If you ever find yourself mailing bundles of cash across the country to a stranger, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is this a scam?” because we assure you it’s almost certainly a scam. And Gizmodo has the documents to prove it.
We’ve looked at plenty of heartbreaking scams over the years on platforms like Tinder, Venmo, and Airbnb. Today, we’re taking a look at obvious scams on PayPal—all filed as consumer complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and obtained by Gizmodo through a Freedom of Information Act request. Many involve shocking amounts of stolen money.
One of the most common scams of the 2020s, and one that popped up repeatedly in the complaints Gizmodo obtained, is the Accidental Overpayment Scam, a type of grift the FTC has been warning Americans about since at least 2004. Essentially, the scammer pretends to be part of some big financial institution like PayPal and deposits money into your account. Sometimes the deposited money is a “refund” for a charge that only existed on a fake invoice delivered via email. This big deposit was a mistake, the scammer says, so you’re asked to pay the money back in a different way. Often, the scammer will ask to be paid back in gift cards from Target, Walmart, or Apple. But the boldest of scammers will ask for cash to be mailed, as one did in perhaps the strangest complaints we obtained. The hapless victim complied, according to the complaint.
“My wife kept on saying it was a scam but I really thought I was the one who had messed up the deposit amount,” the victim said in documents obtained by Gizmodo.
Unfortunately for those who got duped, the big deposit was never real, even though it was listed as pending in their online banking apps. The scammers most likely used a stolen credit card to make the deposit and, by the time the victim sent the money as a “refund,” the victim’s own bank was already nixing the deposit that appeared as pending in the account.
Another common thread in many of the complaints is that people called a phone number that was listed along with the fake invoices and charges they received. These numbers were scammers. You should always visit the official PayPal website to find contact information, even if an email looks legit. If the address of an email doesn’t end “@paypal.com,” you should take extra steps to determine whether the message is really from the company.
“Phishing attempts are common and can take on many forms,” a spokesperson for PayPal told Gizmodo in an email. PayPal itself has published a list of common scams to watch out for, too.
“We continue to take all the necessary steps to protect our customers. Nonetheless, we always encourage users to remain mindful when being asked to participate in a transaction. We also encourage customers to be vigilant of who messages are from (via text, email, phone, or social media) to protect themselves when sharing information, clicking links, and opening attachments,” the spokesperson continued.
Gizmodo couldn’t independently verify any of the scams below, since the complaints were heavily redacted by the FTC to protect consumer privacy. Enough patterns emerge from disparate complaints to indicate that PayPal users should watch out for such behavior. We think it’s important to let people know these scams do exist, even if they’re incredibly obvious in hindsight. Gizmodo has lightly edited the complaints for spelling and readability.
Be safe out there, folks.
Received an email from a supposed PayPal and called the number on the email about a iPhone purchased on a PayPal account, which I was not aware of, but thought possibly I had previously had a PayPal account.
I was told I was eligible for a refund and they transferred money to my account but instead of $500, $50,000.00 was deposited. I was then instructed to send the overage back by cash in $15,000 increments. I thought I had made the mistake in entering the amount and really needed to send the excess back.
I withdrew $15,000 three times. They had told me that that way the IRS wouldn’t be taxing me. Obviously I was upset and confused. They gave me instructions on how to wrap the cash and package it. Two bundles went in one box by UPS overnight to Fry Keaton 6391 w Lake Mead Blvd. Las Vegas, NV. [Gizmodo note: This appears to be a CVS.] The additional $15,000 was sent to Qiang Li 13410 Whittier Blvd Whittier CA. [Gizmodo note: This appears to be a Michael’s craft store.]
My wife kept on saying it was a scam but I really thought I was the one who had messed up the deposit amount. My computer was locked from my use as they told me they were running a total scan.
I was told they would call me in the morning to arrange the return of the rest ($5,000) I tried my computer at 10:30 pm and it was open to me I am guessing because the transactions are pending on my bank statement that means because I got cash and the check for $50,000.00 they deposited is probably not going to be honored I have just lost $45,000 and I am pretty sure I won’t hear from them tomorrow HELP!
