When an automated voice left a message a few weeks ago wanting me to call them back and confirm some transactions on my PayPal debit card account, it sounded suspicious to me.
Calling under the guise of confirming information is a classic scammer technique. For that reason, reputable companies don’t leave voicemails asking for personal information. Do they?
PayPal, a reputable company that boasts about having more than 100 million users, apparently does.
The call was from 800-830-8574 according to my cell phone’s caller ID, so I did an online search for the number and found some references to it actually being associated with PayPal. I also found warnings, however, indicating that such a thing must surely be a scam.
It certainly seemed like a scam.
After weighing my options, I decided to call back and see what happened. As long as I didn’t provide much information, there’s no way it could cause me a problem, and calling back would satisfy my journalistic curiosity.
Calling from the same number at which I was called, I got an automated system that asked only for the last four digits of my PayPal debit card. There’s nothing a criminal could do with only that piece of information — found on receipts and routinely sent in email purchase confirmations anyway — so I entered it.
I was relieved to find that the automated voice then told me who I was. I didn’t need to provide any personal information.
It wasn’t a scam. The number 800-830-8574 belonged to a bank acting on behalf of PayPal, calling to verify recent transactions on my debit card as a protection against fraud.
The automated voice read me my five most recent transactions, I confirmed each of them and the call ended.
That’s all it was.
Fortunately, I had recently read a blog post from a writer who warned that PayPal will suspend the debit card of users who don’t call back when asked to verify transactions, so I knew they sometimes ask for this kind of verification.
And since much of my writing income arrives by PayPal, I knew an immediate response was necessary if it really was PayPal calling so I wouldn’t lose access to my money.
It is important to point out that faking a phone number on caller ID is a simple thing to do, so seeing 800-830-8574 is not an indication that it’s actually someone calling on behalf of PayPal. PayPal or someone operating on their behalf could also call from another number, and they could discontinue use of this number at any time.
It’s also never a good idea to provide personal information by telephone. But if a caller can tell you who you are with only something as simple as the last four digits of your card number, it’s probably okay.
Whether it’s a good idea for PayPal and its debit card issuer to alarm their clients by asking them to discuss their debit cards by telephone is another matter entirely.