Children aren't just writing letters to Santa the old-fashion way; some are visiting St. Nick online and e-mailing him their wish lists. With over 60 domain names registered in the name of Santa Claus, parents need to be cautious of possible Grinch companies.
"Though most Santa sites operate with the best intentions, it is important for parents to screen websites to ensure children aren't being targeted by unethical individuals or at risk for identity theft," said Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.
BBB offers a checklist to help parents review Santa sites:
- What information does the website request? A legitimate Santa site might ask for names and basic contact information—like home or e-mail addresses—to send correspondence. Be wary of sites requesting superfluous data beyond what is needed to participate.
- Who should manage the account? Most children writing to Santa don't have an e-mail address yet. Setup a temporary e-mail account for Santa correspondence or use a parent's e-mail address. To avoid the risk of unwholesome content, a trusted adult should screen all communications and ensure the site does not contain hyperlinks with inappropriate content.
- Is there a way to reach Santa directly? Somewhere on the site, the company should list its full business name and at least two forms of contact information—such as a phone number, e-mail address and physical address (and "The North Pole" doesn't count). Try calling the company before making purchases.
- Is it free or does it cost a fee? Certain Santa sites claim to be free, while others ask for payment—between $5 and $50. If paying online, make sure the payment page is secure with an "s" in "https" before the web address. Never wire money.
- When can children expect correspondence? Find out when letters should be received—typically by Christmas. Have a plan in case Santa doesn't follow through.
- Where can consumers get information about children's advertising? Check with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) for guidance. Visit www.bbb.org for more tips.