Tis the season...for scammers. Be wary this Christmas, because not everyone's as giving as they seem on social media.
We've warned you before about all kinds of scams that land the people behind them on the naughty list, but this might be the worst one yet, because it preys on your Christmas spirit.
By now you've probably seen social media posts or groups called the Secret Sister Gift Exchange. The promises these posts make sound too good to be true: buy a $10 gift for the person at the top of the list, share the post, and soon you'll get 36 gifts of your own in the mail.
Sadly, this is just a high-tech version of an old chain letter pyramid scheme, and it's been circulating on social media websites since at least 2015.
The scam has proved so popular that the Better Business Bureau has stepped in, warning customers not to believe everything they read online. The organization says you won't just be disappointed by the scam, you could actually wind up in big trouble with the law.
Thankfully, these scams are easy to recognize and avoid if you know what to look for.
The Secret Sister scam almost always uses the same message, but sometimes there are slight differences.
The earliest version of the scheme asked for cash (a $5 bill) before changing to Christmas gifts. Last year, other versions asked people to send wine or books instead of presents, but the scam is still the same.
Because of the nature of the scheme - where one person invites six friends and so on forever - you're almost guaranteed to spend more buying and mailing your gift than you will get back. And even mailing those gifts can get you into big trouble.
Organizing a chain letter scheme is illegal, and so is mailing anything as a part of one, because it's actually considered a form of gambling. Even if it begins with a social media post, any pyramid scheme that uses the mail at any point could get you into trouble.
The Better Business Bureau recommends you handle the scam like this:
- Ignore any posts you see about gift exchanges on social media, and don't give out any personal information.
- Remember that chain letter scams are illegal, and you could get in trouble for participating in one.
- Remember you will almost certainly get nothing back on your "investment."
- Despite what some posts say, these chain letter schemes are never endorsed by the government or the USPS.
Stay safe this holiday season!
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