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 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seeing a newer version of this scam revolving around wine bottle exchanges.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
- 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.