messing up a Paypal scam

37 ways to mess up a PayPal scam

Night at Hellsö marinaI have a boat for sale. The sea is still one of my big passions, but I simply have too little time to use it. So I decided to let it go. I will buy a bigger one later, when and if I have more time. It’s still winter in Finland and all the small boats are on dry land covered by snow. But spring is approaching and the boating fever is spreading. It’s the right time to publish an ad on the net.

Soon I get a mail from a nice young lady. Let’s call her Mrs. Witney De Villiers, as that is what he or she called herself. (Probably a randomly picked false identity, any similarity to real existing persons is purely coincidental.) She was very keen on buying my boat and we had a nice conversation over a couple of days. I did unfortunately not sell the boat, but I got a nice story to tell instead. I will not bother you with all the details, so here’s a shortened version with all the important parts included.

– Hi, I’m in Mexico and I want to buy your boat. How long have you had it? What’s the final price? (Well, I’m in Finland and this is the point where I became more or less convinced that it is a scam.)
– I have had it for five years.
– OK, the price is fine. I want to buy it. Please take down the ad. What’s your PayPal account info so that I can make a payment? I’ll cover the PayPal charges. (Needless to say, the ad remained up.)
– Good news. I can accept wire-transfer which would be a lot cheaper for you than PayPal. (She can’t accept if this is a traditional PayPal scam.)
– Sorry, but I can’t do wire-transfers now. I only have access to PayPal because bla bla blaa …. (Yes, another scam-indicator.)
– OK, I created a PayPal account. Here’s the account info. But there’s some paperwork we need to handle before we proceed. Please fill in the buyer’s part of this attached contract and mail a scanned copy to me. I also need a picture of your photo ID. (The provided PayPal account info was false.)
– Great! I have made the payment. “Check your mail as there should be a confirmation mail from PayPal. I made an extra payment of 3650 € and I’am sure you noticed that, you’ll have to send the extra amount to the Shipping Company through Western Union right away, so that they can come ahead for the pick up and also you should send your address where they have to come for the pick up and also the necessary Western Union Payment Information.” (All the key elements in this very traditional scam becomes visible at this point. This is where you should realize what’s the name of the game, if you haven’t figured it out already. A faked mail from “PayPal” appears in my spam folder.)
– Hold your horses. We need to do the paperwork first. See my previous mail.
– “I want you to know that I have made an arrangement for you to receive the copy of my ID and my other necessary data for the boat. I want you to know that the courier representative coming over for the pick up has all he said documents in an enclosed confidential envelope with him which he will deliver to you in person.”
– Well, we really need to close the deal and have a legally binding agreement before we can arrange for transportation.
– “I understand your concern and certify that all sales is final. Your show of concern has given me a very good fact that you are indeed an honest seller hence, the reason why I am using this medium to confirm to you that all sales is final and I am satisfied with the present condition of the Boat.. so you can now proceed with the western union and get back to the paypal with the western union scan receipt so they can release all the fund into your account immediately..More so, send me a copy of the western union receipt… i look forward to read from you…” (Contract and passport files attached. Oh gosh what a poorly faked British passport!!!)
– Thanks, but you forgot to sign the contract.
– “Oh sorry, I write my name as the signature.. i hope to receive a copy of western union receipt from you today…” (That “signature” was typed, not handwritten.)
– Just want to let you know that I need the SIGNED contract before 3 PM. Otherwise I will not have time to go to the bank. And I’m traveling tomorrow so I will be unable to handle transactions. (To create urgency is a common scammer tactic.😉 )
– “Have signed on the contract.. i wait to read from you with the western union receipt..” (Printed, handwritten and scanned this time. It’s 4 AM in Mexico when this part of the conversation takes place.)
– WTF!!! The bank refused the transaction. The recipient is on some kind of international blacklist, apparently suspected for criminal activities. (Well, I wasn’t completely honest here.)
– “How about you go there and split up the money in to 2 and send on two transaction.”
– I’m certainly NOT going to send any money to a blacklisted company!
– “here is another shipping company info [another private person in US] I wait your story again” (We enter the threatening phase. A while later a mail appears in my spam folder. “PayPal” will take “LEGALACTION” and hand me over to FBI if I don’t pay in 24 h.)
– What are those clowns at PayPal up to now? They talk about some legal action against me even if I haven’t entered into any legally binding agreement to transfer money. Do you have any clue, or maybe I should contact PayPal directly and ask what they think they are doing? (Let’s see how/if they react. Contacting PayPal would reveal the scam instantly.)

