If you’ve received an email that your Facebook or PayPal account has been cancelled, you might want to give it a close look before trying to restore your service. It could be a scam.
Cancellation scams, which send you to websites that collect your personal information like usernames, passwords and bank account numbers, are not new. But they’ve been getting more sophisticated in recent months, and even the savviest consumer could fall for it.
I almost did. Just last week, I received an official-looking email, purportedly from PayPal, warning me of an impending cancellation. All I needed to do was log in through the link, which was conveniently provided in the message, and I could get everything sorted out.
I moused over the web address. It didn’t take me to PayPal.
It was a scam.
What if I had fallen for it? By now, the criminals perpetrating this rip-off might be siphoning off small amounts of money from my PayPal account, or they might have found a way to break into some of my other accounts.
That’s how it goes.
Remember, accounts are rarely “suspended” in the way these email notifications would have you believe. For example, when my YouTube account was taken offline late last year, Google’s language was decidedly undramatic and non-confrontational.
“Upon review,” it said, “we have determined that the following video(s) contain content in violation of these guidelines, and have been disabled.” What it really meant to say was that all of my Google accounts, including my Gmail account, had been shut down. (By mistake, it turns out.)
Here are five types of “cancellation” notices you might get, and how to recognize a fake.
“You’ve been kicked off Facebook.”
What would you do if you were cut off from a social media service like Facebook or Twitter? If you would be willing to do anything to restore your account access, then you could be the next victim. Here’s the latest bogus cancellation ploy.
This one’s smart, because it looks like it’s coming from Facebook. In fact, it’s spoofing the Facebook site through clever coding. But real social media sites don’t operate like that. They’ll send you an email about a “terms of service” violation, and they’ll always offer a way to appeal whatever actions are being taken.
“No more AOL for you.”
While losing access to Twitter might be an inconvenience, having your email service terminated would be even worse for most of us. After all, we have our entire lives – contacts, phone numbers, appointments – in them. Scammers know that when you’re faced with that kind of threat, you can’t think straight, which means you often make bad decisions.
I routinely get notifications that one of my accounts has been suspended. In almost every case, it’s easy to spot the fake: look for typos, bad formatting or bad grammar.
If you think the notice may be legit, then log on to your account from a different screen – don’t follow the link.
“Your PayPal account is frozen.”
I get one of these every week. The latest one warned me: “We mailed you because our decomposition system security has detected several failed attempts to open your account. So, we have suspended it.” Do you see the problem? Apart from the awkward punctuation, of course. What the heck is a “decomposition system?” Yeah, I don’t know, either.
Again, the best advice I can offer is, when in doubt, log in to your PayPal account under a new screen. Also, tag the email as spam and report it to PayPal, so others won’t fall for it.
“Your card has been cancelled.”
The fraudsters can turn up the heat by suggesting your credit card has been compromised. For instance, I just received a “fraud protection alert” email from American Express that said I’d bought $9,873 worth of tires. “For your security, we regularly monitor accounts for possible fraudulent activity,” it assured me.
Oh, right. I might have jumped on this one, except I don’t have an American Express account.
“You aren’t getting paid after all.”
Here’s a particularly sinister form of cancellation: it says your electronic payment has been cancelled. “The ACH transfer, recently initiated from your bank account, was cancelled by The Electronic Payments Association (NACHA).” It’s deliberately vague. But again, the link will take you to a page that asks you to surrender information that could compromise your bank account.
If you take just a minute to ask yourself if you’re expecting an ACH transfer, and whether any of your electronic payments haven’t come in as scheduled, then you’ll probably recognize the fraudulent nature of your “cancellation” notice.
It’s easy to say you will use common sense when it comes to cancellation notices, but that’s not always practical. When you face the loss of email or a credit card, reason goes out the window and you’ll do anything to get it back – even if it means surrendering your password to a fraudster’s website.
Instead, maybe the best remedy is to take a deep breath and try to independently verify the cancellation. That will protect you from every cancellation scam that’s out there now.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.