aware of the warning signs that your buyer is a scammer. Scammers may have negative feedback history, or may have recently set up a new account to avoid getting poor feedback. Don’t be persuaded into sending anything until you can verify you’ve received the payment.

  • Scam messages: Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.

If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud online at or by calling 0300 123 2040.

A spokesperson for PayPal, said:

“At PayPal we go to great lengths to protect our customers in the UK, but there are still a few simple precautions we should all take to avoid falling victim to scams.

“All communications from PayPal to account holders would be sent to the secure message centre within their PayPal account. You will have a secure message waiting if PayPal does need you to take any action.

“A genuine PayPal email will only ever address you by your full name – anything that starts differently should immediately raise your suspicions. Look out for spelling mistakes, which are a common tell-tale sign of a fraudulent message.”

PayPal offer the following advice:

  1. Log into PayPal: If you receive a suspicious email, don’t act on the message or click on any links. Instead, open your browser, log into PayPal and check for any new activity. PayPal will also email or notify you in the app if you’ve received any payments.

  2. Check the basics: Look out for misspellings and grammatical errors, which can be a tell-tale sign of a scam.

  3. Verify an email’s authenticity: Phishing scams will often mimic the look and feel of PayPal emails, and ask you for sensitive information – something that real PayPal emails will never do.

  4. How to spot the difference: A PayPal email will address you by your first and last name, or your business name, and we will never ask you for your full password, bank account, or credit card details in a message.

  5. Avoid following links: If you receive an email you think is suspicious, do not click on any links or download any attachments. You can check where a link is going before you click on it by hovering over it – does it look legitimate?

  6. Keep tabs on your information: Limit the number of places where you store your payment information online by using a secure digital wallet like PayPal. If you are making a purchase online, consider using a protected payment method such as PayPal, so if your purchase doesn’t arrive or match the product description, PayPal can reimburse you.

  7. Easiest of all, use common sense: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is! Stay clear of exceptional deals or anything that is significantly reduced in price from what you would expect to pay.

If you think that you’ve received a suspicious email, you can forward it to [email protected], without changing the subject line. PayPal will let you know whether it is fraudulent.

More information about PayPal’s protection policies can be found on their website:


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