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Watch Out for This 'Secret Sister Gift Exchange' — It's a Scam

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With the holiday season in full swing, scammers are popping up everywhere and hoping to take advantage of people's giving, generous nature this time of year. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reminding people about the "Secret Sister Gift Exchange," which is actually an illegal pyramid scheme. Working somewhat like a Secret Santa gift exchange, the scam — which is circulating through several social media sites — claims that participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one $10 gift. Well, what was it that our mothers always told us? If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.


(Photo Credit: Facebook)


Secret Wine Bottle Exchange

Instead of taking mom's advice, victims are falling for this scam, which has been around since 2015, according to the BBB. As a result of the scam's success a new ploy — the "Secret Wine Bottle Exchange" — is also making its rounds on Facebook. Like the Secret Sister Gift Exchange (don't you just love how these scammers are targeting women?), this wine scam promises participants up to 36 bottles of wine in exchange for just one $15 purchase. So, if you see a Facebook post like this on your feed, report it immediately. It's a pyramid scheme — and it's illegal.


(Photo Credit: Facebook)


We're sorry to put you in a Scrooge-like mood, but posts like these can also be dangerous. "The U.S. Postal Inspection Services says that gift exchanges are illegal gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud. Pyramid schemes are illegal, either by mail or on social media, if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate," the BBB said in a statement.

There are also some pretty strict laws about sending alcohol in the mail. In fact, USPS doesn't allow it, and both FedEx and UPS require packages containing alcohol to be clearly labeled. If you're randomly sending bottles of wine to strangers on Facebook, there's no way to truly know if they're of age. And why would you want to give strangers your mailing address, anyway? Seems like an all-around bad deal to us.

3 Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams, According to the BBB

If you receive any kind of chain letter, either by mail or social media (especially one that involves money and/or gifts), the BBB recommends: 

1. Check with the BBB first. If you think something sounds a little fishy, always do your homework before participating. 

2. Ignore it. If there's a scam circulating the internet, the best thing you can do is steer clear. Don't give out personal information to anyone, for any reason.

3. Be wary of any offers or chain letters that say they're endorsed by the government. Most scams will claim to be legitimate; don't let them fool you.

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