Monday, December 20, 2010

I Wuz (Almost) Robbed! Part 1

I slept late Saturday -- after 8 a.m.  Got up, fired up the old PC and started reading my email.

First thing that caught my eye was from PayPal.  "Your transaction is in process," it said.

What transaction?

I've been using PayPal for 7 or 8 years, ever since I first bought something on Ebay.  Lately my participation has been pretty scant, but PayPal is still handy for relatively hassle-free money transfer and charitable donations.  I've heard all sorts of horror stories about it, but have never had the least trouble with it.

Up until Saturday.

First of all, PayPal makes a huge deal about email.  Understandably so, I suppose.  But once you're clued in to the difference between a scam and the legitimate thing, it's fairly easy to tell them apart.  A couple of read-throughs just to be sure, and the next thing, I had logged onto my PayPal account.  Sure enough, there's a transaction "in process," whereby $20 or so is being transferred from my linked bank account into PayPal, with an estimated date of completion around the 22nd.

The problem is, I never authorized any such transaction.  And oh yes, I spent a fair amount of time thinking very carefully, just to make sure something hadn't slipped my increasingly slippery mind.

I will often wait until I amass a respectable sum in my PayPal account and then transfer it into the bank.  Or I will tell PayPal how much I want to send to someone, and they will draw the money from the bank and then send it on.  But I will never simply ask PayPal to transfer money out of my bank into PayPal for no particular reason.  So the "particular reason" became the urgent matter of the moment, with the deeper question, of course, being WHO set this up?   No one on this planet has authorized access to my PayPal account except me.  Not my husband, not my son, not my cat, and not my BFF.

So now that I was 100% up and my pulse was racing (while the coffee hadn't even finished brewing yet), I was on the phone, urgently trying to get hold of PayPal to find out WTF was going on.

Except, well, PayPal keeps banker's hours!  Monday-Friday only.  I called the toll-free number and was invited to use their maddeningly unhelpful online forms and wade through page after page of rather condescending "tips to help you stay safe" -- change your password frequently, never tell anyone your password, learn how to read those pesky phish emails, etc. etc.  I finally got to a section that enabled me to try to communicate a complaint.  Again, page after page, click after click to find what I needed.  I got as far as "tell us the unique ID number of the transaction you have a problem with," but when I entered that number I was told that this option applies only to completed transactions, not the ones in process.  Seems I was stuck in limbo and SOL  until Monday.

So I called my bank.  They, at least, are available 24/7, even if they rarely help the way you'd like them to.  True to my expectations, I got a youngish-sounding customer service rep who listened to my saga, actually understood it, but then informed me that stopping this money transfer would be exactly the same as issuing a stop-payment on a check, and that I would be charged a fee of $36, which, of course, is quite a bit more than the amount I was trying to hang onto.

No thanks, I said.  Since both the bank and PayPal are so obsessed with the subject of email, I followed both their suggestions and copy/pasted all the troublesome communications into a message to both of them and sent it off.  The bank auto-replied immediately.  PayPal didn't.  I stayed busy throughout the weekend by formulating new passwords for all the money-related sites I deal with -- it had been awhile, so maybe this was a good little wakeup call.

This afternoon I got an email.  From PayPal?  Nope.  Again from my bank.  Please call us, they said, and provided a toll-free number.  I called; got a guy who could have been the younger brother of the last person I spoke with.  "My advice?  Never deal with PayPal," he said.  Great.  Thanxalot.

Back to PayPal, now that they (theoretically) had some "agents" available.  More stomping around on their website, trying to find that elusive customer-service number, which they let you find only after they've made absolutely sure they can't help you with one of their cookie-cutter forms.  Carefully copying down numbers.  And finally, I get to talk to a person.  Who listens to me for about 30 seconds, and says "Since this is potential fraud, I'll have to transfer you to a special agent."  Great, I think.  Then comes a recorded announcement, repeated about 8 times,  interspersed with loud distortion, about how 1) I can probably solve my problem by filling out one of their nifty little online forms, 2) I can probably solve my problem, improve my life, and avoid future opportunities to inconvenience PayPal Customer Service by reading their Frequently Asked Questions About Online Security, and 3) my wait time was expected to be 10 minutes or more.  I had plenty to do in the meantime, so I spent a fairly productive 15 minutes perfecting my one-handed filing and faxing techniques.  Finally, my "special agent" came on the line and proceeded to start walking me, verrry slowwwly,  through the process of changing my password.  Sigh.  "I actually did that on Saturday, shortly after I discovered this potential hack," I said.  "Oh, really?!"  The guy sounded so amazed.  "Yes," I said, now determined to rub it in.  "I also changed my password at both banks I deal with, and all my social-networking sites."  Shock and awe, baby, shock and awe.  He was now sufficiently humbled to make a sincere effort at helping me.  But, alas, PayPal had almost the same type of problem as the bank -- they could not "stop" a transaction once it was started.  I could, however, keep an eagle eye on the Internet and the second that money cleared to be deposited in my PayPal account, I could get right on there, login and tell PayPal to put the money back.  Voila!  Simple!

"But what if that shadowy someone who set up this transaction in the first place is also keeping an eagle eye out and withdraws the money before I can turn it around?"

A moment of dismayed silence.

"Well, then," he finally says, "We can initiate an investigation into how the transaction originated in the first place!"

"And you can't do that right now, because.......????"

He must have caught my menacing tone.  "Well, actually, um, um, ... we can!"

Yay!  Huzzah! Dawn Breaks Over Marblehead!

"But it will take ten business days."


~~~ I'll be back in a couple of days with the thrill-packed conclusion.

Meanwhile, change your passwords.  Here's an interesting article about how to do it right.



Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh wow! How alarming, and equally frustrating! I had no idea that Paypal was so ineffectual with regard to security I do hope that you manage to put a stop to this.

Skepticat said...

Ugh, frustrating! I hope they get this resolved for you soon.

Kay Dennison said...

Yikes!!!! I've never had a problem with PayPal but someone did try to hack my checking account account. My bank was on it like 50,000 charging Comanches and they made some changes and said they would investigate. Don't know what they did but it worked.