'Tis the season for gifts, eggnog and, unfortunately, scams targeting parents looking for the perfect gift for their little ones.
The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about fraudulent websites offering "Letters from Santa." The websites promise a custom letter addressed to your recipient of choice from Kris Kringle himself, but they don't deliver.
Here's how the scam works. Someone will email you an offer saying they can sell you a "Handwritten letter from Santa to Your Child." The offer will say you can get "Santa's special package" for a price, usually between $10 and $20. When you click on the link, it takes you to a website that can appear legitimate, though it is not. The site promises the special package contains an "official" nice-list certification and a customized letter from Santa Claus.
The scammers do a good job enticing people all the way through the purchasing process. The offer will even say there's a free shipping special that ends — not coincidentally — in just a few hours. Unsuspecting parents go to purchase the item and enter their credit card information.
"Don't do it! In the best case, you are simply out the $20," the BBB says. "In the worst case scenario, you just shared your credit card information with scammers, who can now use it for identity theft."
In another version of this scam, the site promises a free letter from Santa, but it doesn't ask for your credit card information. Instead, it asks for personal information, such as a full name, address and phone number.
"These sites can then turn around and sell your personal information to spammers," the BBB says.
So how do you avoid falling victim to this scam and others likes it? The BBB has the following tips for consumers on how to spot scam websites.
- Ignore calls for immediate action. Many scams try to get you to act before you think by creating a sense of urgency (including the scam above). Don't fall for it.
- Hover over links in emails to check their source. Scammers will make links look like something else. Place your mouse over hyper-linked text and the true destination will appear.
- Make sure the website has (real) contact information. If something goes wrong with your order, you need to be able to contact the business at a physical address. When in doubt confirm that the address and phone number are real.
- Do your research. Check out the business on BBB.org and do a quick web search.
- Make sure you pay through a secure connection. When entering credit card information online, be sure that the URL starts with "HTTPS" and has a lock icon in the browser bar.
- Watch for poor grammar and spelling. Scam emails and websites often are riddled with typos. This is often a giveaway that you aren't dealing with a real business.