A Facebook post that resurfaces around the holiday season has been declared as an illegal scam, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The post discusses the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange,” where participants are instructed to send one gift in order to receive up to 36 gifts in return. However, it’s easy to see that the math just doesn’t add up.
“These gift exchanges, while they look like innocent fun, are really pyramid schemes – and are considered illegal,” the BBB warns.
The gift exchange first became popular in 2015. Users were encouraged to invite others to participate in the exchange and were told that they would receive information on where to send the gifts.
Eventually, participants will be instructed to send an email or social media invitation to send a modest gift 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. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen,” says the BBB.
In reality, the scam relies on recruitments to remain afloat. When people stop participating, the supply of gifts dwindles, letting down countless people who were expecting gifts.
But it doesn’t end there: the information you provide during the exchange can easily end up in the hands of cyber thieves.
“When signing up, the alleged campaign organizer is asking for personal information such as a mailing address or an email,” says the BBB. “With just a few pieces of information, cyber thieves could expose you to future scams or commit identity theft.”
The BBB recommends keeping the following tips in mind should you receive an invitation to participate in an online gift exchange with people you don’t know:
- Ignore it. Pyramid schemes are illegal in the United States and Canada.
- Report social media posts inviting users to participate in the gift exchange.
- Avoid giving out personal identifying information to strangers.
- Be aware of false claims. Even invitations that claim to be legal and endorsed by the government are false, as the government will never endorse illegal activity.
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