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Facebook scrollers beware: 'Secret Sister' gift exchange scams are back for the 2020 holiday season

Posted at 1:44 PM, Nov 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 13:46:53-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Five years after they first became popular on Facebook, the "Secret Sister" gift exchange posts have returned, and the Better Business Bureau is taking notice.

What's a Secret Sister scam?
The typical "Secret Sister" post starts with an invitation on social media to get involved with a gift exchange. According to the Better Business Bureau, the posts often mention how nice it is to receive "happy mail," or participating in the exhange for "the good of the sisterhood." Users are asked to provide their name and address, and information about a few friends. Then, the user is asked to pass the message along by posting the same invitation on their own social media account or sending an email.

It sounds like a fun way to spread the holiday spirit with strangers, however, the "exchange" is actually a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes rely on recruiting others-- in this case, gift-givers-- in order to keep the scam afloat. Early sign-ons may actually receive some return, but many victims end up buying and shipping gifts to strangers without receiving the number of gifts promised in return. Some Secret Sister scams promise that participants will receive up to 36 gifts.

What if I don't care if I don't receive gifts?
On top of running the risk of never receiving promised gifts, some involvement in Secret Sister scams could be considered a crime. Pyramid schemes are illegal in the United States, and the United States Postal Service considers this form of gift exchange to be a kind of gambling.

What should I do if I'm tagged in a Secret Sister scam?
The most simple solution is to ignore it. If you want to make sure others don't fall victim, you can also report a post you think is a Secret Scam, either to Facebook or directly to the U.S. Postal Inspection Services. Whether you choose to report it or not, the Better Business Bureau says it's important to never give personal information like your address to strangers.

Find more information on popular scams here.