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‘Secret Sister Gift Exchange’ scam returns to Facebook timelines

Better Business Bureau warns of illegal pyramid scheme disguised as gift exchange

ROANOKE, Va. – You may have already seen it in your email or Facebook timeline, but the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange” scam is back.

This year is unique because gift exchanges and Secret Santa groups are online now instead of in-person and this scam can easily be mistaken for the real thing.

This is what the posts look like.

This is an example of an invite to join the Secret Sister Gift Exchange, a pyramid scheme illegal in the U.S. (Copyright 2020 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

The status welcomes you to join the Secret Sister Gift Exchange where you buy a $10 or more gift and receive 6-36 gifts in return.

Julie Wheeler at Better Business Bureau of Western Virginia said that this is actually not a gift exchange, but a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.

“All these types of scams have the piece of it where they’re trying to get you to send something to a stranger who is going to benefit from it, but they’re also asking you for personal information and providing personal information on yourself, as well as your friends is just setting everybody up for identity theft,” said Wheeler.

According to Wheeler, the Secret Sister Gift Exchange scam has been around since 2015 and returns every year during the holidays. She said it’s simple for people to fall victim because friends they trust are sharing the posts which gives the illusion that there is no scam.

If you see a post, here’s what the BBB recommends you do:

  • Ignore it! Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Chain letters involving money or valuable items and promise significant returns are illegal. Stop and ask, is it worth breaking the law? Report it 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. You can report these Facebook posts by clicking in the upper-righthand corner and selecting “Report post” or “Report Photo.”
  • Never give 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 support illegal activity. 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.

Wheeler said you can still do your own virtual gift exchange but make sure you know everyone in the group and there is a limit to the size of the group.

About the Author:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.