PSA: If you opened your PayPal account before you were 18, close it now.
Everyone knows a horror story about PayPal, I’ve had several painful experiences with them over the last decade, but now I’ll never have to experience that again, as I’ve just been permanently banned — if you created your account in the same way I did, it’s time to close yours too - before you get banned in the same manner.
As a teenager, my mother may have wanted me outside on the field with everyone else, but I was sat in my bedroom in 2006/7, learning HTML/CSS and these fancy new technologies called AJAX and jQuery. Eventually some of these skills became useful and I found myself at the age of 17 realising that there was money to be made online, and this was where my life was heading.
Without much thought, I setup a PayPal account, attached my bank account (which I still use today) and away I went. I didn’t make thousands, in fact I didn’t really make a lot at all, but it was fun, I learned a lot about web development and a ton about entrepreneurial life, all whilst starting to make a name for myself and grow my contact list.
As the years passed, I used PayPal for eBay, online services and sending/receiving money from clients. I don’t know how much I’ve sent/received over the last decade with PayPal but I do know it’s been a lot of money, which further boggles my mind as to why I was suddenly banned now, without warning.
Getting Permanently Banned
I do a lot of work and trading of services with a friend called Mat. We work on similar client work, we run some websites together and trade domains/websites regularly. Rather than use a bank transfer or Western Union for a recent payment, we decided to use PayPal. I have some large automotive bills coming up, using PayPal should have been a quick way for Mat to send me some money that’d be in my bank within the hour — or so I thought.
On Thursday morning, Mat sent me through some money. I got a buzz in my pocket to let me know that I’d received £348.10, although after fees that came to £329.10 (thanks PayPal).
As I’ve dealt with PayPal randomly freezing my account before (as most people have), I withdraw money instantly, so that they can’t hold it to ransom. Unfortunately in this case, I was too late, the hostage was already taken.
Ever the golden standard of useful error messages, PayPal informed me in the mobile app that my account was ‘limited’. Although I wasn’t sure what that meant, I quickly realised after trying to get any amount withdrawn that it meant ‘suspended’. I spent quite a long time tapping around the mobile app before guessing that there is no functionality in the app to help with this situation. Time to move to the desktop.
Upon logging in, you hit this screen. Whereas previously I was worried because I have bills due and PayPal are withholding my money, I was now worried because apparently some of my account information was “shared with an account that has a problem”, which sounds quite alarming — have I been the victim of fraud? I only have one account, has someone copied my address? Or bank details?
More confusing was the ‘Need to appeal?’, I wasn’t really sure what I was appealing as I just wanted to withdraw my money from my almost decade-old PayPal account, like usual. I always have a cold sense of dread when it’s time to click the Contact Us button on PayPal, it’s the first footstep on the battleground and you know it’s unlikely you’ll win the war. Nevertheless as it was my only option other than hand over details, to a company saying someone may have stolen my details. Time to click the link.
Every link I clicked to take me to the resolution centre or contact pages brought me to this message, and the continue button took me back to the home page. This message has a nice green tick logo, a friendly font and a promise they’ll get back to me — if I’d submitted something, this would have been fine, but I hadn’t.
I reached out on Twitter, but got no response. After realising the contact mechanisms were now unavailable to me, I decided to just hand over a copy of my license, proof of address and a bank statement to get it over with and withdraw my money — I also decided from this moment on, I was going to stop using PayPal.
I went to bed, expecting to wait a week to hear something, however, PayPal got back quite quickly to let me know they were banning me for an arbitrary reason, and they would be holding my money (for no reason) for half a year.
It was 2007 when I opened my account, meaning I would have been 17. Apparently this is a good enough reason for PayPal to close my account in 2017, and withhold my money. If this wasn’t enough, PayPal seem to have made it personal by also banning every bank account and credit card I own from being removed from my account — which means I also can’t use them to open a new account.
