October 30th, 2020

Avoid ‘Secret Sister’ gift exchange

By Submitted Article on December 12, 2019.

Digital exchange may seem like fun but it’s actually illegal



A “Secret Santa” around the office or with friends and family can be fun. A “Secret Sister” gift exchange among online friends you haven’t met, well, that’s a little different and carries a heftier consequence. These gift exchanges, while they look like innocent fun, are really pyramid schemes – and are illegal.

The “Secret Sister” gift exchange campaign quickly became popular in 2015 through Facebook. The scheme starts with a convincing invitation, either by email or social media, to sign up for what seems like a great, fun program. All you must do is provide your name and address and personal information of a few additional friends, and tack this information onto a list that’s already started of people you’ve never met on the internet.

Next, it’s your turn to send an email or social media invitation to send a modest gift 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 favour is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.

There is another layer of danger to participating in these schemes. When signing up, the alleged campaign organizer is asking for personal information such as a mailing address or an email. With just a few pieces of information, cyber thieves could expose you to future scams or commit identity theft.

The next time someone promises a bounty of gifts or cash by mail, email or social media, BBB recommends the following: Ignore it! Keep in mind that pyramid schemes are international. Chain letters involving money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. Stop and ask, is it worth breaking the law? Report it instead to Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Report social media posts. If you receive an invitation to join a pyramid scheme on social media, report it. You can report these Facebook posts by clicking in the upper right-hand corner and selecting “report post” or “report photo.”

Never give your personal information to strangers. This will open you up to identity theft and other scams.

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.

No matter what they claim, pyramid schemes will not make you rich. You will receive little to no money back on your “investment” or gift exchange.

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