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BBB issues warning about social media gift exchange scams

Many on social media have come to realize no one is giving away a free truck, trip, coupon, gift card or other (insert ‘too good to be true’ offer here) but in past holiday seasons a couple scams have come up that have and continue to draw the attention of many including the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The “Secret Sister Gift Exchange” and “Secret Wine Bottle Exchange” are again popping up on Facebook in anticipation of the holiday season, promising participants a bounty of up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending 1.

They sound like fun Secret Santa-like gift exchanges and the invites often come from a friend or family member, but they are often pyramid schemes just like the get-rich quick chain letters that existed long before the internet.

Here’s an example social media message provided by the BBB.

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Anyone interested in a holiday gift exchange?! It doesn’t matter where you live, you are welcome to join. I need 6 (or more!!) ladies of any age to participate in a secret sister gift . You only have to buy ONE gift valued at $10 or more and send it to ONE secret sister. Afterwards, and you will receive 6-36 gifts in return!! It all depends how many ladies join. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you the information! ? Please don’t ask to participate if you’re not going to follow through with sending one $10 gift. TIS THE SEASON! Comment below if you’re in & I’ll send you the details via fb messenger – if they are confusing at all, please let me know!! My friend did this last year and received so many cute gifts!! It was exciting for her to receive packages in her mailbox!! If I didn’t tag you, it doesn’t mean you can’t participate. I just did a quick run through. This will be super fun!!! Thank you

According to, the Secret Sister Gift Exchange first surfaced in 2015 and the “wine exchange” scheme in 2016. The participants are asked to provide information about what gifts they’d like and an address to send them to.

And, as Snopes points out, “According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, gift chains aren’t just mathematically impossible; they’re also illegal.” According to the US Postal Inspection Service,

Chain letters are a form of gambling, and sending them through the mail (or delivering them in person or by computer, but mailing money to participate) violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute. (Chain letters that ask for items of minor value, like picture postcards or recipes, may be mailed, since such items are not things of value within the meaning of the law.)

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The BBB warns pyramid schemes are considered illegal. “Pyramid schemes are illegal either by mail or on social media if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizable return for those who participate,” the BBB said on its website.

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