September 3, 2022 I received an email from service PayPal stating $1,000 was taken unlawfully to pay for Google Play eGift card and to call 1 801 430 9493 to report this. I was transferred to Steve Miller 619 810 9355 real name probably Gitika Alamer of Westmead St. San Diego. I was transferred to Mike Harris 385 222 2813. Claimed to be with PayPal security. He said hackers had gotten into my account and all my accounts bank and cryptocurrency were in danger so he would transfer all my money to a safe account and then transfer the money back once it was secured. I gave him remote access to my iPad several times over the next few days. Through his instructions I transferred almost all my cryptocurrency out of my accounts. I was also told to send a wire transfer of $25,000 from my bank to Gemini where the vast majority of my crypto investment was located. Mike Harris, real name probably Juanzell Chlarson of Garnett Circle. His telephone number shows a Salt Lake City address but he claimed PayPal used a fake telephone number for security reasons and he was actually locate in San Jose, CA at PayPal headquarters. Almost everything we did I was told to delete because the scammers might still have access to my iPad. On a lot of the crypto transfers the number [redacted] was used. I also talked to Mr. Harris supervisor Leon but do not have any further info on him. Per instructions from my bank I do not answer calls from any of the telephone numbers above. They keep calling many many times. I also get several calls from 805 518 3841 Moorpark, CA and 619 413 7273 Jacumba, CA. Unfortunately I am not able to copy and paste the email. Another telephone number I received calls from was 619 369 4918.
I was a victim of a scam by receiving a text message indicating I had fraudulent charges on my PayPal account. I call the telephone number on the text message. The man claimed to be an official representative of PayPal and assured me that they would resolve these fraudulent charges by following their instructions. The rep convinced me to purchase $6,000 in gift cards and supply him with their numbers. He also requested that I install a computer program called ultraview which he used to scan my driver’s license, transfer $499.99. $249.99 by Zelle to [redcated] Furthermore while remoting to my computer, he opened an account on coinbase.com which I understood was going to correct the issue. In turn he provided the account information and instructed me to wire $13,000 to this Coinbase account. I complied and received confirmation from my bank that the money was transferred to account [redacted], Cross River Bank [redacted] and received by Coinbase Inc. DDA account [redacted]. I was advised to leave my computer running so he could repair the damages and correct the issue. A family member closed the computer which lead to receiving a phone call from him which alerted us to the scam.
I received an email from PayPal on Friday, September 9, 2022 saying my account was billed for a $499.49 bitcoin purchase. The email was incredibly sophisticated and looked like many emails I’ve received from PayPal. I called the number on the email to dispute the charge. The man with an Indian accent who answered told me they ran the charge through four times so I was in debt $2,000, had me connect with his computer, and showed me the charges on the screen. To condense the conversation, he had me download an app that allowed him to control the screen, had me go into my bank account, had me enter $2,400 refund (they added $400 because I was a senior citizen) into his screen whereby the final zero auto generated another zero making it $24,000, showed me on my bank screen that the money was a pending deposit in my account. By that time my husband showed me on his iPad that not only was $24,000 a pending deposit in my personal account, but a pending withdrawal of $24,000 was happening in our joint account. I hung up immediately and drove straight to our bank where they stopped the pending payment and put both accounts on limited so no one, including us, could use the accounts. Because it was Friday afternoon, we won’t know if we caught it in time until tomorrow (Monday) so as of this moment, we don’t know if the scammers were successful in stealing our money. We took our computer to Local Tech Guy to clean it out of any viruses where it is right now. I’ve reported this to the local Las Cruces, New Mexico police where the case is number [redacted].
The phone number they had me call was 888-681-4667. Toward the end of the phone call, Andy gave me his cell as 304-772-2261 which is probably a burner phone. I never called it.
I am devastated. I feel victimized even if they weren’t successful. I also feel very stupid and can’t believe I was so gullible for so long on the conversation. There’s a psychology to this kind of scam, I don’t know what it is, but I was hooked into it for far longer than I would ever imagine I could have been.
I got a notification of an $800 Amazon purchase I did not authorize on PayPal. Received an email from Pay Pal. It appeared to be a legitimate email. Called the number on the email and was instructed that my social security number and bank accounts will be hacked by the intruder. The woman disguised herself as a PayPal employee for tech support of the name of Sheryl Brooks who then directed me to provide her with the invoice number and some details about the purchase in the system. She built her trust by assisting me with removing the invoice and that she would do a thorough investigation to find the person who had access to my information. She had mentioned the importance and urgency of this matter as the person who had access to my personal information would be clearing out my bank accounts within hours.
