There's a good chance that you've come across one of the many "secret santa gift exchange" posts on Facebook in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This viral gift chain, which has targeted "secret sisters" and "secret wine lovers" on Facebook every holiday season since 2015, is a clear example of a pyramid scheme, according to the Better Business Bureau.
There are a few different versions of the "secret sister gift exchange" scam circulating right now: One claims that if you buy a $10 gift and send it to a "secret sister," you will receive anywhere from six to 36 in return by recruiting more people to participate. There's another that says if you buy one bottle of wine that's $15 or more and send it to one "secret wine lover," you will get anywhere from six to 36 bottles of wine in return. The posts often go so far as to say that it's important to do the exchange "for the good of the sisterhood."
"Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts," the Better Business Bureau recently stated. To note: Pyramid schemes are illegal in the United States and Canada.
That's right — gift chains actually break the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's gambling and pyramid scheme laws. Not only does participating mean you're committing mail fraud, but it also puts your personal information — like your home address — at risk for identity theft.
If you see this message floating around your newsfeed, you should ignore it to prevent the spread of this scam. Or better yet, report it to Facebook immediately by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner of the post, checking "Find support or report post."
The potential to receive 36 gifts may sound promising, but know this: The chances that you actually receive that many, if any at all, is in fact "mathematically impossible," according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's statement on chain letters. That's because not everyone who participates follows through on sending gifts to the person at the top of the list, or they may even use different names and addresses to put themselves down multiple times. (It's called a pyramid scheme for a reason!)
This year, you're better off not taking the risk and exchanging gifts the traditional – and thoughtful — way with people you actually know.
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