Better Business Bureau reminds people that ‘Secret Sister’ gift exchange can result in jail time, fines this holiday season

The Better Business Bureau is reminding people that not all gift exchanges are jolly this holiday season.

The “Secret Sister” gift exchange is considered a pyramid scheme, which is illegal, the BBB said.

“A ‘Secret Santa’ around the office, friends and family can be fun,” the website states. “A gift exchange among online friends you haven’t met, well, that’s a little different and carries a heftier consequence.”

The holiday themed pyramid scheme became popular in 2015. But with more people looking for positivity during the COVID pandemic, it might have a unique spin on it.

“A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online,” the BBB said. “You might see references to receiving ‘happy mail’ or doing the exchange ‘for the good of the sisterhood.’”

The scheme asks participants to provide your name and address and personal information of a few additional friends. Then you send an email or make a social media post inviting people “to send a modest gift or bottle of wine to a stranger along with their friends, family and contacts.”

“The cycle continues and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts for unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return,” the BBB said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.”

This then “leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.”

That’s why it’s considered a form of gambling and “that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud,” the BBB said.

The BBB suggests ignoring it, reporting social media posts about it, not giving your personal information to strangers and be wary of false claims.

“Some pyramid schemes try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government. These imposter schemes are false as the government will never endorse illegal activity,” the BBB said. “No matter what they claim, pyramid schemes will not make you rich.”

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‘Secret Sister’ gift exchange is a scam, Better Business Bureau warns

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Before you go shopping for the holidays, follow these three tips to avoid gift card scams.

USA TODAY

CINCINNATI — It happens every holiday season. People begin posting about a “secret sister” gift exchange campaign, promising participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift.

The Better Business Bureau wants to warn you: It’s a scam. And it’s illegal.

Each year, a different version of the scam pops up.  

The scams are usually targeted toward women and say something like this:

“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 6-36 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 Secret Sister Gift Exchange started circulating on social media in 2015, according to Snopes.com, and promises what it rarely delivers.

“It should be noted that pyramid schemes are illegal in the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. Postal Inspection Services explains that these gift exchanges are considered a form of gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud,” the Better Business Bureau wrote in a press release.

What you should do

The next time someone promises a bounty of gifts or cash by mail, email, or social media, BBB recommends the following:

  • Ignore it. Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Chain letters involving money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. 
  • Report social media posts. Protect others by stopping the post immediately. If you receive an invitation to join a pyramid scheme on social media, report it. You can report these Facebook posts by clicking in the upper righthand corner and selecting “Report post” or “Report photo.”
  • Never give your personal information to strangers. This will open you up to identity theft and other scams.
  • Be wary of false claims. Some pyramid schemes try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government. These imposter schemes are false as the government will never endorse illegal activity. 

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‘Secret Sister’ gift exchange is a scam, the Better Business Bureau warns

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It happens every holiday season. People begin posting about a “secret sister” gift exchange campaign, promising participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift.

The Better Business Bureau wants to warn you: It’s a scam. And it’s illegal.

Each year, a different version of the scam pops up.  

The scams are usually targeted toward women and say something like this:

“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 received 6-36 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 Secret Sister Gift Exchange started circulating on social media in 2015, according to Snopes.com, and promises what it rarely delivers and it’s arriving via social media.

“It should be noted that pyramid schemes are illegal in the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. Postal Inspection Services explains that these gift exchanges are considered a form of gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud,” the Better Business Bureau wrote in a press release.

What you should do

The next time someone promises a bounty of gifts or cash by mail, email, or social media, BBB recommends the following:

  • Ignore it. Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Chain letters involving money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. 
  • Report social media posts. Protect others by stopping the post immediately. If you receive an invitation to join a pyramid scheme on social media, report it. You can report these Facebook posts by clicking in the upper righthand corner and selecting “Report post” or “report photo.”
  • Never give your personal information to strangers. This will open you up to identity theft and other scams.
  • Be wary of false claims. Some pyramid schemes try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government. These imposter schemes are false as the government will never endorse illegal activity. 

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