No, No, No! The Santa Scam to Avoid This Holiday Season
The holiday season is a time when we are especially prone to donating to a good cause, and it is also a time when scam artists come out of the woodwork to prey on our generosity. This year a different kind of scam plays off everyone's favorite jolly old elf.
The scam starts when you receive an unsolicited email encouraging you to purchase a "handwritten letter from Santa to your child" with an "official" nice-list certification. Free shipping is included -- but only if you act within the next hour.
The cost is $19.99, and you might assume that the scam is that you pay for a letter that never arrives. That is correct. But what also happens is that within minutes, the credit card number and personal information that you provide is used to make fraudulent purchases. And if you use a debit card, chances are your bank account will be cleaned out before the end of the day.
A less destructive version doesn't need a credit card but does require that you provide personal information that is sold to spammers and telemarketers.
Stay on the Nice List
Of course, not every offer for a message from Santa is a scam. Sites like Portable North Pole have been providing personalized video greetings from Santa for years –- for free and without the need to give a credit card number or personal information.
The Better Business Bureau offers these guidelines for avoiding online scams:
- Ignore calls for immediate action. Many scams -- including the one above -- try to create a sense of urgency to get you to act before you think. 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 hyperlinked 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. When in doubt, confirm that the there is a physical address and phone number before you order.
- 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.
The best way to make sure you are donating to a legitimate charity is to do it in person at one of its offices or to call the charity and ask for a contributor's package to be mailed to you.
The Lund Loop is a free once-weekly curated slice of what I am writing, reading and hearing about in finance, tech, music, pop culture, humor and the good life. But not sports or knitting ... ever!