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Is PayPal Safe for Debit Cards?—Exploring PayPal’s Security

Maria Marcano, Consumer Operations
Oct 31, 2023
 Min Read

Ever since its launch in the late ‘90s, PayPal has experienced massive success. Over time, it has built a positive reputation as a convenient and reliable online payment platform, reaching over 430 million active users in 2023.

Still, due to the constant threat of cyber fraud, many users wonder if their sensitive data—particularly debit card or bank account information—is safe on PayPal’s database. While PayPal does employ numerous safety measures to safeguard your financial data, you can also take specific steps to ensure protection. This article will provide a valuable insight into this topic by answering questions such as:

  • Is PayPal safe for debit cards and credit cards?
  • Which security risks does using PayPal come with?
  • What can you do to further secure your PayPal transactions?

What Is PayPal?

PayPal is a digital wallet that allows you to shop online or in store, send money, and receive money. It’s one of the largest online payment systems that can be used to make purchases at millions of U.S. stores and many more others around the globe. PayPal is fast and convenient, enabling you to make purchases or transfer money in a few clicks.

Source: Marques Thomas

To start using PayPal, you need to sign up via its website or app first, which is free. Then, you should link one or more payment methods, selecting the preferred one in the settings or at checkout. PayPal gives you the option to either pay with your PayPal account balance or with the connected bank account or payment card.

PayPal supports two types of transactions, which you can select during the checkout process:

  1. “Sending to a friend”—This option refers to personal payments to friends and family, such as gifts, split meals, and shared expenses.
  2. “Paying for an item or service”— These are payments for goods or services, including auction wins and purchases of physical or digital items.

PayPal also issues physical cards, offers rewards, and enables you to track packages via the mobile app, whether you’ve paid for them using PayPal or not.

Is PayPal Safe for Debit Cards? PayPal’s Safety Practices Explained

Source: Mohamed_hassan

When you pay with your debit card or credit card online, the merchants you transact with typically store sensitive card information on their servers, which means it could get stolen and misused in case of a data breach. PayPal helps protect your financial details from potential hackers by acting as an intermediary between you and the merchants. This prevents merchants from ever being able to see your actual financial information.

The payment platform also employs various security measures to fortify the safety of your online transactions, some of which include:

Data encryption

PayPal uses end-to-end encryption when storing or transmitting confidential user data so it can’t be accessed by unauthorized parties. The information is never shared with sellers or even PayPal employees.

Security Key

This feature involves Two-factor authentication and helps prevent unauthorized access to your account. Each time you attempt to log in, you’ll receive a unique Security Key via text, which you need to enter in addition to your login credentials.

Email confirmation

With each payment or sale, you will get a confirmation email from PayPal. If an unauthorized transaction takes place, you can detect it and alert PayPal’s customer support in a timely manner.

Wallet monitoring

PayPal uses advanced machine learning to oversee an account 24/7. If it detects that someone else added your card to their digital wallet, PayPal will alert you immediately and block the action to prevent fraud.

Purchase protection

If your order never arrives or it significantly differs from its description, you may be able to get a refund directly from PayPal, shipping costs included. However, the claim must be filed within 180 days of payment.

Seller protection

If a consumer files a claim against a seller, PayPal places a temporary hold on the disputed funds, keeping them intact. If the claim turns out to be fraudulent, the hold will be lifted, restoring the disputed funds in full.

Risks That May Affect PayPal Users 

Although it is considered to be one of the most credible online payment platforms, PayPal doesn’t exist without its limitations. For example, in 2021, the company claimed to have detected over 4.5 million accounts that were “illegitimately created.”

Today’s cyber criminals employ various tactics to steal user data and funds. Some may breach merchants’ servers or attempt to guess your login credentials to access your account. Others may pose as merchants and ask you to select the “Sending to a friend” payment option to seemingly avoid fees, then scam you by not delivering the goods or services paid for. Unfortunately, in that case, you wouldn’t be able to get any form of direct reimbursement from PayPal. 

Source: Mohamed_hassan

Today, the most common method cyber criminals employ to obtain users' financial data is phishing. When it comes to PayPal, the practice may involve sending emails seemingly written by the company, attempting to extract your personal information, bank account details, or payment card details. These emails can also be designed to convince you to download an attachment containing malware, such as a fake invoice. Some of the most common types of scam emails include:

  • Order confirmations
  • Password reset
  • Promotional offers
  • Hacked account or fraud alerts
  • Payment or transfer requests

Fraudsters also target sellers by requesting refunds for legitimate goods and services or by performing the following scams (among others):

  • Overpayment scam—The buyer pays the seller more than the predetermined price, claiming that it was accidental, then asks for the difference to be repaid. If the buyer used a stolen card, the legitimate cardholder may report the transaction, causing the seller to lose the payment, the product, and the paid difference.
  • Shipping scam—Shipping scams typically involve the buyer requesting an alternate shipping arrangement, which allows them to secretly change the address so that they can request a refund from the seller. It’s difficult to prove fraud in this case, so the seller loses both the payment and the product.

