Avoid getting scammed by fake "PayPal" emails

Also Known As: PayPal Email spam
Damage level: Medium

What is the "PayPal Email Phishing Scam"?

"PayPal Email Phishing Scam" refers to a spam campaign - a large-scale operation during which thousands of deceptive emails are sent. The letters distributed through this campaign are disguised as purchase notifications from PayPal - an online money transferring company. The aim of these scam emails is to obtain personal and sensitive information from the recipients. Potentially, to also trick them into making fraudulent payments.

PayPal email spam campaign

"PayPal" scam email in detail

The fake "PayPal" emails (subject/title "Your Purchase Id: @@#7488392XR8499371##"; may vary) inform recipients that their purchase from Target has been confirmed. The 585.96 USD payment is going through the verification, and recipients are promised to be sent a notification once the process is complete.

Additionally, the scam letters state that the nonexistent order will arrive through the standard delivery method chosen by the recipients. Allegedly, the payment will be completed in a few hours and will be reflected in the recipients' bank statements. The emails contain a phone number that can be used if any issues arise.

Furthermore, recipients are warned that the fake order can only be canceled within 24 hours. As mentioned in the introduction, these "PayPal" emails are fake. Therefore, by calling the provided number - users will contact the scammers and subsequently may be tricked into disclosing sensitive information or making bogus payments.

Emails like these scam "PayPal" notifications often operate as phishing schemes. Scams of this type are designed to extract a variety of vulnerable data from their victims. Information of interest includes: account/platform log-in credentials (i.e., IDs, email addresses, usernames, and passwords), personal details (e.g., names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, occupations, etc.), finance-related data (e.g., credit card numbers), and so on.

For example, the collected data can be used to further personalized scams and/or sold to third-parties (potentially, cyber criminals). To elaborate in more detail, through stolen finance-related accounts (e.g., online money transferring service accounts like PayPal) - scammers can make fraudulent transactions and/or payments for online purchases.

What is more, similar schemes commonly ask victims to pay for fake services. These "PayPal" letters may also operate as "refund scams". This scam model works by tricking the victim into thinking that they are owed a refund (e.g., for a purchase that they did not make).

The "refund" process usually involves victims allowing scammers to remotely access their devices (this can lead to various issues, including system infections). After the access is established, users are asked to enter the correct refund amount.

The scammers then convince the victims that they made an error and a significantly larger sum has been refunded to them. To rectify this, they are asked to return the excess funds - typically through difficult-to-trace methods like digital currency transactions (e.g., gift cards, pre-paid vouchers, cryptocurrency, etc.) or hidden within mail packages.

Due to the fact that no funds, excessive or otherwise, have even been transferred into the victims' accounts - they are essentially scammed out of their own money. To summarize, by trusting the fake "PayPal" emails, users can experience system infections, severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft.

Threat Summary:
Name PayPal Email Phishing Scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Emails claim a purchase payment is being verified
Disguise Scam emails are disguised as notifications from PayPal
Symptoms Unauthorized online purchases, changed online account passwords, identity theft, illegal access of the computer.
Distribution methods Deceptive emails, rogue online pop-up ads, search engine poisoning techniques, misspelled domains.
Damage Loss of sensitive private information, monetary loss, identity theft.
Malware Removal (Windows)

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Spam campaigns in general

"Voicemail", "Anti-Spam Policy Violation", "Wage Increase", "The BMW Lottery", and "UN Covid-19 Stimulus Package" are some examples of scam emails. The letters sent through spam campaigns are disguised as "official", "urgent", "important", "priority", and similar.

Aside from phishing and various scams, deceptive emails are also used to proliferate malware (e.g., trojans, ransomware, cryptocurrency miners, etc.). Due to how widespread spam mail is, it is strongly advised to exercise caution with incoming emails and messages.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Spam campaigns spread malware via infectious files distributed through them. These files can be attached to the emails, or they can contain download links of such content. Virulent files can be in various formats, e.g., archives (ZIP, RAR, etc.), executables (.exe, .run, etc.), PDF and Microsoft Office documents, JavaScript, and so forth.

When the files are executed, run, or otherwise opened - the infection chain/process (i.e., malicious software download/installation) is initiated. For example, Microsoft Office documents infect systems by executing malicious macro commands.

This process starts the moment a document is opened in Microsoft Office versions released before 2010. Later versions have "Protected View" mode that prevents automatic execution of macros. Instead, users can manually enable macro commands (i.e., editing/content), and they are warned of the potential risks.

How to avoid installation of malware?

To avoid infecting the system via spam mail, it is advised against opening suspicious and irrelevant emails - especially any attachments or links present in them. Additionally, it is recommended to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010.

However, malware is not spread just through spam campaigns, it is also distributed via dubious download channels, e.g., unofficial and free file-hosting (freeware) websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks (e.g., Torrent clients, eMule, Gnutella, etc.), and other third-party downloaders.

Furthermore, illegal activation ("cracking") tools and fake updates are prime examples of malware-proliferating content. Therefore, it is important to download only from official/verified sources and activate/update software with tools provided by genuine developers.

