Scam Alert: Secret Sister Gift Exchange is illegal, says BBB

It's the holiday season but it's also the time of year to keep your guard up against scammers who are trying to get their hands on your money.

A known pyramid scheme called the Secret Sister Gift Exchange has been circulating on social media sites, particularly on Facebook, since 2015, says the Better Business Bureau.

According to the BBB, the Secret Sister posts claim that participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending out one gift valued at $10.

The BBB says users are encouraged to invite others to participate in the holiday gift exchange, where they will receive information on where to mail gifts.

"The people at the top of the "pyramid" benefit most and might actually receive the items promised," said the U.S. Postal Inspection Service who have warned against becoming involved in the scheme. "However, for everyone to receive what they've been promised, each layer of the pyramid must attract new recruits. It's mathematically impossible to sustain."


If a consumer purchases one gift for a stranger, she will receive as many as 36 gifts in return.

This type of gift exchange may seem reasonable enough in theory: six friends invite six more friends, who all send gifts to the participant in spot 1 before that person’s named is removed.

This process repeats itself with the participant in the 2 spot, and so on.

Of course, starting this gift exchange comes with a catch – you need to disclose your personal information, such as your home address.

SOURCE: Better Business Bureau

Fraudulent pyramid schemes typically violate the Lottery Statute, says the USPIS. Schemes like the Secret Sister Gift Exchange are illegal gambling and participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud, explains the BBB.

If you receive a chain letter by mail, email, or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, ignore it, says the BBB. You can also report the post to Facebook by clicking on the three little dots in the upper right corner of the post.

Find out more on the Secret Sister Gift Exchange from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Better Business Bureau.