Gift exchange scam is back for the holidays

Gift exchange scam is back for the holidays

By Greg Collier

The old joke says Christmas decorations and sales start earlier every year. Just this year, it seemed like stores started getting into the Christmas spirit as soon as Halloween was over. Well, we have our own indicator of the start of the holiday season, and that’s a pyramid scheme disguised as a Christmas gift exchange.

Recently, the Better Business Bureau sounded the alarm on what’s called the Secret Sister gift exchange. If you’re unfamiliar with the Secret Sister scheme, it’s a scam primarily directed at women, evident from its name. The process initiates with a social media post urging participants to include their name and address in a list, accompanied by sending a modestly priced gift. In exchange, they are assured of receiving as many as 36 gifts. Additionally, participants are encouraged to enlist at least six more individuals into the gift exchange.

A clear indicator of the pyramid scheme nature emerges when you’re urged to recruit more participants to progress in the exchange, be it gifts or money. In pyramid schemes, the individuals at the pyramid’s summit enjoy the benefits of the scam, leaving those at the bottom with little to gain and often facing unfavorable outcomes.

Also, by submitting yours and your friends’ addresses, you’re putting yourself and your friends at risk of being the target of identity theft.

One alarming aspect of social media pyramid schemes like this is the potential legal consequences for victims. Pyramid schemes are prohibited in the United States, and even if participants are unknowingly exploited, involvement in recruiting others for the exchange could lead them to legal trouble. It’s crucial for individuals to be aware of the legality surrounding such schemes to avoid unintentional legal complications.

If you receive an online invitation to participate in one of these gift exchanges, it’s advisable to politely decline. However, if the invitation comes from someone close to you, it might be worth explaining the potential risks associated with such exchanges. By doing so, you could potentially save them from encountering significant troubles down the line. Educating those close to you about the perils of these schemes can be a valuable preventive measure.