Those "Secret Sister" Gift Exchanges Are Actually Illegal

Every holiday season, someone promotes a "Secret Sister" gift exchange, promising many gifts for sending one. But is it actually a scam?

Sara Belcher - Author

Nov. 18 2020, Published 9:06 p.m. ET

is secret sister on facebook a scam
Source: istock

With countless pyramid schemes dominating Facebook lately, sometimes logging onto the site can be a tricky battle of dodging "boss babes" trying to get you to participate in often predatory schemes. And the holiday season is no exception to this.

While you might be able to dodge many of the messages from long-lost friends from high school, many find themselves lured into a "Secret Sister" gift exchange — but is it a scam?

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Is the "Secret Sister" gift exchange a scam?

Every year around the holiday season, at least one of your Facebook friends has likely made a post advertising a "Secret Sister" gift exchange of sorts. Even if it doesn't go by this name, the general format of these gift exchanges is the same.

Someone makes a post promising that by sending one gift, you'll receive a multitude of packages in return. Sometimes these gift exchanges have themes, like books or beauty products, but the promise behind them is generally the same.

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By sending out a gift to a stranger, usually of no more than $20, it's promised that you'll receive your money's worth and then some as your mailing address is shared with those who shared your post.

But while the premise seems promising, there's actually no guarantee that everyone who participates will receive more gifts than they send. This idea only works if the gift exchanging continues in an endless stream, though at some point, it'll fizzle out, leaving many people without gifts.

While it's possible that you might know someone who lucked out and did receive many gifts after sending one of their own, the likelihood of everyone who participates receiving more than they give is impossible. In a sense, it's a sort of pyramid scheme, where those who originated the thread benefit the most while those at the end aren't so lucky.

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Of course, participate in these gift exchanges at your own discretion, but if you want a fairer way to exchange gifts with friends, doing so in a private Secret Santa, White Elephant, or other structured gifting group is more likely to benefit the many instead of the few.

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The Better Business Bureau warns that such exchanges are actually illegal.

While participating in this exchange may seem harmless, the Better Business Bureau actually categorizes exchanges like this one as a pyramid scheme and warns that participating in such things could result in a fine.

Of course, for this to happen, someone would have to report the exchange, but if you want an excuse to steer clear of partaking in one this year, there's no better excuse than this.

"It should be noted that pyramid schemes are illegal in the U.S. and Canada," the BBB said in response to the Secret Sister gift exchange, according to USA Today. "The U.S. Postal Inspection Services explains that these gift exchanges are considered a form of gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud."

If you're worried about telling Aunt Kelly why you can't participate, just send her this article — we'll do it for you.

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