Cash request from a Facebook ‘friend’ left me £300 out of pocket

I was defrauded by a hacker posing as someone I knew who said he needed help

I received a message from a friend on Facebook. It said he was having trouble with his eBay and PayPal account and asked if I could receive some payments for him via PayPal and then send them on to him.

It sounded like a perfectly legitimate scenario. I received the money, two transactions of £160 and £140, and sent them on to the bank account he gave me. Then I received another message from him saying his Facebook account had been hacked.

Even so, I wasn’t too worried since my account balance wasn’t affected. But then I received notifications from PayPal that the payments I had received were being reversed, since they’d been sent from a hacked account without authorisation from the account-holder. It turned out they’d been stolen from a hacked bank account and I was £300 out of pocket.

PayPal said the only way to resolve this was to ask my bank, HSBC, to instigate a chargeback. HSBC refused as the money had left the account I’d sent it to and sent me back to PayPal.

I’m 19 and about to start university and can’t afford to just let it go. I feel stupid for sending the money, but there was no way to know, at first, I wasn’t speaking to the person I thought I was.
SA, Wolverhampton

You have been doubly unlucky for the fraud took place on the 3 May, 25 days before banks pledged to reimburse fraud victims under a new voluntary code. You have learnt the hard way that you should always check up on a request for money, even if it comes from a trusted social media account or email address, for online you can never be sure that people are who they say they are.

Fraudsters commonly exploit PayPal and the chargeback system by which a payment can be reversed by a credit or debit card issuer if the transaction is contested by the card holder. A frequent scam is to hack into a PayPal account and use it to make purchases.

When the legitimate account holder discovers the fraud they can issue a chargeback to reclaim the payment, leaving the seller without the goods or the money.

Your account was used as a buffer so that any chargeback would be applied to you, not to the account you transferred the money on to.

PayPal’s stance is that you should have been more careful. “We advise customers to be wary if they receive unusual requests about their PayPal account, especially requests to move large amounts of money, even when the request appears to come from someone they know,” it says.

“Always question uninvited approaches, and check directly with the person concerned to verify the request. And never accept or move money on behalf of someone else.”

HSBC says it accepts that scam requests can appear “plausible and legitimate”. It also says you should have contacted your friend directly to verify the request.

“After being notified by the customer, we followed industry guidelines and acted quickly to contact the receiving bank, making it aware of the transaction in question and the suspected fraudulent activity but sadly no funds remained,” it says.

You say that rather than acting quickly it took you several hours to get the bank’s fraud department to understand the issue and open an investigation.

I suggest you take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service which will decide whether it was handled with reasonable care.

If you need help email Anna Tims at or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions


Anna Tims

The GuardianTramp

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