Next I got a long mail pointing out how honest this lady is and how keen she is to do business with nice and honest sellers like me. But she can’t unfortunately do anything about the PayPal actions as the purpose of all that is to protect both the seller and buyer. She points out that even a smaller sum would be enough to release the payment into my PayPal account (ok, we are in the bargaining phase). At this point I decided that this blog post is becoming far too long and chose to not respond at all. She didn’t get back to me either. They probably realized that they are not going to get 3650 € from me and gave up.

As you have noticed, I became wary at a pretty early stage. There were several details in this conversation that made me suspicious. 37 to be more precise:

  1. The boat is of a local brand made for the Finnish market and totally unknown pretty much everywhere else. Why did she want this particular brand and model? Boats are also different in Mexico and Finland. My boat would be a real oddity over there.
  2. The boat is far too cheap to make it feasible to ship across the Atlantic.
  3. Smaller boats are inexpensive and widely available in the US. Buying one from Europe would be madness even if shipping was free.
  4. Buyer showed very little interest in the object. A 10 years old boat is not a bulk item. Every such boat has a soul of its own. One would be mad to buy without seeing it.
  5. Only one question was asked about the price. And it was no problem to proceed even if I ignored that question. Well, price doesn’t matter if you have no intention to pay.
  6. The buyer paid a lot more interest in the payment process than in the object of the deal.
  7. The buyer was extremely keen to pay and close the deal, but not to make any official papers that would prove her ownership. It should really be the buyer who cares about the papers and the seller who cares about payment, and not the other way around.
  8. Messages in the beginning of the conversation were very generic boilerplates. They were designed to work for any kind of goods. It doesn’t sound very convincing when selling a boat and the other part insists on talking about “the merchandise”.
  9. No other method of payment worked except PayPal. Naturally, as their scamming technique is based on PayPal.
  10. I’m supposed to make a payment to a courier company, which indeed do exist. The address to receive the payment has however nothing to do with that company. Both courier companies seem to use private persons in US as their billing contacts. Strange.
  11. A common tactic throughout the conversation was to ignore questions and requests that were not part of the script. They were addressed only if they stalled the process.
  12. The buyer had no problem “sending the money” even if the provided PayPal account was false. “PayPal” also had no problem sending mails to this non-existing account holder.
  13. The scam includes sending a fake message from PayPal stating that the money is on hold until the shipping agent has been paid. This fake is obvious if you know how PayPal works or know how to check the sender’s true mail address.
  14. The whole scenario match the very common scam where the victim is lured to pay money to someone and is promised more money later. The Nigerian scams belong to the same group and use a logic that is quite similar.
  15. At one point they claim to be satisfied with the present condition of the boat. They have made no attempt to find out in what condition the boat is.
  16. This Mrs. Witney De Villiers seems to be a true cosmopolitan. She is using an address and phone number in Mexico for this deal but her passport is British. At one point she also mentioned a phone number located in the British Virgin Islands. A Google search revealed that young ladies with an identical picture are living in at least two different places in US, but are using different names.
  17. If the husband of Mrs. De Villiers is still around, then he should do some Googling too. Seems like at least two dating sites have profiles with the photo of his wife.
  18. If you look European and hold a British passport, one could assume that you know English. But I guess that means nothing, people are so sloppy with grammars nowadays …
