Beware the ‘Secret Sister Gift Exchange’

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As the saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, it is also illegal.

A modern version of the age-old chain letter or pyramid scheme is making the rounds on social media sites.

It’s called the Secret Sister Gift Exchange, and if you’ve spent any time on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve probably seen posts about it. Here’s the thing: It’s a scam. And it’s illegal.

The SSGE promises that if you buy a $10 gift and mail it to a “secret sister,” you will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

This is one version of the SSGE that I copied from a friend’s Facebook post (I’ve since alerted her about the scam):

Who is interested in a holiday gift exchange? I need 6 (or more) ladies of any age to participate in a secret sister gift exchange. You only have to buy one gift valued at $10 or more and send it to one secret sister and you will receive 36 in return! Comment and let me know if you are interested and I will send you the info! Please don’t ask to participate if you are not willing to spend the $10.

You’re then asked to provide your name and info to a list of “secret sisters” and select six other friends to give and receive gifts.

Chain letters or pyramid schemes that request money or other items of value and promise participants something in return are considered a form of illegal gambling, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service explains.

In addition to being illegal, they’re also a waste of time and money. “Chain letters don’t work because the promise that all participants in a chain letter will be winners is mathematically impossible,” according to the USPS.

It is also against Facebook’s agreement terms to use the social media site “to engage in unlawful multilevel marketing, such as a pyramid scheme,” like the SSGE.

And think about it: Giving out personal information to total strangers leaves you vulnerable to identity theft. As Dale Dixon with the Better Business Bureau explains in a column in the Idaho Statesman:

[s]ome of the posts investigated by the Better Business Bureau are people posting their friends’ and family members’ information, thinking they are signing them up for a fun gift. Yikes. Sharing personal information like names, addresses and phone numbers can leave you and your loved ones vulnerable to a variety of problems.

Here’s another way to look at it: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Have you seen the Secret Sister Gift Exchange posts? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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