Home > Identity Theft > Is That PayPal Email a Fake?

Comments 1 Comment

Faked PayPal email notifications directing recipients to malicious websites aren’t new. But cybercriminals are getting a lot better at executing them.

That’s what the discovery of a current phishing campaign designed to lure victims to click to a pair of very well-designed faked PayPal websites shows.

The finding comes from researchers at OpenDNS, a free, ad-sponsored service for making faster, more secure website connections.

The fraudulent PayPal websites are virtually indistinguishable from the real PayPal.com, down to the images used on the login screen, the color palette, and the HTML code used in the page’s layout, the researchers found.

The faked sites were registered through a popular web hosting service and designed using the service’s extensive site-building tools, resulting in a professional and realistic-looking site. “An untrained observer might not notice and actually follow through with entering credentials,” OpenDNS researchers wrote.

More Believable Domain Names

Even the domain names were selected to confuse victims. The phishers used site names like “redirectly-paypal.com” and “security-paypal-center.com.” One forged domain, “x-paypal.com,” was a “perfect clone of the legitimate PayPal.com site,” the researchers said.

Phishing refers to how attackers lure victims into handing over sensitive information such as user names, passwords and financial information. For the most part, phishing attacks begin with an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, whether it’s a person or a business, asking for specific pieces of information. This latest phishing campaign began with fake emails masquerading as official communications from PayPal.com.

If the recipient falls for the trick and clicks on a link in the email, the victim is directed to a website — which looks legitimate — to enter the information. The Anti-Phishing Working Group, a global consortium of companies and agencies, counted 128,378 phishing sites in the second quarter of 2014. This is the second-highest number of phishing sites detected in a quarter, topped only by the 164,032 phishing sites active in the first quarter of 2012.

While the majority of phishing attacks are not personalized and are sent to as many potential victims as possible, targeted phishing — also known as spear-phishing — also occurs. In those cases, the attacker uses information about the recipient to create an even more convincing lure.

A well-crafted targeted phishing attack can defeat even the best security controls if an attacker is able to collect highly privileged login credentials.

There are some indicators to look out for to avoid being phished, but they require careful scrutiny and a high level of alertness. The original phishing email may have some clues — such as the fact that it outright asks for the user password. Users can verify that the site is using HTTPS and a legitimate SSL Certificate. All the spoofed sites OpenDNS observed happen to use HTTP, which is not a likely situation for any site that engages in financial transactions.

“If the wording is off or it’s blatantly asking for you to enter your password somewhere, it could be phishing,” OpenDNS said.

These attacks are not new, but they are beginning to look more legitimate with every iteration. Website builders and hosts such as Wix.com make it simple to create a professional-looking website quickly. While that is great for users interested in setting up their own sites, it is also tremendously beneficial for attackers who need to conjure up sites quickly and frequently.

“The difficulty of identifying the validity of these websites visually will soon be untenable,” OpenDNS said.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Andrew Hay

    One point of note is that the free OpenDNS service is no longer advertisement-funded.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other sponsored content on Credit.com are Partners with Credit.com. Credit.com receives compensation if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any financial products or cards offered.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.



Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team