  19. And the passport. Oh gosh! Where should I start? The name has apparently been replaced, very bluntly, I might add. The first thing that strikes the eye is that the new name is in a different font than the rest of the passport. The font isn’t even close. But they did at least get the color right. All text is black. That’s an achievement considering their overall Photoshop skills!
  20. The background behind the replaced name does not have surface structure that is coherent with the rest of the passport.
  21. They didn’t apparently know how to scale pictures in Photoshop as the passport’s photo is smaller than the place reserved for it. (The photo of “Mrs. De Villiers” can be found on the net with more than sufficient resolution to fill the whole space.)
  22. The empty space around the passport’s too small photo is very badly cloned.
  23. If replacing part of a text line, make sure the new text is vertically aligned with the old text. It looks funny otherwise. Using the same text size also helps. And yes, I mentioned the font already.
  24. The passport’s signature is readable. But wait a minute! It reads Gabriella B and not Witney De Villiers!
  25. The embedded metadata in the passport’s picture file reveals that it isn’t saved by a camera’s firmware. The file comes from Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Windows.
  26. The content of the optically readable bottom lines do not match the standard for passports.
  27. Got a contract with a typed signature instead of handwriting. The habit to handwrite signatures should be fairly well known globally.
  28. When I finally got a signed contract, the signature bears no similarity to the signature in the passport, even if both are supposed to be signed by the same person. They didn’t even try to mimic he signature in the passport.
  29. The signed contract seemed to be scanned with a Konica Minolta multifunction device. “Mrs. De Villiers” mentioned however earlier that one of the reasons why she couldn’t do wire transfers was that she was out boating. Well, she could of course be cruising with a well-equipped boat, but buying mine would be a big step down in that case.
  30.  “Mrs. De Villiers” is very keen to get the receipt of the transport agency payment herself. The faked mails from “PayPal” do however clearly state that it is PayPal who need the receipt to clear the transaction, and not the buyer.
  31. This young lady in Mexico seems to have unusual working hours or staff that works shifts to answer her mail. Replies are received promptly throughout the European working hours.
  32. When the payment is delayed they start to threaten the victim. “PayPal” claims that legal actions will be taken if the payment isn’t made, and the seller hasn’t fulfilled that part of the “agreement”. Interesting in a situation where the seller hasn’t made any legally binding commitments to relay money.
  33. When they enter the threatening phase, they try to use FBI to scare the victim. Finland is not part of the US, which the scammer may or may not know. Looking up the name of the local police, or even using Europol, could have increased the scare-factor. They do mention the “World Law Enforcement Agency”, but selecting an existing agency might have been more effective.
  34. The first threat mail arrive less than 48 h after the initial notification that “PayPal” has a pending transaction. No previous mails do however contain any information about a deadline for the payment or anything about legal consequences if no payment is made.
  35. At one point she started bargaining and suggested that I should send at least some money ASAP and the rest when I have got the money on my account. 20 minutes later I receive a mail form “PayPal” that clearly states that the full 3650 € must be paid before the funds are released. There were many more discrepancies between the messages from “Mrs. De Villiers” and “PayPal” even if both came from the same source.
  36. When the bargaining starts, she mentions that I can pay a smaller part first if I’m short on cash and need to borrow money. Well, a couple of days ago I claimed that I had tried to transfer the whole sum, so it should be clear that I have the money.
  37. Some of their boilerplates seem to have been in use for many years. Googling key phrases will reveal the scam immediately and point to discussions and warnings that are several years old.
Fake passport. Some parts blurred to protect victims of identity theft.

Fake passport. Some parts blurred to protect victims of identity theft.

Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it! The scam is so obvious when presented in this way. And forcing the scammer out of the ready-made script makes the act crack up even more. But the sad fact is that people are lured by these guys daily. A lot of this seems to be done in volume so they must be dealing with a significant number of victims every day. Their way to do business very quickly and easily may seem feasible for smaller bulk items, and may not ring the alarm bells in the same way as when dealing with bigger items. Big or small item, it’s always a good idea to take a critical look at the whole case and look for discrepancies like this. Many of the points listed above are on their own enough to spot the scam. Also make sure that they can’t orchestrate the show on their own. Think about what you need to be able to trust the other part, and be persistent about getting what you want. Reluctance to comply is a pretty strong sign that something is fishy.

The core point for anyone who runs into cases like this is however to understand how the scam works. That’s the key to recognizing it in practice. You are promised money but something must be paid before the transaction can be completed. Sounds familiar? Yes, this is basically the same scenario as in the Nigerian scams. The core of the scam is that the money you are to receive is just a promise, but the money you transfer to someone else is real. The PayPal-based scams may be somewhat more effective as many people trust PayPal. It’s not an official bank, but many people think of it as a bank. You may believe that this trusted party is holding the money and securing the transaction. In reality, all you have got is a faked mail. There is no PayPal transaction and the promised money is just numbers written in the mail.

If you fall for the scam and pay, the scammers will vanish like smoke in thin air. PayPal can’t help you as this has nothing with them to do. The scammers have just misused PayPal’s name. And the payment method used to collect your money is always irreversible and provides no security for the sender.

So to summarize. If you ever consider engaging in a transaction with strangers and where money is relayed through you, you should:

  • Validate the reasons for the transaction. Most proposals of this kind are scams.
  • Make sure that you really know who you are dealing with. Demand proof of identity.
  • Make sure that the money is under your own control before making any payments to others. Cash or a deposit in your own account is pretty safe. (Added: See the comments below for an issue with this.)
  • Make sure that you are not engaging in money laundering.

What really strikes me is how poorly this false buyer’s role is created. Some simple Google searches is all it takes to reveal the scam. And many discrepancies would have been so easy to fix. Are these guys really “America’s dumbest criminals”?

Maybe, maybe not. The point is probably that you need to be suspicious before you turn to Google. And once there you will find descriptions of this type of scam no matter how well the scammers have tried to eliminate discrepancies in their story. So once you get suspicious, it’s game over for the scammers anyway. The most profitable tactic for them is maybe to run the scam en masse without caring about the details, and just harvest those who won’t get suspicious until it’s too late. Or maybe they’re just stupid and can’t do any better? (Believing that anyone would fall for that fake passport would indicate the latter.)

Well, the boat is still for sale. Anyone interested?

Safe surfing,
Micke

Message from "PayPal". Note the sender's address and the scam warning. The warning is actually authentic and copied from real PayPal messages. This may be good advice against phishers, who just know the mail address but not the victims real name. All "PayPal" mails in this case had the correct name in the beginning.

Message from “PayPal”. Note the sender’s address and the scam warning. The warning is actually authentic and copied from real PayPal messages. This may be good advice against phishers, who just know the mail address but not the victims real name. All “PayPal” mails in this case had the correct name in the beginning.

More posts from this topic

search

Is Search Engine Result Link You’re About to Click on Safe?

Two of the top five sites on the internet are search engines, which makes a lot sense. We depend on them to find everything from the news to toothpaste to a place to eat dinner. According to internetlivestats.com, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches worldwide every day. Its rival Bing is rising to become the second largest search engine, accounting for 33% of all search queries performed. Now here’s the interesting part. Given these billions and billions of queries, can you be sure that all these search results 'harmless'? When you are clicking on a link Google, Bing or Yahoo! gives you, how do you know you are about to visit a site that is safe? You can't That's why you take simple precautions to make sure you don’t unintentionally visit malicious sites. The most convenient way to stay safe while using search engines is by using a free website safety rating service, such as F-Secure Search. F-Secure Search pre-screens the search results returned by a search engine and gives each result a safety rating. Harmful sites that try to violate your privacy or harm your device are clearly marked, so you know which sites are safe and which to avoid, even before you click on a link! Adult content is automatically blocked from search results, so you have peace of mind when your children are using F-Secure Search. Also, all communication between you and F-Secure is encrypted, so there’s no room for snooping. To help you keep both your personal details and your PC protected from malicious sites, simply go to search.f-secure.com and start using it today. You can also use F-Secure Search as the default search engine in your browser. And while we're you're thinking about surfing safely, take a minute to make sure your browsers are up-to-date. With a safe browser and safe results, you'll be surfing safer than ever.

