UPDATE, 2:10 p.m.: Just heard back from a PayPal spokesperson who said this wouldn't work, so we tested it out with our own accounts. Post has been updated (heavily) to reflect what we found, which is that PayPal will gladly take your penny but wouldn't charge the recipient.
Maybe ditching his lawyers
and setting up his own website wasn't such a good idea.
Word of George Zimmerman's personal website
-- and its PayPal "donate" button -- came out late Monday. By Wednesday, quiet rumblings of a "penny protest" were floating about on Tumblr, with instructions on how to rip off Zimmerman's PayPal account.
But unlike so many other social media movements -- "share this status so I can get a heart transplant!" -- this one looks like it checks out. Nope doesn't work.
Every time someone uses a credit card to donate to a PayPal account, PayPal charges
the recipient 30 cents, plus 2.9 percent of the total donation. It's how PayPal makes money and pays its credit-card processing fees.
The catch? They'll charge it even if the amount donated is less than the fee.
That's where the "penny" in the "penny protest" comes in -- the idea was that using a credit or debit card to send Zimmerman one cent would force him to pay PayPal 30 cents.
A someone at the PayPal customer service center yesterday said the logic seemed to be sound -- a recipient would be charged the fee even if the net donation would end up costing him money.
I used a credit card to donate a penny to Zimmerman's account, and nothing stopped me. In an email this afternoon, however, a PayPal spokesperson said why that was, and it's the opposite of what customer service told me:
When using PayPal's personal fundraising tools, a customer's balance wouldn't become negative based on a single transaction. In the case where a donation is 10 cents, for example, then PayPal would collect that 10 cents as a fee. However, no further fees would be collected on that transaction, and the account wouldn't be taken negative."
The official PayPal statement makes a lot more sense. But given the contradiction, we decided to actually test the system and set up a donation button. When someone donated a penny, I got this in an email from PayPal:
So, as it turns out, that's the real explanation. Tumblr's "Penny Protest" won't work because PayPal, though it will accept your copper Lincolnface, will then charge Zimmerman one penny to process it.