‘Secret Sister Gift Exchange' is illegal scam, BBB warns

Don't fall for 'pyramid scheme' masquerading as gift exchange

By Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor, Carianne Luter - Social Media Producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A holiday gift exchange scam is back and the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers not to participate

The "Secret Sister Gift Exchange" became popular in 2016. The scam, which you may have seen your friends posting about on Facebook, claims that participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one $10 gift. 

The BBB says this is alleged to be an illegal pyramid scheme. 

"According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's gambling and pyramid scheme laws, gift chains like this are illegal and participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud," the BBB says. 

This is how it works. Users are encouraged to invite others to participate in the holiday gift exchange, where they will receive information on where to mail gifts, the BBB says. 

When you say you are interested in participating, you will receive a message. It reads (we didn't fix the typos): 

"Welcome to our secret sister gift exchange!! Much easier than it sounds. Here's how it works: 
1) Copy the secret sister insta that I posted on my instagram, to your own story or page, you can also text people, post on fb, whatever you want .
2) Send one gift valued at atleast $10 to the secret sister that is in the  NUMBER ONE SPACE BELOW. 
3) delete secret sister's name from #1; then move secret sister #2 to that spot. 
4) Add your name to #2 with your info. 
5) Then message this info the other ladies that were interested in your post.

1. Person and their address 
2. another person and their address 

P.S. Don't forget: move #2 (that would be me) up to #1 and put yours at #2. Or gifts won’t happen 😂
Then send this to anyone that responds to your post! Thanks a bunch!!! I'm so excited! Feel free to ask me any questions!"

So what's the catch? There is NO guarantee that you will get the gifts promised to you. Plus, you have to give out personal information such as your home address. Which is why the Better Business Bureau advises against this. 

These types of chain letters are against the law because you're sending money or gifts and promising a substantial exchange. It's considered a form of gambling.

This is what you should look out for: 

"SECRET SISTER is back! I am looking for 6 or more ladies interested in a holiday gift exchange. Doesn’t matter where you live - you are welcome to join. You have to buy one gift valued of at least $10 and send it to your secret sister (Hello, Amazon!) You will then receive 6-36 gifts in return. This is so much fun! I love sending a gift to a complete stranger knowing she will have a bright spot in her day because of what I sent 🎁 Let me know if you’re interested, and I will send you information about your sister. 💃🏽 We could all use some Happy mail right now! Who’s in? Just comment “I’m in.”

This scam has been spotted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Watch out for typos in these or similar posts, those can be signals of a scam, experts say.

The BBB says if you receive a chain letter by mail, email or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, you should:

  • Check with BBB before becoming involved in suspicious and possibly illegal activity.
  • Completely ignore it altogether. Do not give out personal information to anyone.
  • Chain letters via social media and U.S. mail that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain letter or send one, you are breaking the law.
  • Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your “investment.” Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.
  • Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government.

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