September 12, 2016
Christine Bejerasco

Meet the Online Guardian Working to Keep You Safe

Every time you go online, your personal privacy is at risk – it’s as simple as that. Whether you’re creating an account on a website, shopping, or just browsing, information like your email, IP address and browsing history are potential targets for interested parties.   All too often, that information is sold on or sometimes even stolen without you even knowing it. And the threats to our online privacy and security are evolving. Fast.   As F-Secure’s Online Protection Service Lead, Christine Bejerasco’s job is to make life online safer and more secure.   “We’re basically online defenders. And when your job is to create solutions that help protect people, the criminals and attackers you’re protecting them against always step up their game. So it’s like an arms race. They come up with new ways of attacking users and our job is to outsmart them and defend our users,” Christine says.   Sounds pretty dramatic, right? Well that’s because it is. While it used to be that the biggest threat to your online privacy was spam and viruses, the risks of today and tomorrow are potentially way more serious.   “Right now we’re in the middle of different waves of ransomware. That’s basically malware that turns people’s files into formats they can’t use. We’ve already seen cases of companies and individual people having their systems and files hijacked for ransom. It’s serious stuff and in many cases very sad. If your online assets aren’t protected right now you should kind of feel like you’re going to bed at night with your front door not only unlocked but wide open.”   Christine and her team of 11 online security superheroes (eight full-time members and three super-talented interns) are on the case in Helsinki.   Here’s more on Christine and her work in her own words:   Where are you from? The Philippines   Where do you live and work? I live in Espoo and work at F-Secure in Ruoholahti, Helsinki.   Describe your job in 160 characters or less? Online guardian who strives to give F-Secure users a worry-free online experience.   One word that best describes your work? Engaging   How long is a typical work day for you? There is no typical workday. It ranges from 6 – 13 hours, depending on what’s happening.   What sparked your interest in online security? At the start it was just a job. As a computer science graduate, I was just looking for a job where I could do something related to my field. And then when I joined a software security company in the Philippines, I was introduced to this world of online threats and it’s really hard to leave all the excitement behind. So I’ve stayed in the industry ever since.   Craziest story you’ve ever heard about online protection breach? Ashley Madison. Some people thought it was just a funny story, but it had pretty serious consequences for some of the people on that list.   Does it frustrate you that so many people don’t care about protecting their online privacy? Yeah, it definitely does. But you grow to understand that people don’t value things until they lose it. It’s like insurance. You don’t think about it until something bad happens and then you care.   What’s your greatest work achievement? Shaping the online protection service in the Labs from its starting stages to where we are today.   What’s your idea of happiness? Road trips and a bottle of really good beer.   Which (non-work-related) talent would you most like to have? Hmmm… tough. Maybe, stock-market prediction skills?   What are your favorite apps? Things Stumbleupon   What blogs do you like? Security blogs (F-Secure Security blog of course and others – too many to list.) Self-Help Blogs (Zen Habits, Marc and Angel, etc.)   Who do you admire most? I admire quite a few people for different reasons. Warren Buffett for his intensity, simplicity and generosity. Mikko Hyppönen for his idealism and undying dedication to the online security fight. And Mother Theresa for embodying the true meaning of how being alive is like being in school for your soul.   Do you ever, ever go online without protection? Not with systems associated to me personally, or with someone else. But of course, when we are analyzing online threats, then yes.   See how to take control of your online privacy – watch the film and hear more from Christine.  See how Freedome VPN will keep you protected and get it now.