Logging in to do anything with my PayPal account simply shows me the following:
After almost a decade of usage, and thousands paid in fees and so on, PayPal decide randomly in 2017 that now is enough due to not checking my age properly when I signed up. The most worrying element to me still, is that PayPal initially claimed that information was “shared with another account that has a problem” — and I still don’t know what this means, nor do I have the means of finding out as the contact page still has an erroneous success message. Am I the victim of fraud, or just poor error message wording?
My only hope is that within 6 months, I will get a mystery email from PayPal letting me know that they might be willing to let me have my money.
I’m not really sure what half a year of holding on to my money will help PayPal achieve? Especially when they’ve already made the decision to ban me. It’s odd that prior to that, a bank transfer was a 10 second interaction, but now I’ll be waiting until the end of the year for the same.
I am currently using PayPal to pay three hosting providers, two domain registrars, receive payments from clients monthly, sell and buy on eBay, share money with online friends and family, and more — but now, because of signing up a few months too early around a decade ago, I now have to find alternative ways of conducting all of this, none of which can be through PayPal due to my banned credit cards and banking accounts.
When Did You Open Your Account?
Did you open your PayPal before you were 18? I decided to ask my friends and colleagues before posting, and found that many of them, like me, opened an account as a kid to buy music, games and so on online. Did you? If you did, it’s time to close your account and start again — or is it? Maybe PayPal will ban you anyway. What’s concerning is that one of my friends decided to check, but couldn’t find out when their account was created in the PayPal dashboard and they’re now too scared to ask and find out in case they get banned — which also means that they could be banned at any minute if it was created as an under-18 anyway.
I’ve always used the term necessary evil to describe PayPal (amongst other terms), especially due to their clever intertwining with eBay, but now I’ll just describe them as evil. Stripe has come along leaps and bounds over the last few years, and is what I’ll be moving all of my (and my clients) websites to use. Paying my hosting/domain registrars will now just have to move to my credit cards directly which is no problem.
There are alternatives to PayPal, it’s just become so ingrained in to online life that it can be easy to forget that. As with many MegaCorps, if a startup had customer service this bad, it wouldn’t get off the ground, it’s only because so many have come to expect this kind of behaviour from PayPal that it’s become the norm.
Moving Away From PayPal
I always wanted to move away from PayPal, thankfully they’ve made that choice for me, and I implore you to make that choice for yourself. Laziness and ease of use kept me using the service, the ban has helped me see it’s not a service that works well, and when it does it’s not worth paying for. I don’t expect anything to come of writing this article, but if it helps a few more people leave PayPal, or close their account before they’re banned with thousands of their currency in PPP (PayPal Purgatory), then great.
Everyone knows PayPal is a joke, but sadly it’s PayPal that are laughing.
As well as moving all of my personal life away from PayPal, I’ll also be moving all of my clients websites away from it too. Whilst this doesn’t add up to too much in the grand scheme of PayPal (it adds up in combined transactions), it’s the right thing to do, and I don’t know a client that doesn’t have some level of disdain for PayPal anyway.
Whilst PayPal won’t miss me or my clients, it feels nice to be able to finally say the same.
Update: I’ve had several people contacting me, saying they’ve closed their accounts (and unfortunately re-opened in some cases), as they realised they were under 18 when they were opened. If this article helps people prevent the same hassle, great. If you’d like to help, I’d appreciate a retweet to spread the PSA.
Update 2: PayPal did finally reach out after this article hit peak views (and also after they temporarily disabled account closure due to the influx — result) to simply try and help me delete my old account and create a new one which I wasn’t interested in. I tried moving to TransferWise, however, they have their own problems — it seems there is currently no one-size-fits-all alternative. Since writing this, PayPal decided to randomly withhold several thousand pounds for no reason from my Dad’s business account — at least I know I wasn’t singled out. Stop using PayPal.
If you enjoyed this blog post, I sometimes write things on my personal blog, creatively titled Dan Walker.