The Secret Sister scam is spreading on Facebook despite warnings from organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Snopes. It might sound like a great idea that sets you up to get 36 gifts in exchange for sending only one, but it’s really just the newest incarnation of the old chain letter scam.
On its surface, the Secret Sister gift exchange sounds appealing, especially in this Christmas season when we all appreciate a present…or two…or 36. However, if you’re familiar with old-style chain letters that used to come via the U.S. Mail, you’ll recognize the scam right away. You get a list of people and send a gift with a minimum value of $10 to the first person on the list, then add your name to the bottom and send it out to six more potential victims via Facebook.
This seems like it could work until you think about the number of participants needed to sustain the gift exchange. By the time you get to the 11th level, you’d need the entire population of the United States participating or it would collapse. Of course, the collapse happens long before then. The only people to get any gifts at all are typically those at the top of the pyramid. The BBB warns that you also put yourself at risk by giving out your home address to strangers. You also have no control over whether participants are playing by the rules or whether your name could ever even reach the top of the list.
Just like old-school chain letters, the Secret Sister scam is illegal according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Unfortunately, it’s spreading much faster this holiday season because of its use of Facebook rather than traditional mail or email. If it winds up on your timeline, delete it and let the poster know that she’s spreading an illegal scam.