Anonymous calls for PayPal boycott

Hacker group urges users via Twitter to end relationship with payment provider after learning U.S. prosecutors looking to jail 20-year-old for her alleged role in taking PayPal's blog offline last year.

Hacker group Anonymous has struck PayPal again, this time by urging its followers to empty their accounts and stop using the payments provider's services following news that U.S. prosecutors are looking to imprison a university student involved in the denial-of-service attacks on the company's blog last year.

Anonymous, together with LulzSec, issued a press release Wednesday urging PayPal users to close their accounts immediately and consider an alternative. They pointed to PayPal's willingness to "fold to legislation" as proof that it doesn't deserve its customers and the business they give to the payments providers.

"The first step to being truly free is not putting one's trust into a company that freezes accounts when it feels like, or when it is pressured by the U.S. government," the release stated.

Anonymous' call for a boycott follows a Tuesday report by U.S.-based alternative news site, The Raw Story, which stated that 20-year-old University of Nevada journalism student, Mercedes Haefer, faces a jail term of up to 15 years and US$500,000 in fines if she is convicted of hacking charges.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had arrested her last week for allegedly participating in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against PayPal's Web site last year as part of the "Operation Payback" campaign, the report noted.

Haefer was arrested along with 15 other alleged suspects in the United States, together with four people in the Netherlands and one in the United Kingdom, ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET News reported last week.

In a tweet on Tuesday referencing The Raw Story's article, Anonymous wrote: "15 years for the Paypal attack? While 80% of rapists are sentenced to 11 years. YOU SERIOUS?"

It followed up with another tweet at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning hinting at possible retaliatory action. "Go on, #FBI and US Government, convict this girl to 15 years of federal prison… while rapists go free. Expect....?"

However, instead of embarking on a hacking spree, it chose to call its followers to boycott PayPal's services instead. Anonymous also created a hashtag, #OpPayPal, for followers to share what they are prepared to do to support Anonymous' cause.

Already, people are responding to Anonymous' call. One user, Pantha85, tweeted: "Account Closed. Mmake you bleed from the only place you care.. your wallet. thanks @YourAnonNews #oppaypal #anonymous".

Another follower, Pacific_Justice, pointed out: "Next reason to join #OpPaypal and cancel your account: they created an illegal financial blockade of #WikiLeaks - a publishing organization".

There is no information on how long the boycott would last, although a tweet at 3.32 p.m. on Wednesday revealed an estimated "few hundred" PayPal accounts have been closed so far.

The Anonymous campaign against PayPal was in retaliation of the company's move to stop providing its payment services to WikiLeaks, which at that time was in the process of leaking more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.

Besides PayPal, payment providers such as Visa and MasterCard were also targeted by hackers following their decision to stop processing donations to Wikileaks.

Both Visa and MasterCard, however, had appeared to have lifted its financial blockade against Wikileaks, according to a separate CNET News report earlier this month.

PayPal did not respond to requests for a comment on the boycott.