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Phisher-besieged PayPal sends users faux log-in page

Error.com's missed opportunity

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PayPal, the online payment service that is a major target of phishers, has been caught sending customer emails that confuse its own login page with a third-party landing site that offers spyware protection and a bevy of other products.

The faux hyperlink to secure.uninitialized.real.error.com was included in official emails PayPal sent to customers to confirm recent payments. PayPal advertised it as the official address to log in to the service. Recipients who configured their systems to read email as HTML wouldn't notice the link was incorrect unless they were paying close attention.

The snafu was the result of an internal PayPal error that was fixed on Tuesday, Michael Oldenburg, a spokesman for PayPal parent company eBay, wrote in an email. Oldenburg didn't respond to a reply email that asked how long the error had persisted.

Over the past few months, PayPal has been hit by a sophisticated attack that fraudulently bills customers for Skype (another eBay-owned company) and other services. The online payment service is frequently targeted by phishers who send out a barrage of spoofed emails that try to lure users to phony PayPal websites that trick them into revealing their login credentials.

The glitch caused users who clicked on the link to land at a non-existent page on the error.com domain. Had the error.com folks had malicious intent, the goof could have proved a golden opportunity since it presented customers with an email that was demonstrably shown to originate from PayPal.

"We're completely unaware of anything that would give us traffic" from PayPal, said Drew Griffin, director of business development for Reflex Publishing, the Florida-based company that owns error.com. "We have no clue as to how it got there. They should fix it."

This quick Yahoo search turned up this page showing a PayPal customer receiving the link more than two months ago. That's a long time for a financial services company to be sending their customers to an incorrect login page.

The Register uncovered the mystery link while investigating the rash of fraudulent Skype charges made against the accounts of PayPal customers and credit card holders. Oldenburg said members of eBay's Trust and Safety team are aggressively investigating the fraud.

Victims should report fraudulent charges against their credit card to support.Skype.com, while PayPal users should follow this PayPal Security link.

On several occasions during our discussion, Oldenburg repeated the now-tired advice that users should never, ever click on links in emails, even when those emails are sent by a bank, merchant or PayPal. Instead, they should open a new browser window and manually type in the address.

Good, common sense, of course, but it would appear someone at PayPal has yet to receive the memo. Official PayPal emails continue to include links to the company's log-in page. ®

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