Christmas Gift Exchange Sweeps Social Media But Is Actually Scam Spreading Across Country

Nov 22, 2020 by apost team

Christmas should be a time for kindness and generosity, but often the season of goodwill can sadly be exploited, and those most vulnerable are most prone to the exploitation. Christmas gift exchange scams are beginning to become an annually recurring theme for the holiday season, with certain scams surfacing on Facebook, targeting women with the premise that they will get a lot out of taking part. We take a look at why these scams are so risky.

Be sure to reach the end of this article to see the full video.

One type of scam in particular, which goes by the name of "secret sister" is causing a great deal of concern because at face value it appears to be an innocent way to exchange gifts, but it is actually illegal. According to the Better Business Bureau, this type of gift scam became popular in 2015 through Facebook posts. Every time Christmas comes round again, a new version of the scheme pops up.

The reason these gift exchanges are illegal is that in reality, they function like a pyramid scheme. They only work if someone at the bottom of the chain is being taken advantage of.

The aim is that one person will post on Facebook asking if their friends want to take part in a gift exchange. If the friends answer yes, they will be told they will need to send one gift out, but in return, they will receive a total of 36 gifts back! The people who you will receive the gifts from are completely anonymous, hence the name "secret sisters." For a lot of people, the thought of receiving 36 gifts and only needing to give one feels like a no-brainer.

The exchange encourages people, in particular women, to sign up for this gift swap. The private Facebook groups seem appealing, and the nature of the pay-it-forward gesture is something everyone feels is part of the holiday season.

The gifts also feel easily accessible to everyone. According to the Independent, the gifts can be chosen entirely by the person, and they are meant to be low-cost so the majority of people can afford to take part. A lot of the posts circulating say the maximum amount of money to spend on a gift should be $10. It's very easy to buy a bottle of wine, a vase for flowers, or a writing journal for this amount, so the task seems easy enough.

Gift exchanges in the form of a pyramid scheme will only ever benefit people at the top of the list. The people at the bottom of the list will need to lose out, for the people higher up to win.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service issued a statement on Facebook:

"We caution folks against becoming involved in these types of events because they are a form of pyramid scheme. The people at the top of the 'pyramid' benefit most—and might actually receive the items promised. However, for everyone to receive what they’ve been promised, each layer of the pyramid must attract new recruits. It’s mathematically impossible to sustain."

This also means that the later someone joins the scam, the less likely they are to get any benefit from it. For these schemes to work they require a constant stream of new recruits, which is quite simply not possible.  

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service continued:

"Pyramid schemes carry hefty penalties. If you are convicted federally, you may be fined or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. Many states have anti-pyramid laws on the books that call into question the legality of these activities. Facebook’s rules may also prohibit this type of activity."

This shows how serious it is to get involved with such a scheme, and serves as a reminder that a criminal conviction can be very damaging.

We have all probably taken part in a Secret Santa gift exchange before, whether between friends or family, or at an office party, and this is probably the best and safest way to exchange gifts. Instead of online scams, it could be a good idea to go back to the old-fashioned way of exchanging gifts. Donating to local food shelters or charities could be one way to spread goodwill.

There are also a lot of legitimate gift exchanges on Facebook and other online communities. These are safer and more importantly, legal, as you can participate with people you already know, and an official website should exist explaining the structure of the exchange and what the good cause is.

Have you ever mistakenly been lured in by a scam? Use this story as a reminder not to get sucked into illegal online schemes, and make sure you do a neighborly deed of looking out for friends, family, and anyone in your community who may be susceptible to such scams. We need to look out for each other during the holiday season and spread goodwill!

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