It is crucial to have a reputable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed and updated. This software has to be used to run regular system scans and to remove detected threats. If you've already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the fake "PayPal" email letter:

Subject: Your Purchase Id: @@#7488392XR8499371##




Your order has been confirmed by Target Inc worth 585.96 USD on July 20, 2021


We are going through the verification process for your recent order, once done we will notify you.
Your product will be delivered through standard delivery as you have opted for this service.
We would suggest you to kindly check your bank statement in few hours for this charge.
If you have any questions about this charge, please connect with our team at +1 (866) 314-1823.


Here is your order details: -


Ref Id: 873934YT398849


Payment Mode: PayPal Credit (Online Payment)
Description: Fitbit Versa 3 Smartwatch
Quantity: 03
Amount: 585.96 USD


If you have any payment related issues or you wish to change your mode of payment, please connect with our team at +1 (866) 314-1823.


In order to cancel this order kindly reach out to us soon as we would not be able to void this charge after 24 hours.


Thanks & Regards,


PayPal Team

Appearance of the "PayPal" scam email (GIF):

PayPal email phishing scam appearance (GIF)

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Types of malicious emails:

Phishing email icon Phishing Emails

Most commonly, cybercriminals use deceptive emails to trick Internet users into giving away their sensitive private information, for example, login information for various online services, email accounts, or online banking information.

Such attacks are called phishing. In a phishing attack, cybercriminals usually send an email message with some popular service logo (for example, Microsoft, DHL, Amazon, Netflix), create urgency (wrong shipping address, expired password, etc.), and place a link which they hope their potential victims will click on.

After clicking the link presented in such email message, victims are redirected to a fake website that looks identical or extremely similar to the original one. Victims are then asked to enter their password, credit card details, or some other information that gets stolen by cybercriminals.

Email-virus icon Emails with Malicious Attachments

Another popular attack vector is email spam with malicious attachments that infect users' computers with malware. Malicious attachments usually carry trojans that are capable of stealing passwords, banking information, and other sensitive information.

In such attacks, cybercriminals' main goal is to trick their potential victims into opening an infected email attachment. To achieve this goal, email messages usually talk about recently received invoices, faxes, or voice messages.

If a potential victim falls for the lure and opens the attachment, their computers get infected, and cybercriminals can collect a lot of sensitive information.

While it's a more complicated method to steal personal information (spam filters and antivirus programs usually detect such attempts), if successful, cybercriminals can get a much wider array of data and can collect information for a long period of time.

Sextortion email icon Sextortion Emails

This is a type of phishing. In this case, users receive an email claiming that a cybercriminal could access the webcam of the potential victim and has a video recording of one's masturbation.

To get rid of the video, victims are asked to pay a ransom (usually using Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency). Nevertheless, all of these claims are false - users who receive such emails should ignore and delete them.

How to spot a malicious email?

While cyber criminals try to make their lure emails look trustworthy, here are some things that you should look for when trying to spot a phishing email:

  • Check the sender's ("from") email address: Hover your mouse over the "from" address and check if it's legitimate. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft, be sure to check if the email address is @microsoft.com and not something suspicious like @m1crosoft.com, @microsfot.com, @account-security-noreply.com, etc.
  • Check for generic greetings: If the greeting in the email is "Dear user", "Dear @youremail.com", "Dear valued customer", this should raise suspiciousness. Most commonly, companies call you by your name. Lack of this information could signal a phishing attempt.
  • Check the links in the email: Hover your mouse over the link presented in the email, if the link that appears seems suspicious, don't click it. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft and the link in the email shows that it will go to firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0... you shouldn't trust it. It's best not to click any links in the emails but to visit the company website that sent you the email in the first place.
  • Don't blindly trust email attachments: Most commonly, legitimate companies will ask you to log in to their website and to view any documents there; if you received an email with an attachment, it's a good idea to scan it with an antivirus application. Infected email attachments are a common attack vector used by cybercriminals.

To minimise the risk of opening phishing and malicious emails we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows

Example of a spam email:

Example of an email spam

What to do if you fell for an email scam?

  • If you clicked on a link in a phishing email and entered your password - be sure to change your password as soon as possible. Usually, cybercriminals collect stolen credentials and then sell them to other groups that use them for malicious purposes. If you change your password in a timely manner, there's a chance that criminals won't have enough time to do any damage.
  • If you entered your credit card information - contact your bank as soon as possible and explain the situation. There's a good chance that you will need to cancel your compromised credit card and get a new one.
  • If you see any signs of identity theft - you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission. This institution will collect information about your situation and create a personal recovery plan.
  • If you opened a malicious attachment - your computer is probably infected, you should scan it with a reputable antivirus application. For this purpose, we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.
  • Help other Internet users - report phishing emails to Anti-Phishing Working Group, FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, National Fraud Information Center and U.S. Department of Justice.

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About the author:

Tomas Meskauskas

Tomas Meskauskas - expert security researcher, professional malware analyst.

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of over 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an author and editor for pcrisk.com since 2010. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay informed about the latest online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

PCrisk security portal is brought by a company RCS LT. Joined forces of security researchers help educate computer users about the latest online security threats. More information about the company RCS LT.

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Malware activity

Global malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

Increased attack rate of infections detected within the last 24 hours.

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