SCAM? Sending £3 to Paypal accounts - how does it work?

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Promises, Pyramids and Paypal

What are these strange emails?

You may well have received an email from a friend, a fellow ebayer or a past contact, which appears to offer a genuine money-making opportunity, allowing you to earn money through Paypal.  They may work - but perhaps not in the way we might think! 

This guide will help you to identify these emails, and help shed some theoretical light into how they might really work...

What do these emails look like?

Usually the email begins with some friendly introduction from the sender him, or herself.  The sender is usually someone we know and trust or have dealt with before, perhaps a previous eBay buyer or seller.

The email body usually contains text which is pretty standard in format:

"I thought you might be interested in this opportunity
to earn money through your Paypal account. It costs
£3, takes around 15 minutes and has enormous earning
potential. Please take a minute to read this e-mail,
which is  being circulated around all Paypal and eBay
users and it seems to be working.

Paypal have admitted that this is legal and Trading
Standards are not aware of any problems with the plan.

The person who sent me this email is someone that I
value as an eBay seller, whom I trust to be reliable.

Here are some responses from people who have so far
benefited from taking part..."

There usually follows a list of enthusiastic quotes from people who say they have earned vast sums of money from the scheme.

After these quotes will be a list of 5 or 6 email addresses similar to this:

1. email1 @internetserviceprovider1

2. email2 @internetserviceprovider2

3. email3 @internetserviceprovider3

4. email4 @internetserviceprovider4

5. email5 @internetserviceprovider5

There will be instructions in the text on how to proceed, similar to those shown below:

"The first thing you need to do is send a £3.00 payment
(approx $5.00 USD) From your Paypal account to the FIRST email
address in the list below, along with a note saying
"PLEASE ADD ME TO YOUR LIST". Instructions on how to
send a payment are under "SEND MONEY" at the Paypal
site. It is very easy. You can send payment type as
"Other Goods".

Copy and paste this page (and make any necessary
changes.) Remove the email address that you have paid
from the number 1 spot, move all the Others up a
space, and insert your own Paypal email address in the
number 5 spot. Then send the page to as many people as
you can who Also have Paypal accounts. A good way is
to send it to all the people in your Paypal history."

How does it work?

What happens when you 'broadcast' or bulk send your email to all your contacts, is that some of these contacts will then forward or send on the same email to their own lists of contacts and so on.  At the same time, they will send £3 to the person in position 1, and move all the email addresses upwards one space, adding their name to position 5.  After 5 'friends-of-friends' have sent the email, then theoretically your name should be in position 1 - and you should be receiving lots of cash into your account - wonderful, surely? but wait....

How might it REALLY work?

All should work well in theory, and in fact many people may indeed receive the odd £3 returned from their closest friends - but possibly at a price.  By forwarding the email, the original list of recipients' email addresses is forwarded to our contacts, and in turn, all these email addresses (including our own) are forwarded on to strangers - ad infinitum.  If and when the emails finally return to the people who originated them, these email addresses - and lets face it, there may be thousands in total - may be sold on to companies who can use them for sending out SPAM.  This is how some unscrupulous people might earn REAL money. 

Unfortunately by adding your friends' emails to the list you may be condemning them to a lifetime of spam, viruses, trojans, and any other email nasties, and you are also openly declaring that all your contacts are naive, gullible and possibly more likely to respond to a more serious con attempt.  Anyone who responds to this email is declaring that they have a Paypal account, and are happy to provide their name or ebay user id and email address, for anybody to try out.

This is not to say the system doesn't work - it may work very efficiently indeed - too well for comfort! If you wish, chance it and see what happens, and good luck!



  • Have respect for the privacy of your friends and contacts
  • Email carefully and with person at a time - not in bulk!
  • Cut and Paste text into a fresh email and do not forward it!
  • Remember that your contacts will forward your email address on to strangers, who will do the same, and again...
  • You may receive money, but you will almost certainly receive SPAM!

In addition, we are social animals, and as such, tend to favour our nearest and dearest.  Email addresses close to the top of the list, tend to get replaced with emails of friends and families by recipients further down the line - after all, these top addresses are 'strangers' and unknown to them.  It is likely, therefore that our name will never make it to the top of the list, or even much further than position 4. 

Unfortunately these email addresses are not forgotten - they are still in the forwarding list, and also in the email 'headers'.  To view your email header click 'details', or check this website for details on how to read headers in your browser:

Why do people fall for it?

First and formost this type of email appeals to us, because it is from someone we know or remember, and secondly, our ears also 'prick up' because it offers us the possibility of a large financial gain for a very small outlay.  After all £3 does not seem much to spend for the chance to receive the thousands of pounds usually bragged about in the quotes!

But where do these quotes come from?  Logically, the original people who sent the mail in the first place would not have any quotes to use, and anyone who had already sent the email would not need to send it out again (if they had really earned so much!) - so who put together these emails?

We cannot tell who is currently responsible for the vast amount of spam, viruses and unpleasant email that seems to invade our mailboxes on a daily basis, and there seems little we can do to stop people bulk sending our email addresses in these pyramid schemes.

With due respect to Paypal, they will not lose out here, because everyone needs to use Paypal to forward the £3.  In future it may become Paypal's policy to disapprove of this activity, but at present there would be little financial benefit to them, and no blame can be apportioned to Paypal who are merely a service provider. 

All we can do for the time being is alert our friends and family to the need to send individual emails - and NEVER to bulk send.  Why not email them now and tell them? - but one at a time please! :)

Stop the SCAM! - stop the SPAM!

(c) 2006 PhysicsStar

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