With Christmas less than a month away, ’tis the season for scoring great gift deals online!
Unfortunately, that also means it’s the season for scam artists to try to trick consumers into spending money on hoaxes and schemes.
Christmas should be about joy and giving, not about constantly monitoring your bank account for fraud, but sadly, there are lots of exploitative people out there just looking to make a quick buck.
New scams pop up all of the time, like this cruel ploy called the “Grandma Scam” to steal money from elderly folks.
However, the latest popular con going “viral” on Facebook is actually a variation on a scam that’s as old as the hills: the pyramid scheme.
It’s called the Secret Sister Gift Exchange, and it promises that for just a $10 gift, you’ll get 36 gifts in the mail.
This is a case where it’s appropriate to apply the maxim, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Scroll through the exchanges below to learn how the scam works.
Starting around Autumn 2015, posts began circulating on Facebook and other social media trying to lure people into the Secret Sister Gift Exchange.
These posts may vary slightly, but they’re often pegged to the holidays, and usually read:
“Who is interested in a holiday gift exchange?
It doesn’t matter where you live, you are welcome to join! I need 6 ladies to participate in a secret sister gift exchange.
You only have to buy one gift valued $10 and send it to one secret sister, and you will receive 36 in return.
Comment that you’re interested, and I’ll send you the details. Please don’t participate if you don’t want to spend $10.
Tis the Season!”
It certainly sounds great, which is why it’s not too surprising that ‘Secret Sister’ posts have been shared thousands of times in the past year.
Now that it’s the Christmas season again, the viral posts are getting a second wind, and more and more women (and men) are falling for the idea that they can get 36 presents for the price of one.
If it’s sounds a little bit like those old chain letter gift schemes that used to go through the mail, it’s for good reason: it’s the same exact thing.
You may remember getting letters in the mail with a list of names.
You were asked to send $10 to the name at the top of the list, and then make a certain number of copies of the list.
Then, you’d remove the first name on the list (the one you sent to) and add your own name to the bottom.
You’d send the list to a bunch of friends to repeat the process, until eventually, your name would be at the top of the list and you’d get a massive return on your investment.
Unfortunately, this is a simple pyramid scheme, meaning that the person at the top is likely to make plenty of money, and the people who make up the next few rungs will likely get their fair share too.
But as more and more people participate in the scheme, the people at the bottom are left fronting money that’s unlikely to ever get to them.
The gift exchange lists may also be manipulated so that one person ends up at the “top” of the list over and over again.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Postal Service made these chains illegal many years ago.
The Secret Sister scam works exactly same way and has already been revealed as a scam by Snopes; some people close to the top of the “pyramid” might get 36 gifts or more, but the further the message spreads, the more unlikely you are to get your own gifts.
Fortunately, it’s not the end of the world if you get taken in: it’s just $10, rather than the thousands of dollars employed in bigger pyramid schemes.
Still, it’s not nice to think that your Christmas spirit is being exploited by some greedy person that started the chain.
What’s worse is that lots of people will receive at least a few gifts from the “Secret Sisters” on their list, which makes the scam seem more legitimate.
These few packages just hide the fact that most people will get only a few gifts (if any) rather than the promised 36.
Above, you can see a haul that one women got after a fellow participant sent along her one gift.
Almost all of the people participating in the scam are likely to be very nice folks who just wanted to pass on the message of joy and good cheer, and they really want to send gifts to make people happy.
Unfortunately, just a few scam artists are at the top of the pyramid, raking in almost all of the gifts.
Even worse, like the earlier chain letters, all variations of this scam are illegal. You can participate with the very best holiday intentions, but you could still end up in serious trouble for accidentally “scamming” your Facebook friends.
If you think this scam is mean and an exploitation of Christmas spirit, please SHARE to keep other folks from feeding the greedy scammers, and ending up taking the blame!