How to Fix a Broken PayPal Account

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PayPal makes money management a breeze – until your account gets locked down. If it happens to you, here's what to do.

Most mornings, I buy breakfast and a cup of coffee at a local market using my PayPal debit card. I always leave a sizeable balance in the account so I can earn cash back on my small purchases.

So one morning a few weeks ago I woke up, headed into the market, cheerily handed my debit card over, and then it happened – the poor store owner looked at me in a mixture of embarrassment and horror and said, “I’m sorry. Your card’s been declined.”

By some wonderful twist of fate, I actually had enough change in the bottom of my purse to cover the purchase. I paid in a combination of nickels and dimes and slinked out of the store.

Obviously, I wanted to know what happened. It took me nearly a full day to figure it out, so here’s a step-by-step guide that will save you a lot of time if PayPal ever screws up your account…

1. Check your email

This wasn’t the first time PayPal put a hold on my account or declined a debit card purchase. Each time, all I had to do was check my email, see what PayPal wanted, and update my account.

No such luck this time. When I checked my email, I found this:

Hello angela colley,

For security reasons, we deactivated your PayPal Debit Card. Please call if you have any questions.



I was busy trying to wrap my head around all of that helpful information when a second email came in. It said:

We routinely review account activity in the PayPal system. When we reviewed your account, we noticed that your activity violates some of the agreements you have with us.

Because of this, we’ve limited your accounts and can no longer offer our services to you. You’ll still be able to log in to view your transaction history, but you won’t be able to send or receive money.

As allowed under the User Agreement, we’ll hold the money in your account for 45 days. We’ll use your balance to reimburse buyers who file claims, chargebacks, or any other reversals against you. Before we reimburse the buyer, in most cases, you’ll have a chance to respond to the claim, chargeback, or reversal.

We’ll send you an email after 45 days letting you know when you can withdraw money from your accounts.

I probably should have read the terms of service more closely, but I didn’t realize PayPal could shut down my account. As it turns out, there are two types of limitations:

  • Limited account access – Typically occurs because PayPal is questioning a payment you made or received, or you need to update some information on your account. When your account is limited, you can’t send or request money, transfer money, or close your account. You can receive money. The hold lasts anywhere from a few hours to several days.
  • Permanent limited account – PayPal feels you violated its 16-section user agreement. You can’t use your PayPal account and may not be able to open a new account in the future. Any money in the account is on hold for 45 days.

 2. Log in to your account

Depending on the reason for the limitation, you might be able to resolve it by opening a new window and logging in to PayPal. Do not click any links in the email, just in case it is a phishing attempt.

If you’re just under limited access, you may be able to resolve it through the PayPal site. When you log in, you’ll see a red box pointing out your limitation. Click the provided link to go to the Resolution Center. From the Resolution Center, follow the prompts to remove the limitation on your account – although this won’t always happen automatically.

3. Call PayPal

I wasn’t so lucky. I had to call, which is a bit of a battle in itself. You’ll need an access code. Here is how to get one:

  1. Click on the “Help” link in the upper right corner
  2. Click on the “Contact Us” icon on the lower right corner of the next page
  3. Click the “Call Us” tab
  4. Call PayPal at 1-888-221-1161
  5. Say or enter your One-Time Passcode shown on the “Call Us” page

From there, a representative will look at your account and tell you what you need to do. Some things (like updating your address or verifying your bank account) can be done on the PayPal site. Other things (like verifying your identity) will require faxing in documents. Once PayPal receives whatever they’ve requested, a representative will review your account and remove the limitation, which can take several days.

When I spoke to a rep, he told me that I probably needed to fax proof of residency and identification. I faxed in both and received this email:

This message confirms that we have received the documents you sent to PayPal.

The documents have been successfully attached to your PayPal Account and will be reviewed shortly.

We review documents in the order in which they are received and generally require 3 to 5 business days to process these documents. Once we process your documents, we will contact you about the status of your PayPal Account.

4. Debunk

Not wanting to wait several days to find out why I had been banned from PayPal, I was browsing the Help Desk pages for a better answer when my mom called. I told her what was going on and she said, “Oh, that’s funny, I got the same email today. But I just ignored it. I thought it was spam.”

It seemed suspicious to me that two accounts in my family had been permanently banned on the same day, so I called PayPal back and asked how that could have happened. The representative put me on hold for a few minutes, came back, and told me the ban was an error!

In all likelihood, my mom had signed onto her account from my IP address. When PayPal was scanning for possible fraud, the system found two accounts logging in with the same IP.

Within 30 minutes, I got another email:

Our review is complete and we have restored your account.

We appreciate your patience and thank you for your help in making PayPal the safest and most trusted online payment solution.

Bottom line: Not even permanent limitations last forever. If you run into a problem, log in to see what you can fix yourself, and if all else fails, keep calling until you get a straight answer.

Do you use PayPal? Have you had a great (or horrible) experience with their customer service? Sound off on our Facebook page and tell us your story.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


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