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Illegal Secret Sister Gift Exchange Still Making Rounds

Twas’ the weeks before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except my computer mouse. The Facebook posts were hung on their newsfeeds with care, in hopes that Secret Sisters soon would appear.

Do you like my 2019 rendition of this famous poem? Well, I’m no poet and I’m also a sucker for tradition, so I certainly like the original by Clement Clarke Moore way better. However, that’s my (feeble?) attempt to draw attention to one very mischievous scam Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific sees pop up every year: The Secret Sister Gift Exchange.

The Secret Sister Gift Exchange quickly became popular in 2015 via Facebook posts promising participants would receive up to 36 gifts, all in exchange for sending one gift to a stranger.

What’s wrong with this? Well, while traditional Secret Santas around the office, with friends or with family can be fun, this online exchange with people you’ve never met is actually a pyramid scheme – and it is illegal. This year, BBB is seeing a newer version of this scam revolving around wine bottle exchanges.

You’ve probably even seen the post yourself: It’s a convincing invitation saying all you must do is provide your name, email and address (perhaps other pieces of personal information) and tag a couple of other friends. This information all gets tacked onto a list that’s full of people on the Internet you don’t know.

Next, you’re “assigned” one person to send a gift. The plan is you’ll get dozens of gifts in return. All you have to do is repost the invitation. The cycle continues but, sadly, nine times out of ten, the gifts you were promised…(wait for it)…never come.

Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of new individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating and refuse to send a gift, the supply dries up and the pyramid implodes.

Pyramid schemes are illegal in the United States – the U.S. Postal Inspection Services considers this a form of gambling.

Beyond that, this scam is dangerous because when you “sign up” you are providing personal information that cybercriminals could easily use down the line for future scams or identity theft.

So, next time you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and come across a post for a Secret Sister gift exchange, ignore it and do not repost. Here are a few other tips from Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific:

  • Report the post: If you see this post on social media, you can report it by clicking on the upper right-hand corner and selecting “report post” or “report photo” so Facebook knows to take it down.
  • Alert BBB: BBB tracks these scams on our Scam Tracker tool. We also share this information with the Federal Trade Commission and local law enforcement, when requested.
  • Spot false claims: Pyramid schemes can be very tricky and try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal. But be warned, no matter what the claim, any scheme that relies on the recruitment of others with no tangible product to sell/receive is a pyramid scheme. And they will not make you rich. It’s better to save that “investment” or gift for someone you actually know this holiday season.
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Written by Danielle Kane

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