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PayPal 'Your Transaction was Declined' Phishing Scam


Message purporting to be from PayPal claims that a transaction was declined because recent activity on the recipient's account seemed unusual. The email instructs users to process a form in an attached file to confirm account information.

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Brief Analysis

The email is not from PayPal. It is a quite sophisticated phishing scam attempt designed to steal PayPal login details and other financial information from recipients.


Subject: Your transaction was declined

Recently, there's been activity in your account that seems unusual compared to your normal activities. We're concerned that someone is using your PayPal account without your knowledge.
Recent activity on your account seems to have occurred from a suspicious location or under circumstances that may be different to usual.
What to do ? The best way to resolve this and avoid it happening again is to confirm information you provided when you created your account to make sure that you're the account holder . You can do that now.
The secure way to confirm your account information:
1. Download the attached Document.
2. Open the document in a browser window secure.
3. Follow the instructions to Confirm that you are the account holder.

Yours sincerely, PayPal

PayPal Phishing Scam

Detailed Analysis

According to this email, which purports to be from PayPal, a recent transaction has been declined and recipients must therefore confirm their account details for security reasons. The message claims that activity on the targeted account has been deemed unusual compared to the recipient's normal activity.

The email comes complete with the PayPal logo and is professionally formatted so that it gives the illusion of being a genuine PayPal message. The email explains that, in order to resolve the declined transactions issue, recipients must open an attached file and fill in a form that confirms the information that they provided when they originally created the account.

However, despite its legitimate appearance, the message is not from PayPal. Instead, it is a quite sophisticated phishing scam designed to steal PayPal login details as well as other personal and financial information.

People who do open the attached file as instructed are presented with a seemingly typical PayPal login window that loads in their browser. The login page very closely emulates a genuine PayPal webpage. After users enter their login details, they will be taken to a second page that asks for personal and contact data.

PayPal Phishing Scam

After completing the form, they will be taken to a third page that asks them to provide bank account details and credit card numbers.

PayPal Phishing Scam

Users will then be taken to a confirmation page that claims that they have successfully restored access to their accounts. Finally, they will be redirected to the genuine PayPal website.

The fake forms even do basic error checking to ensure that victims have input the correct types of data. All of the information provided on the bogus forms can be collected by criminals and used to hijack genuine PayPal accounts, commit bank and credit card fraud and steal the identities of victims.

By its very nature, PayPal conducts almost all its business and customer communications via email and the Internet. This has made it a favourite prey for phishing expeditions. In fact, scammers almost continually target PayPal. Some such phishing emails are quite crude and can be easily recognized as fraudulent via very poor spelling and grammar and unprofessional presentation. Some, such as this example, are considerably more sophisticated and therefore more dangerous. Even more computer-literate users might fall for such scams, especially if they are busy or tired.

If you receive a PayPal phishing scam, you can submit it to the company for analysis via the email address listed on PayPal's phishing information page. Remember that PayPal emails will ALWAYS address you by your first and last names or business name. They will never use generic greetings such as 'Dear customer'.

Last updated: February 20, 2014
First published: February 20, 2014
Written by Brett M. Christensen
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