July 12th, 2007 by Jamie Estep
What to do when your Paypal account is frozen…
This is probably the single most common question that I come across in discussion forums. Someones Paypal account gets frozen and they want to know what to do to get their account unfrozen and get their money back.
While I can’t do anything to get your money back, I have been in this situation more times than anyone I know and I have a bit of knowledge about how the system works. Prevention is always the best bet but sometimes account freezes are completely unexpected or unavoidable.
The first thing you need to realize is that Paypal freezes funds on the same grounds as Visa and Mastercard, and they can hold your funds for 180 days from the date of the transaction (Paypal will hold for 180 days from the date of your account freeze). Unless your funds are frozen for fraud or for some legal reason, you should get your money back after 180 days (worst case scenario). If you committed fraud, or obtained the money illegally, don’t count on getting any of it back, ever!
Why Paypal limit’s accounts:
Paypal is financially liable for funds that you accept, so if they feel your account may cause problems for them or other customers, they will freeze your account. Paypal has an automated system as well as a human managed system for fraud control. If they hold funds, it is because something with your account set off an alarm and either automatically or after human review, they decided that it is in Paypal’s or Paypal’s customer’s best interest to put a hold on your account. It nothing personal, and most of the time it was probably a computer that froze the account based on some fraud algorithm.
Some reasons an account may be frozen:
- Increase in transaction volume (IE: More Transactions).
- Increase in single transaction amount (IE: Larger Transaction).
- Increase in disputes from customers.
- Increase in refunds to your customers (with our without any disputes).
- If a certain percentage of your transactions are disputed over a period of time.
- If fraud was reported against your account.
- Logging-in from multiple IP addresses (* Speculation).
- Withdrawing over a certain threshold amount (** Speculation).
In my experience Paypal most often holds funds when a business processes many more transactions, or when they process much larger transactions that previously in their account. Also when a business sees an increase in disputes or refunds it is often an indication that something is not right. I have no idea of the thresholds that Paypal uses to freeze accounts or how often a human is the person who presses the button, but most of this goes along the lines of credit card processing risk management.
* – The IP address theory I have heard many times, but I have never seen anything official from Paypal. I also haven’t witnessed it on a US paypal account, so it may be an international problem, or a problem with people logging in from restricted or close-to restricted countries. I’ve heard three IP’s is what it is based on, but I’ve personally logged into more than one account from at least 20 IP’s and have never had any problem. The other thought which seems most likely is when an account is accessed in a completely different area than normal (IE: Login from Russia, when the business is in California).
** – My large withdrawal theory is based on the fact that I have had an account held three times on different accounts, and the hold occurred almost immediately after I made a large withdrawal from the account. My guess is that this threshold is at most $5,000 per day, which would be on par with some long standing Federal Reserve regulations. It is may be less than $5,000 or it may vary depending on your history, but I’m 99% sure that it does exist.
Now if your account gets frozen:
The first thing you will get is an email from paypal stating that your account has been frozen. You probably already get ten spam versions of these messages every day, so most likely you will actually learn that your account is frozen when you log-in one day. Anyway, when you log-in to your paypal account you will get a big nasty screen stating that your account has been frozen, and that you need to visit the resolution center to clear up the issue.
In the resolution center, you will have a list of the steps that you need to complete to get your account limitation lifted. You will also have a summary of what you can and cannot do with your account in a limited status. This status varies depending on why your account is being held, and for how long it has been on hold. As for requirements, Paypal will normally have you fax documents to them, and they may be additional steps that you have to do within paypal. The internal steps will normally be confirming a bank account, or credit card.
Commonly Requested Documentation:
- Proof of business existence (Utility bills, DBA registration, Tax license).
- Proof of shipping (Tracking Numbers).
- Proof of person (Drivers license, Social Security Card, Passport etc.).
- Proof of products (Normally your supplier’s name and phone number).
After you fax Paypal the information, you have to wait for their response. They will typically send you an email the next day stating that they received your information. You will receive another email a few days later stating the results. The email will either announce that your account limitation has been lifted, or that they are unable to lift the limitation. If you account remains frozen, they will either ask you to provide more information, or they will tell you to wait 180 days to get your money back. In either case you can call paypal directly and talk to a customer service rep. In most cases they won’t be able to do anything for you, but they may be able to give you other options if you don’t have some documentation that is requested. I can’t stress enough, not to act aggressively with whoever you email or talk to at Paypal. This is the same with any Risk Management situation, yelling at the person on the other end will guarantee a 180 day hold of your money. Yes you’re pissed, but be nice until they hold your money anyway, then complain away!
If you can provide all of the documentation that Paypal requests and you were not reported for fraud or illegal activity there is a good chance of getting your account freed-up. However, Paypal will not always unfreeze an account even if you are doing legitimate business and you provided them with the proper information. It’s unfortunate but is simply a risk of using Paypal at the current time.
Recommendation on not getting your account frozen:
Risk is all about consistency. You could be accepting a million dollars a month, and as long as your business was consistent, and you didn’t get a lot of returns, there wouldn’t be any problem. When changes occur, especially large changes, red flags go up all over the place. New accounts are also at a much higher risk of getting frozen, as most fraud occurs very quickly after an account is opened.
If you have an average transaction size of $50, you should probably expect your account to get frozen if you take $5,000 on a single transaction. The same thing goes for volume. If you consistently do $1,000 – $2,000 per month, and suddenly you start processing $50,000, you should expect your account to get frozen.
My advice is to slowly ramp up sales (This obviously isn’t always possible), and initially specify an amount in the estimated monthly volume and transaction size higher than what you actually expect to do. Make frequent lower amount withdrawals, and try not to keep a lot of money in your account. Be especially careful of making large withdrawals in a single day.
If you have any related experiences or comments, please feel free to share. However, this thread is not Flame Paypal, so any ‘Paypal Sucks’ or related comments will not be posted.