For many children, writing their annual letter to Santa Claus is almost as exciting as finding gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. Imagine how excited they’d be if Jolly Old St. Nick himself sent a reply.
That’s why parents, eager to please their little ones during the holiday season, are the perfect target for a cyberscam involving letters from Santa. For the last several years, the Better Business Bureau has reported numerous fraudulent websites claiming to sell personalized letters from Santa Claus.
It goes like this: You receive an email offering a handwritten letter to your child, straight from the North Pole. Some may ask you to pay a small fee (usually $19.99), urging you to “act now” to take advantage of a soon-expiring shipping special. Others might claim the letter is free of charge. Regardless of its iteration, you’ve just handed over your personal information, credit card number, and/or money to an identity thief who has no intention of sending that special note from Santa.
The Santa Letter Scam is far from the only holiday-themed trap waiting to catch unsuspecting consumers. Phishing emails offering too-good-to-be-true Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers, fraudulent holiday package notifications, and fake holiday e-cards requiring personal information for access are just a few examples of ways hackers use the holidays to steal sensitive data.
It’s not surprising that the holiday season sees an uptick in scams. People feel more generous this time of year and are willing to spend more on charitable donations or special gifts. While consumers are distracted with planning parties and filling their shopping carts, cybercriminals are plotting their attacks – but with vigilance and education, you can avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams.
Here are a few tips to keep you off the “naughty” list when it comes to safe online practices this holiday season:
1. Don’t Click Suspicious Links
Scammers commonly include legitimate-looking links that don’t go where you think they do. If you hover over a link in your inbox, the actual URL will pop up, allowing you to verify the source. When in doubt, don’t click: Type the company’s known web address into your browser.
2. Look For Grammar And Spelling Errors
The BBB notes that scam emails and websites often are riddled with typos. Most real businesses take the time to proofread their copy before it gets in front of customers; basic spelling or grammatical mistakes typically indicate that the sender is not a professional.
3. Never Pay Through An Unsecured Website
There’s an easy way to tell if that credit card purchase you’re about to make will easily get intercepted by hackers. If the page you’re on has a URL that starts with “https” with a lock icon next to it, that means the page is secured. If it doesn’t (i.e., it only says “http”), close out of the page immediately and do not submit the payment.
4. Thoroughly Vet Any Company Offering Santa Letters
Despite all the fake Santa letter offers, some real companies do offer this service to brighten your child’s Christmas. Conduct your own research for “Santa mail” companies and organizations (rather than following a link to an unknown provider from an email), and look up basics like legitimate contact information, social media accounts, and customer reviews.
When you find one you trust, go ahead and place the order – or better yet, do it yourself and follow these eHow instructions to get your letter postmarked from the North Pole. After all, who knows what your child wants to hear from Santa Claus better than you?