Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- The "Secret Sister" gift exchange is circulating online again.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) calls it an illegal pyramid scheme in holiday wrapping.
While the Secret Sister gift exchange may sound appealing, the BBB is warning you'll be falling for a scam.
How it works
Secret Sister starts with an invite, either via e-mail or social media, promising you up to 36 gifts on your doorstep in exchange for sending one worth at least $10.
All you have to do is give your name, address and personal information of a few additional friends. It will then be added to an existing gift exchange list made up of people you may not know.
Then, it's your turn to send an invite asking your friends and family to join.
The process continues and you're left buying and shipping gifts for people in hopes the favor is returned when you receive dozens of gifts in the mail.
Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau says this doesn't always happen.
To get up to 36 gifts, officials say this pyramid scheme relies on the recruitment of others to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in this gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, leaving potentially hundreds disappointed when they're left empty handed.
To be fair, participants may get a few gifts in the mail. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says the best way to avoid disappointment is to dodge this pyramid scheme all together.
How to respond
The BBB says the next time someone promises you a pile of gifts or cash by mail, email or social media:
- 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 agencies or to the U.S. Postal inspection Services.
- 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 righthand 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.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says these gift exchanges are also considered a form of gambling.
Penalties for participating could include jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud.