Just in time for Christmas, the Santa Scam is coming to town — if it hasn’t arrived at your home already.
How the scam works
What it looks like
According to a warning from Consumer Reports, the Santa scam is targeting people who may be looking for last-minute Christmas surprises for children (or anyone, really).
The scam is sent via email and claims to offer a ‘handwritten letter from Santa to your child’ or a personalized Christmas phone call — for a small fee. But since there are legitimate companies out there that offer these types of services, it may be difficult for consumers to tell which offers are real and which ones are actually scams.
How it works
When you click on the link in the email, it takes you to a website that offers a special package deal — maybe a custom letter from Santa and an ‘official certification’ that the recipient is on the ‘nice’ list this year. The offer may also claim that you need to put your order in quickly in order to get the deal.
So what happens if you fall for the scam?
If you’re lucky, the thief only steals the money you paid for the deal you ‘ordered’ (and obviously no letter or phone call will ever arrive). But even worse, since the scammers now have your credit card information, they can do a lot more damage to your wallet than just robbing you of that original amount.
Another way the scam works is it asks you for enough personal information that the thieves can then use to sell to other scammers.
How to protect yourself
Before you hand over your credit card information, you need to do a little research to make sure the advertised offer in the email wasn’t sent by a thief.
Here are some tips to avoid this scam and other email scams like it:
Ignore the urgency: Make sure you can verify the legitimacy of the offer before handing over any personal information. Scams will often try to get you to act before thinking twice by creating a sense of urgency. Don’t fall for it!
Check the source before clicking any link: This is especially important for any email you receive that you weren’t expecting! Scammers often make the source of the email look legitimate, but if you hover your mouse over the email link, you can see the real destination on the lower left corner of your email screen.
Confirm the contact information: Check to see if you can find a real address and/or phone number from the company, and then check to see if the address is in fact a real place. You can also check up on a company by doing an online search with the Better Business Bureau.
Make sure the payment process is done through a secure connection: Before you enter your credit card information, confirm that the URL starts with “https”—the “s” stands for “secure”—and has a lock icon in the browser bar.
Check for poor grammar and spelling: Both in the email and on the website. Typos and bad grammar are a big warning sign that it’s a scam!