Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns: Don’t confuse the Secret Sister gift exchange with Santa. Both seem to come around each year during the holiday season, and both profess to be distributing gifts. While one resides at the top of the North Pole, the other lives atop a pyramid – a pyramid scheme, that is.
The Secret Sister is visiting for a fifth straight year via Facebook. It may approach you as a post shared by a trusted friend or family member. While that person may mean well, they are unwittingly inviting you to participate in a scheme that will not pay off, that may be putting your private information in the hands of a scammer and is, to top it all off, illegal.
Looks fun – what’s the harm?
The “gift exchange” has immediate appeal to some, which may be the secret of its longevity from year to year. Here’s how the initial invitation someone shared with you may read:
“The Secret Sister gift exchange is back! I’m looking for six women who would be interested in a pre-holiday gift exchange. You only have to buy one $10 gift and send it to your secret sister. You will then receive between 6 and 36 gifts in return! Let me know if you’re interested and I will send you the information for your secret sister. We all could use some happy mail!”
The idea plays on the old “something for nothing” (or almost nothing) theme which has lured in victims for centuries. It has the added appeal of seasonal gift-giving. Then, of course, there is the fact that many are getting cabin fever during this time of pandemic and looking for a pleasant diversion. But BBB warns to look elsewhere.
Like all pyramid schemes, this one is based on continuous recruitment of more and more participants. Inevitably, it runs out of steam. Promised gifts do not appear. The personal information you have sent, however, may be a gift to a scammer looking to steal identities. The U.S. Postal Inspector considers pyramid schemes such as this and chain letter schemes to be a form of gambling and illegal.
It’s no secret: simple ways to avoid getting scammed
BBB’s advice for staying out from under the pyramid:
• Ignore that invitation. If it’s from someone you trust, let them know that they have inadvertently shared an illegal scheme. You may be helping others stay scam-free by doing so.
• Report it to Facebook. Select “Report post” or “Report photo” by clicking in the upper righthand corner.
• Never share personal information to strangers online, or any other way. What goes on the web stays on the web. It can be share an infinite number of times.
• False claims are easily made. Promises of multiple gifts for the submission of one gift are fake. Odds are you will gain nothing from your participation in such pyramid schemes. If it seems too good to be true, it is.
• Stick to the traditional way of sending gifts to friends and family. During the pandemic, porch drop-offs can be a fun way to secretly deliver a gift.
• Report this scam and any others to BBB’s Scam Tracker. It helps alert others and prevent further theft.
For answers to any questions about Secret Sister gift exchanges, or other issues, contact your BBB at (800) 856-2417 or visit bbb.org.