July 14, 2016
BY 
Porn blog post image

4 People who can see what Porn you Watch, and 4 Tips to Stop it

In the grand scheme of things, there certainly are more important facets to online privacy than keeping one’s porn habits private (government overreach, identity theft, credit card fraud to name a few). However, adult browsing histories are one of the secrets in their online lives people want to protect the most, so it might be disconcerting to know that porn browsing is not as private as one might think. A large majority of web users are lulled into a false sense of security by incognito mode or private browsing, but this is only one of the steps needed toward becoming private online. Here are a few people who have access to this info, along  with a few easy tips that can be taken to prevent this from happening. 1. Anyone on the same hotspot No one is suggesting you should watch porn at your local coffee shop (in fact, please don’t). However, what people surf in places like the privacy of their hotel room should probably stay there. With that in mind, the following statement might be more than a little disconcerting: What you do on Wi-Fi can be usually be seen by pretty much anyone connected to that hotspot. It doesn't require great hacking skills to see what other people connected to the same network are doing. Only traffic on encrypted websites starting with https is always secure, and almost no adult sites fall under this category. 2. Foreign web service providers When traveling, it's easy to forget that what might be culturally acceptable in one country can land you in hot water with the authorities in another. Whether on public Wi-Fi or roaming on the network of a foreign internet service provider, they may be bound by law to report anyone surfing adult material. The personal freedom we enjoy to surf anything we want online is so second nature to many of us by now, we easily forget the same isn't true for others. 3. Analytics and advertisers (often one and the same) It might not bee too surprising to hear that most companies aren't exactly jumping at the chance to be associated with adult websites. For this reason, networks that serve ads to adult websites don't serve ads to "normal" websites, making porn sites mostly self-contained when it comes to using your private information for advertising purposes. Unfortunately, your adult browsing can still be connected to you. Many adult websites implement analytic services, as well as "like" and "share" buttons, that feed into major advertisers such as Google and Facebook. 4. Your employer (in the U.S. and many other countries) Now, we are DEFINITELY not suggesting you watch naughty stuff at work. I mean, they call it NSFW for a reason. However, that doesn’t change the fact that in some countries, companies have an uncomfortable amount of rights to spy on their workers. It’s natural that employers don’t want their workers doing anything illegal, but you still have a right to privacy, even on a work network. What are your options? So what can you do to prevent privacy intrusions? The first and most obvious choice is to not supply any personal information to adult websites. A lot of porn sites require registration in order to comment on videos (if that's your thing) or to view content in higher quality. Keeping a separate email address for adult websites is therefore highly recommended. The other obvious choice is to always have private browsing on, as this prevents cookie-based tracking and embarrassing browsing histories from being saved on your computer. A slightly more technical but still very easy tip is to disable JavaScript from your browser settings while surfing adult websites. A lot of websites don't function without JavaScript, but all the adult websites we tried for research purposes work just fine. JavaScript makes it much easier  to do something called device fingerprinting. This frustratingly intrusive method of snooping involves the use of scripts to identify your computer based on variables such as your screen size, operating system and number of installed fonts. It might not seem like it, but there are enough variables to make most devices in the world completely unique. But the simplest and most efficient method of controlling your privacy is to use a VPN. A VPN (virtual private network) encrypts all your traffic, meaning no one is able to intercept it and see what sites you visit or what you download. It also hides your real IP address, the unique number which can easily be used to identify you online. A top-tier VPN like Freedome also contains extra features like anti-tracking to stop advertising networks from identifying you, and malware protection to automatically block webpages that contain malicious code. The app is easy to use, and available on most platforms. Online privacy is not a difficult or expensive  goal to achieve, and by following these few steps you will be able to surf what you want without worry.

June 13, 2016
BY