Yes, Virginia, the Santa letter website is a scam

Santa Claus is famously jolly, but online offers aimed at parents to get a "handwritten letter from Santa to your child" are anything but. The pitch is a scam, the Better Business Bureau warns.

The ruse starts with an email, offering an opportunity to get handwritten letter from Santa sent to your kid for $19.99. Then, according to the BBB, you click on a link that takes you to the website where you could place your order.

"The site promises the special package contains an 'official' nice-list certification and customized letter from Santa," the warning said. "There's even a free shipping special that ends (not coincidentally) in just a few hours."

After the person enters payment information, it's all downhill from there. You can expect to lose the $19.95, and you've just given the crooks your credit card and billing information. There's a lot they can do with that, from credit card fraud to identity theft.

The BBB noted there are other versions of the Santa letter scam, including one that doesn't seek payment, but does collect a lot of personal information.

Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau about how to recognize and avoid such scams:

  • Beware of pressure to act right away. The thieves want you to act before you have a chance to think.
  • Hold your mouse over a hyperlink before you click on it to see the site it's taking you to.
  • Do some research before you do business online. Be sure you're dealing with a legitimate business.
  • If you enter credit card information online, be sure you're using a secure connection and the URL begins with "HTTPS."
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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.