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PayPal, owned by eBay, is a global online payment system. PayPal is a convenient, easy-to-use, and secure way for individuals and businesses to send and receive money online for goods, services, charitable donations, and so forth. It's also a full-service operation that provides front-end and back-end solutions to increase growth and revenue for merchants.

Article Extracted from Paypal Website

The simple idea behind PayPal -- using encryption software to allow people to make financial transfers between computers -- has turned into one of the world's primary methods of online payment. Despite its occasionally troubled history, including fraud, lawsuits and zealous government regulators, PayPal now boasts more than 86 million accounts worldwide. PayPal is an online payment service that allows individuals and businesses to transfer funds electronically. You can use it to pay for online auctions, purchase goods and services, or to make donations. You can even use it to send cash to someone.

A basic PayPal account is free. You can send funds to anyone with an e-mail address, whether or not they have a PayPal account. They'll get a message from PayPal about the funds, and then they just have to sign up for their own account.

Funds transferred via PayPal reside in a PayPal account until the holder of the funds retrieves them or spends them. If the user has entered and verified their bank account information, then the funds can be transferred directly into their account.

Signing up for PayPal is quick and doesn't even require you to enter any bank account information, although a checking account or credit card are required to use many of PayPal's features. From the PayPal homepage, just click on the "Sign Up Now" button. At the next page, you'll choose whether you want a personal, business or premier account. If you just plan to use PayPal for the occasional ebay auction or online purchase, a personal account is the right choice. If you intend to use PayPal to accept payments for your own business, then a business or premier account would be more suitable. If you select a personal account, you can upgrade in the future.

rom there, you will go to a page that asks for your basic personal information -- your name, address, telephone number and email address. You will also be required to enter two security questions in case you lose your password, and you have to enter a randomly generated series of letters and numbers, which help prevent fraud. Once you confirm your account by following instructions you'll receive via email, the signup process is done.

Adding a valid, current credit card to your account will allow PayPal to confirm your address (if it matches where you receive your credit card statements). Having a confirmed address shows both buyers and sellers that you are less likely to be a scammer. You can also use your credit card for PayPal's Expanded Use service, which allow you to draw money from the credit card, instead of just from a bank account.

If you want to add funds to your PayPal account from your checking account, or vice versa, you need to enter and verify your bank account with Paypal. When you enter your account number and routing number, PayPal will make two micropayments to that account. These payments are usually about $0.05. PayPal will then ask you to enter those amounts in order to verify the account (they'll show up on your bank statement). After you enter them, your bank account will be ready for use.

Article Extracted from How Stuff Works Website
PayPal Infrastructure
PayPal doesn't fundamentally change the way merchants interact with banks and credit card companies. It just acts as a middleman. Credit and debit card transactions travel on different networks. When a merchant accepts a charge from a card, the merchant pays an interchange, which is a small fee of about ten cents plus approximately 2 percent. The interchange is made up of a variety of small fees paid to all the different companies that have a part in the transaction -- the merchant's bank, the credit card association and the company that issued the card [ref]. If someone pays by check, a different network is used, one that costs the merchant less but moves slower.

What part does PayPal play in all this? Both buyer and seller deal with PayPal, having already provided their bank account or credit card information. PayPal, in turn, handles all the transactions with various banks and credit card companies, and pays the interchange. They make this back on the fees they charge for receiving money, as well as the interest they collect on money left in PayPal accounts.

PayPal touts their presence as an extra layer as a security feature, because everyone's information, including credit card numbers, bank account numbers and address, stay with PayPal. With other online transactions, that information is transmitted from the buyer to the merchant to the credit card processor.

All the money held in PayPal accounts is placed into one or more bank accounts, where PayPal collects interest. Account holders do not receive any of the interest gained on their money. Some PayPal critics claim that one of the reasons PayPal locks accounts and puts people through a long, frustrating appeal process is so they can keep the funds in the bank longer to collect more interest.

Article Extracted from How Stuff Works Website
PayPal History
Peter Thiel and Max Levchin founded PayPal in 1999 under the name Confinity. The idealistic vision of the company was one of a borderless currency free from governmental controls. However, PayPal's success, quickly drew the attention of hackers, scam artists and organized crime groups, who used the service for frauds and money laundering. New security measures stemmed the tide of fraud and customer complaints, but government officials soon stepped in. Regulators and attorney generals in several states, including New York and California, fined PayPal for violations and investigated the company's business practices. Some states, such as Louisiana, banned PayPal from operating in their states altogether. PayPal has since received licenses that allow them to operate in these places.

Despite the initial turmoil, PayPal's market share continued to grow. At first PayPal offered new users $10 to join, plus bonuses for referring friends. The service grew so quickly that it soon became the default online payment service. Buyers wanted to use it since so many merchants accepted it, and merchants accepted it because so many buyers were using it. PayPal owes much of its initial growth to eBay users who used the service to pay for items and accept payments for their online auctions. PayPal even beat eBay at the online payment business, trumping eBay's in-house payment system Billpoint so thoroughly that in 2002, eBay bought PayPal. Then it phased out Billpoint and integrated PayPal into its services. Sellers with PayPal accounts can place icons in their auctions and buyers can simply click on a PayPal logo when they win an auction to make an immediate payment.

In early 2002, PayPal held its IPO, opening at $15.41 per share and closing the day's trading above the $20 mark [ref]. eBay purchased PayPal that same year for $1.4 billion in stock [ref]. Recently, eBay spent another $370 million to buy out another PayPal competitor, VeriSign.

Article Extracted from How Stuff Works Website