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BBB warns Oklahomans about “Secret Sister Gift Exchange”

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OKLAHOMA – The Better Business Bureau is warning Oklahomans about the online “Secret Sister Gift Exchange” that is circulating on Facebook.

According to the Better Business Bureau® Serving Central Oklahoma, the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange” is the latest pyramid scheme this holiday season.

The exchange has been circulating on social media sites and claims that participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift valued at $10.

One variation of the Secret Sister Gift Exchange that is circulating Facebook

One variation of the Secret Sister Gift Exchange that is circulating Facebook

“Pyramid and chain mail schemes like this involve exchanging money, gifts, or other items of value under the promise of an exponential return to participants. These types of activities are definitely illegal,“ said Kitt Letcher, President and CEO of BBB. “If you are looking to get in the holiday spirit and participate in a holiday gift exchange, this is certainly not the way to do it.”

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

One variation of the Secret Sister Gift Exchange that is circulating Facebook

One variation of the Secret Sister Gift Exchange that is circulating Facebook

While gift exchanges grow in popularity during the holiday season, BBB advises consumers to use caution when choosing one to participate in.

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s gambling and pyramid scheme laws, gift chains like this are illegal and participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud.

Here is how this scheme works: 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.

Experts say this is a typical pyramid scheme.

This is on Facebook instead of the old way of using letters because social media allows it to spread a lot faster.

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.

Officials say that whether you receive a chain letter by mail, email or social media — especially one that involves money or gifts—Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission want to remind you that:

  • Start With Trust®. Check with BBB before becoming involved in suspicious and possibly illegal activity.
  • To avoid this scam, the best thing to do is completely ignore it altogether. Do not give out personal information to anyone.
  • Chain letters via social media and U.S. mail that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain letter or send one, you are breaking the law.
  • Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your “investment.” Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.
  • Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government.