Don’t Fall for the “secret Sister” Scam

It is becoming an annual holiday tradition as the Better Business Bureau has once again issued a Secret Sister gift fraud warning . Stay away from Facebook posts asking to “invite six ladies to participate in the Secret Sister gift exchange” as this is a pyramid scheme that relies on unsuspecting people promoting scams to their friends.

How the scam works

The scheme starts with a compelling invitation to a gift-exchange program, usually via Facebook, but also via email or other social media. Users are promised up to 36 gifts – provided they buy a $ 10 gift (sometimes a bottle of wine) for a stranger online, provide contact details, and hire six more friends to do the same. A typical message might look like this:

Secret Sister Gift Exchange is back! I am looking for six women who would be interested in exchanging gifts before the holiday. You only need to buy one $ 10 gift and send it to your secret sister. In return, you will receive 6-36 gifts. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you information about your secret sister. We could all congratulate you on the mail!

Of course, 36 or even six gifts in exchange for one is too good to be true: like any other pyramid scheme , this scam relies on recruitment to stay afloat. If people stop participating, those further down the chain will only be left with $ 10 spent and empty promises. People tend to be recruited by unsuspecting friends or family, so they often don’t realize they’ve been tricked into joining a scam.

With respect to the contact information you provide, including your email address or home address, this information may be used or sold for future fraud or potential identity theft.

How to avoid this scam

The Better Business Bureau recommends:

  • Ignore it! Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Letters of happiness involving money or valuable items and promises of large profits are illegal. Stop and ask if breaking the law is worth it? Report this to Canadian agencies or the US Postal Inspection Service .
  • Post on social media . If you received an invitation to join the pyramid scheme on social networks, please let us know. You can report these posts to Facebook by clicking in the upper right corner and selecting Report Post or Report Photo.
  • Never share your personal information with strangers . This will leave you vulnerable to identity theft and other types of fraud.
  • Beware of false claims . Some pyramid schemes try to gain your trust by claiming to be legal and government approved. These impostor schemes are false as the government will never support illegal activities. Whatever they say, pyramid schemes will not make you rich. You will receive almost no compensation for your “investment” or gift exchange.

This story was originally published in 2019 and updated on November 23, 2020.

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