Why you should avoid the ‘Secret Sister Gift Exchange’ on social media

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Posted at 5:42 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 12:45:10-05

(WECT) - As we head into the holiday season, be aware of potential scams.

The "Secret Sister Gift Exchange" is a popular scheme making its way around social media, but the Better Business Bureau warns to steer clear of this "illegal scam."

The exchange claims participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift valued at $10. Users are then encouraged to invite others to participate.

The scam is targeted towards women and sounds something like this:

🎁💃🏽🎄This is my first year participating in SECRET SISTER. I am looking for 6 or more ladies interested in a holiday gift exchange. Doesn’t matter where you live - you are welcome to join. You have to buy one gift valued of at least $10 and send it to your secret sis. (Hello, Amazon!) you will then receive 6-36 gifts in return. This is so much fun! I loved sending a gift to a complete stranger knowing that she might have a brighter day and a sweet surprise because of what I sent 🎁 Let me know if you’re interested, and I will send you information about your sister. 💃🏽We could all use some happy mail! Who’s in? Just comment “I’m in”🎄

While this type of gift exchange may seem reasonable enough in theory, there are several reason to avoid participating:

  1. The BBB warns this is a typical pyramid scheme that is considered illegal. “Pyramid schemes are illegal either by mail or on social media if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate,” the BBB said on its website.
  2. Chances are you won’t receive any gifts. Basically, the first people to join the gift exchange may end up with a gift, but that’s about it. 
  3. You’re giving away personal information, like your address, that could be used by criminals in the future. 

According to, the Secret Sister Gift Exchange launched in 2015 and another similar scheme surfaced in 2016 as a “wine exchange.” Same idea, same result.

If you receive a chain letter by mail, email or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, Better Business Bureau recommends:

  • Start With Trust®. Check with BBB before becoming involved in suspicious and possibly illegal activity.
  • To avoid this scam, the best thing to do is completely ignore it altogether. Do not give out personal information to anyone.
  • Chain letters via social media and U.S. mail that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain letter or send one, you are breaking the law.
  • Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your “investment.” Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.
  • Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government.

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