The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning residents about a social media gift exchange scheme and a “Letter from Santa” scam that bilks people out of money with the promise of a handwritten letter from the jolly old man.

Scammers are sending unsolicited emails offering to sell custom Santa letters for $19.99. “Don’t click on the link,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a video released Thursday.

The link takes victims to a website for payment.

“In the best case you’re simply out $20. In the worst case, you just shared your credit card information with potential scammers who can now use it for identity theft,” Feuer said.

Another holiday scam is the “Secret Santa” or “Secret Sister” scheme, which involves getting an invitation by email or social media to sign up for a gift exchange game.

The scammers ask for the participants’ name, address and other personal information, as well as the names of a few friends to go on a running list online, Feuer said.

“Next, it’s your turn to send an email or social invitation to send a modest gift, or a bottle of wine, to a stranger, along with their family, friends and contacts,” Feuer said. “The cycle continues, and you’re left buying and shipping gifts to unknown individuals in hopes that the favor is going to be reciprocated, and that you’ll receive the promised number of gifts in return.”

But the victims don’t get any gifts in return.

“Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts,” the city attorney said.

According to the FBI, online shopping and charity-related fraud increase during the holidays.

Tips from the FBI on avoiding holiday scammers include: not clicking on links in unsolicited emails, checking a company for reviews and complaints and being wary of online retailers who sell goods at significantly discounted prices and use a free email service instead of a company email address.

“In what has been an extremely challenging year, we want people to protect themselves from becoming victims this holiday season,” Feuer said.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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