How To Enhance the Security of Your PayPal Transactions

To fortify the security of your PayPal account and transactions, you should take these steps:

  1. Set secure passwords—You should choose a unique, strong password for your PayPal account, as well as for any other account you create. That will make password guessing more difficult for hackers and reduce the chances of account takeover.
  2. Enable the Security Key feature—Two-factor authentication prevents unauthorized access to your account by requiring you to enter a code when logging in. If a criminal gets hold of your login credentials, they won’t be able to get into your PayPal account without a unique code sent strictly to your mobile device.
  3. Avoid accessing the website on public Wi-Fi—When you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network, there’s a higher risk of your personal and financial information being intercepted by hackers.
  4. Transact with trustworthy sellers only—You should read independent reviews to determine whether the merchant you wish to purchase from is legitimate or not. It is crucial to stay away from those who require you to perform any unconventional actions, such as choosing the “Sending to a friend” payment option or making payments outside PayPal.
  5. Recognize phishing scams—It is advisable to double-check the sender’s email address and the website URL to ensure they’re legitimate, paying close attention to any discrepancies with the previous PayPal emails you received or other suspicious components. You’ll also recognize phishing attempts by their urgent tone, impersonal greeting, and spelling or grammatical errors. Unless you’re 100% sure of the authenticity of the message, you shouldn’t click on links, download attachments, or provide any sensitive information to the sender.
  6. Monitor account activity—To stay on top of your transactions, keep an eye on your account activity, turn on transaction notifications, and let PayPal know immediately if you see any signs of fraudulent activity.

Is It Safer To Connect a Credit Card or Debit Card To PayPal?

Consumer credit cards are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, whereas consumer debit cards are regulated by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. Credit cards generally offer more favorable fraud protection terms, limiting the consumer’s liability for unauthorized transactions to $50. With debit cards, the amount a consumer is liable for may depend on how quickly they report the fraud. If they don’t report it within 60 days, the consumer could be liable for the entire amount lost.

The good news is most consumer debit or credit card issuers have a zero-liability policy and will likely not require you to be responsible for any unauthorized purchases. The problem is these policies won’t save you from the tedious process of reporting unauthorized transactions, canceling and replacing compromised cards, and updating your security settings. Even then, your safety is not guaranteed. Besides card numbers, the hackers may have obtained other personal information in an attempt to commit identity fraud.

To avoid having your payment information or identity stolen, it is essential to take the steps necessary to prevent fraud from happening in the first place. Robust sensitive payment data protection can be achieved by using virtual cards for everyday purchases.

Virtual cards mask your card and bank account information, adding an integral layer of safety to your online transactions. In case of a data breach on a merchant’s servers, hackers can only access your virtual card number and not your real financial information.


Privacy Virtual Cards—Your Shield Against Online Threats

A Privacy Virtual Card is a randomly generated, unique card number with its own expiration date and security code. It’s connected to your debit card or bank account, but it masks this information during online transactions to protect you in case of a breach on the merchant’s website.

Privacy is BBB®-accredited and employs robust security protocols equal to those of any well-known bank. 

Shop Safely and Quickly With Privacy

Privacy offers various features to make your online shopping more convenient and secure:

Feature How It Works How It Benefits You
Single-Use Card The card closes automatically a few minutes after the first purchase is completed. Privacy will disable further transactions, making the virtual card number useless to potential hackers.
Merchant-Locked Card You can use this card multiple times, but only at a single vendor. Similarly to Single-Use Cards, Privacy will decline any attempt to use the virtual card number anywhere else if stolen.
Browser extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, and Safari for iOS devices) The browser extensions autofill virtual card information at checkout. You can check out quickly and seamlessly without having to get your wallet or manually type in card numbers.
Mobile app (iOS and Android) The app allows you to generate and manage cards on the go and receive real-time alerts when your virtual cards are being used or declined. You can shop safely wherever you are and track your transactions in real time.

You can also customize the cards by:

  • Setting spending limits—The spending limits help you remain within your budget and prevent sneaky merchants from charging you more than you've agreed to.
  • Pausing or closing the cards—You can pause, unpause, and close Privacy Cards without affecting your real card or bank account. Privacy will decline all further charges on a paused or closed virtual card. This feature is beneficial if you’re trying to prevent a subscription service from charging you during the cancellation process.

With your Privacy Virtual Cards, you can shop at most vendors that accept U.S. debit or credit card payments.

How To Get Started With Privacy

Follow these four steps to start using Privacy:

  1. Create an account
  2. Fill out the information needed to verify your identity
  3. Add a funding source (debit card or bank account)
  4. Request a Privacy Virtual Card

With the Personal plan (free for domestic purchases), you can create 12 virtual cards a month. You can also pause or close your virtual cards, set spending limits, and access browser extensions and the mobile app. The higher plans come with additional benefits such as up to 60 virtual cards monthly, priority support, 1% cashback on eligible purchases (totaling up to $4,500 a month), no foreign transaction fees, and dedicated account management.

Privacy is compatible with most U.S. banks. Any U.S. resident over 18 years old with a checking account at a U.S. bank or credit union is eligible to request Privacy Virtual Cards.

Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
Sign Up
Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
Sign Up
Privacy virtual cards
Spending Limits

Set a spending limit, and Privacy will block all charges that go over the limit

Merchant-Locked Cards

Lock your Privacy card to one merchant you frequently shop from

Single-Use Cards

Secure your one-time payments to websites whose trust worthiness you're unsure of

Pause/Close Cards

By pausing or closing a card, Privacy will block all future transactions

Get a Privacy Card Now
Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
Sign Up
Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Sign Up