The Better Business Bureau is reminding people that not all gift exchanges are jolly this holiday season.
The “Secret Sister” gift exchange is considered a pyramid scheme, which is illegal, the BBB said.
“A ‘Secret Santa’ around the office, friends and family can be fun,” the website states. “A gift exchange among online friends you haven’t met, well, that’s a little different and carries a heftier consequence.”
The holiday themed pyramid scheme became popular in 2015. But with more people looking for positivity during the COVID pandemic, it might have a unique spin on it.
“A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online,” the BBB said. “You might see references to receiving ‘happy mail’ or doing the exchange ‘for the good of the sisterhood.’”
The scheme asks participants to provide your name and address and personal information of a few additional friends. Then you send an email or make a social media post inviting people “to send a modest gift or bottle of wine to a stranger along with their friends, family and contacts.”
“The cycle continues and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts for unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return,” the BBB said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.”
This then “leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.”
That’s why it’s considered a form of gambling and “that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud,” the BBB said.
The BBB suggests ignoring it, reporting social media posts about it, not giving your personal information to strangers and be wary of false claims.
“Some pyramid schemes try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government. These imposter schemes are false as the government will never endorse illegal activity,” the BBB said. “No matter what they claim, pyramid schemes will not make you rich.”