COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A “Secret Santa” around the office, friends and family can be fun, but an online “gift exchange” with strangers is not only illegal, it could also cost you tons of money.
The “Secret Sister” gift exchange is a pyramid scheme scam that is once again making the rounds on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and more. The concept promises participants up to 36 gifts, in exchange for sending one gift of $10. When signing up, the organizer will ask personal information such as a mailing address or an email and with just a few pieces of information, “cyber thieves could expose you to future scams or commit identity theft,” according to the Better Business Bureau.
The scam post can take many forms, sometimes asking for gifts, sometimes asking for a “wine" or “holiday cheer” exchange or using the phrase “happy mail.”
“The US 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,” according to their website.
The next time someone promises a bounty of gifts or cash by mail, email, or social media, BBB, according to their website, recommends the following:
- Ignore it! Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Stop and ask, is it worth breaking the law? Report it instead to Canadian agencies or to the U.S. Postal inspection Services.
- Report social media posts. If you receive an invitation to join a pyramid scheme on social media, report it.
- 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. No matter what they claim, pyramid schemes will not make you rich. You will receive little to no money back on your “investment” or gift exchange.