The scammer directed me to withdraw money from my bank account to purchase and text pictures of the front and back of gift cards from Target and prepaid debit cards from Walmart. In addition to the cards I received texts of barcodes provided by the scammer through Walmart bill Pay Service, Paymentus to safeguard my money electronically. The events occurred the afternoon of Tuesday August 30th through the end of the day on Wednesday August 31st. My main intention of going about this was that I would have access to the money electronically and will later within a couple business days be able to start fresh with new accounts which was advised by the perpetrator. I had no idea the money would be gone. Sheryl Brooks supervisor said the funds would show up in my Walmart app in my wallet. I then realized I was scammed out of $10,500.
I want into my PayPal account on 9/7/22. There was a message for me that there was suspected fraud and that $699.00 had been wrongly credited to my account. The message said to call 888 373-1969. I called the number. Someone named Mike responded and said I would need to process a return of the money. I went on my Chase account and saw that the $699.00 was in my account from PayPal. Mike then said he would send a refund form to me. It appeared on my computer screen. It was a black box with a line for my name. He had me type in my name. Then he asked me to type in the amount of $500.00 (he said they would split the payment in 2. I typed it in, but the screen showed $50,000 instead of 500.00. Mike got very upset, said I was to blame and was very convincing. He said I would have to process the refund now by wire transfer. A deposit of $50,000 then showed in my Chase bank account. I looked and saw it. A supervisor named Mike Hardy then called me from a separate phone number. (213) 262-0763 and gave instructions on how to do the wire transfer. He was very convincing. He stayed on the phone while I was at the bank. When I started to walk out of the bank because I realized the account I was sending money to was not a PayPal account he had a ready answer. After I completed the wire transfer he told me not to go on my computer until the next day. I became more suspicious and went onto my Chase account. I saw that the deposit of $50,000 now said it was a transfer from my savings account. And my savings account at Chase had been reduced by $50,000. I went to the bank about 20 minutes after the wire transfer was done. The bank said the transfer had been completed. They tried to stop it, but said it was done. While with the bank manager, Mike called me. On another number. (520) 379-3710. Mike gloated that he had the money. He asked me if I wanted some of it back. The bank manager at Chase told me to hang up as he was out to steal more money. I shut down my internet Chase accounts and informed PayPal about the incident. This is a large portion of my savings.
I received an email from what I thought was PayPal telling me that fraudulent charges for e-gift cards would hit my account tomorrow (supposedly three $500 e-gift cards were purchased). I called the customer service number from the email (1-888-228-4034). I was told that in order to recoup the fraudulent charges I needed to purchase three $500 gift cards of my own to either Target or Apple. I was later told that these numbers would help them track down the fraudulent charges and get my money back. I purchased two Target and one Apple gift cards (three $500 gift cards for a total of $1500) from the CVS in Delmar, NY (260 Delaware Ave, 12054) and sent the numbers to the guy supposedly from PayPal (1-714-707-3260). He then told me that I would need to purchase additional gift cards to help them further track down the fraudulent gift cards. At that point I refused and eventually hung up. I found out it was a phishing scam when I called the actual PayPal customer service line. At that point I contacted Target but the funds on the gift card had already been spent. They told me to contact this website.
I received an email from PayPal about using my account to charge $1,000 in gift cards to my PayPal account. I called customer service number linked on the email and the scammer pretended to be PayPal customer service to gain access to my account and he convinced me to buy a $400 target gift card because I needed a secure card to purchase an VPN to protect my IP address and the money would be automatically refunded through PayPal. After the first $400 gift card he asked for 2 more $400 gift cards and this when when I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
Consumer stated that he received an email from someone posing as PayPal saying they were working with the FBI and the FTC investigating his identity theft problem. Consumer states that he was then connected with someone claiming to be the FTC. Consumer was told they needed to protect his money. Consumer states that he has sent them $7,500 in Apple gift cards. He has also provided them with his account information and access to his computer and they have taken a total of $225,000 from him. He states that they had told him to provide $28,000 more or they wouldn’t help him. He did not comply.