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Scam watch: PayPal T&Cs exploited to defraud seller

Online shopping scam

A Which? member asked us for advice when his daughter unwittingly became liable for an online selling scam using Paypal.

Which? member Richard Hogg told us: ‘My daughter placed an advert on Gumtree to sell her laptop for £250. She received a call from a lady who wanted to buy it, provided it was OK for her dad to transfer the cash, as she didn’t have a bank account.

‘My daughter gave her account details. The money arrived, so she arranged with the buyer for the laptop to be collected in person.

‘A few days later, she was confused to get a call from PayPal saying that one of its customers had paid her for an iPhone but hadn’t received it.

‘Further investigation revealed the scam – the scammer saw the advertised laptop, then placed her own ad to sell an iPhone for £250. Once someone contacted her to buy the phone, she asked if they would transfer the cash into her friend’s account, as she didn’t have one.

‘They agreed and the scammer provided them with my daughter’s Paypal details. The buyer of the iPhone then put the £250 into my daughter’s account, which my daughter presumed had been transferred by the father of the lady who was buying her laptop.

‘When the buyer of the iPhone didn’t receive their paid-for goods, they asked PayPal for a refund. Despite my daughter being the victim of a slick scam, PayPal insisted that she refund the money, as its terms state that customers must only hand over an item to the person who actually paid for it.

‘The scammer has her laptop and the police aren’t interested.’

Our advice on online selling scam

The police concluded that no crime had been committed because the member’s daughter had the money in her bank account – and it should be PayPal that pursues the matter. Sadly, however, because PayPal’s terms of sale were broken, little can be done to get the laptop back.

This is a really sophisticated scam. The only way to avoid it is to refuse payment from anyone other than the person buying the item – and to always post items to the address associated with the PayPal account. We’d recommend obtaining proof of postage too.

Have you ever been affected by a similar type of scam involving a PayPal transaction?


My husband has a similar experience a few years ago, he saw a phone for sale on eBay and submitted a request to purchase it however when he was checking the details of the phone it stated he would need to wait for 12 months to receive the item , my husband at this point had already sent the payment to the seller but messaged them to advise he no longer wanted to continue with the purchase as he needed the phone straight away and not in a year’s time, the seller of the item was okay with this and advised that this was not a problem and would return the payment through PayPal back to my husband’s account, my husband received the payment and then transferred it back to his bank account, sometime later he was contacted by PayPal advising he owed them money as the account he had paid the original payment into was fraudulent and therefore the payment he withdrew from PayPal wasn’t his my husband refused to return the payment as in good faith he trusted the so called secured payment method that PayPal are always bragging about, as a result of this my husband was banned from eBay because he was the victim of a scam.

Amazon is currently plagued by scammers. Never ever contact anyone outside of Amazon for a purchase. Do not be fooled by cheap prices. If a product is too cheap to be true then it probably is. BEWARE!!!!

Check out this thread on Amazon.


Amazon is currently plagued by scammers. Never ever contact anyone outside of Amazon for a purchase. Do not be fooled by cheap prices. If a product is too cheap to be true then it probably is. BEWARE!!!!

Check out this thread on Amazon.


And on to real and easily verifiable scams: the Coop has recently changed its Co-op card to a new system, whereby you get 5% on purchases and 1% is given to a local community charity of your choice. It’s being heavily promoted by staff in the shops, and today I received an email with all the correct Co-op headings and logos, perfectly formed English and apparently what I could have been anticipating. The only thing I noticed was a single pharse:

“We’d love to send you your new Membership card so you can make the most of your 5% and 1%, but we don’t think we’ve got the right address.”

after which there were the dreaded and always to be avoided email hyper links. Sure enough, they were directed to some location even Google was unable to divine. This email was a very timely scam email, with highly convincing graphics and – as far as I can tell – not yet reported. So – if you get an email purporting to be from the Coop which starts

We want to share the good news – your Co-op Membership is changing for the better. From 21st September, every time you choose Co-op products and services you’ll earn 5% for you and 1% for your community*.

We’d love to send you your new Membership card so you can make the most of your 5% and 1%, but we don’t think we’ve got the right address

DO NOT follow any of the links but seek the genuine site via a search engine or from your own card or the store. This is a nasty one, since a lot of elderly shoppers will be building a lot of points on their new cards right now and they stand to lose a lot.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Roger Cutler says:
28 September 2016

I paid for a computer programme which was reduced in price but had to be paid for by PayPal. I paid £250 to PayPal by credit card & they transferred the money to the programmer ; who communicated with me initially, but never sent the programme & eventually stopped replying to my e-mails. The site telephone number didn’t connect to anything. PayPal weren’t interested & said it was between me & the vendor. Credit cards don’t have to, & usually won’t , refund PayPal payments by card like they do other purchases. PayPal is looked on as a cash payment. Fortunately, First Direct behaved impeccably & did re-imburse me.

I have stopped using PayPal for payments. They seem to lack any moral code.

Robert says:
28 September 2016

I use PayPal on a regular basis for my business, if you require a payment all you need to do is go onto the PayPal site and send an invoice to the buyers email address.

The purchaser can then pay using a credit/debit card or PayPal account if they have one, nobody needs to send account details to anyone else to receive payment and once the money is in your account PayPal will inform you. Once payment is received post signed and tracked service to the address confirmed on the PayPal payment and if it’s a collection in person ask for ID and get a signature.

I’m not here to defend PayPal as they do sometimes get things wrong but many issues are due to the stupidity of customers who don’t understand or don’t use the system correctly.

NEVER give any account details to strangers as they will con you.

Robert says:
28 September 2016

The emailed invoice will also have a full description of the item so everyone knows what the payment is for, so no room for argument over the item being purchased.

derek groom says:
28 September 2016


Hello Derek, if there’s something we can help you with here then please email us at conversation.comments@which.co.uk

This does appear to be a very sophisticated scam. As someone who has worked in the banking and financial service industry for 40 years I do have serious doubts about the responsibility of identifying where the funds originated from that arrived in Mr Hogg’s daughter’s bank account. Once the money was in her account she was not legally obliged to give her bank the authority to return the payment and they would not have the authority to do it without her permission. You could see all sorts of possibilities with this scenario. In this type of transaction as the two parties are not known to each other personally how are you to be absolutely sure that the payment came from the person you expected it to? Although unlikely as it may be, you could, in theory, have a situation where the person buying your goods and the person paying you are two different people with the same name ( I think I read that there are something like 50,000 people in the UK named John Smith so not an impossible situation) and you would find yourself in the same situation as Mr Hogg’s daughter and you could reasonably argue that you checked the name of the source of the funds and found it to be the name you were expecting. In this case as far as you are concerned John Smith bought the laptop and John Smith paid for it. There is absolutely no way as the person receiving the funds into your bank account that you can be sure that these are one and the same person. The onus surely should be on the person paying the funds into an account to get it right, not the person receiving the funds. If it had been me, I would have taken this to court and argued on this basis. Either way a fraud has been committed so why didn’t the police investigate. Isn’t that their job?

Paul says:
12 October 2016

Surely regardless of Paypal’s Ts &Cs, fraud has been committed by the person who obtained the laptop, so the police should be pursuing that regardless? I think this is an area Which should determine a position and make clear to the Police.

In October I sold 9 items on ebay. The £97 due did not appear in my Paypal account.Repeated messages concentrated on “re-educating” my security. Despite lack of investigation the attitude throughout was the fault is mine and we never pay loss of funds. They even deducted final value fees.They also asked me to identify the thieves – part of a well rehearsed policy. Any suggestion would be most welcome -I could never use ebay again.