Online sellers beware: Fraudsters faking PayPal emails

Every day, millions of consumers turn to marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist, and other websites to sell products online. In the vast majority of transactions on such sites, the buying and selling of products happens without a hitch. However, has recently received a significant number of complaints from consumers reporting that they are being scammed when attempting to sell their products online.

The complaints indicate that after the seller and buyer contact each other to arrange payment via PayPal, the seller receives an email, allegedly from PayPal, confirming the payment. Once the confirmation email is received, the seller ships the items to the buyer -- who is actually the perpetrator of the scam.

Although it appears to be a normal transaction in the world of online shopping, the twist is that the PayPal confirmation email is a fake. Eventually, the seller realizes the money they should have received through PayPal is not in their account. By the time the victim realizes they have been scammed, the con artist buyer has already walked away with the product.

The story we received from a consumer in West Virginia who lost her iPhone 5S is typical of this scam:

“I received an email notice from eBay that an item I had for sale had sold. I sent an invoice through Ebay to the buyer with the total amount for the purchase including the item and shipping costs. I received an email from PayPal saying that the payment had been received and that I should send the item. … I shipped the item via UPS to the address provided on both the eBay notice and the PayPal notice. After two days, the payment still had not cleared into my PayPal account. … The next day, I received an email from eBay stating that the buyer I had sold my item to was fraudulent and had hacked the user’s account. By then, my item had already been delivered and I was unable to retrieve it.”

Victims of this type of fraud have reported losing iPads, iPhones, Nike Air Jordan shoes, cameras, jewelry, wedding dresses, and even cars. These scammers are incredibly deceptive, and consumers should be on the look out for any signs of this type of scam. Here are some tips on how to spot the scam and avoid becoming a victim:

  • When you receive the confirmation email from PayPal, log in to PayPal directly (not through the link in the confirmation email) to check the account and ensure that the funds arrived. Only ship the item when you have confirmed that the funds are in your PayPal account.
  • Make sure you review the buyer’s profile on eBay. If there are negative or no comments, that may be cause for concern. Think twice before doing business with them.
  • When applicable, finish the deal in the marketplace where you started it. When shopping or selling on eBay, for example, never finish the sale "offline" with a buyer or seller. Many such sites have protections built into them that no longer apply if users complete the transaction elsewhere.
  • If a buyer is requesting that you wire them money for shipping, insurance, or courier fees, it is most likely a scam. DO NOT wire them money.
  • Do not let the buyer pressure you into shipping your item directly after you receive the PayPal confirmation email. They are most likely trying to get you ship the item before checking PayPal for further confirmation.
  • If you suspect that the buyer is attempting to scam you, report them to the eBay Security Center, your local authorities, and