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Secret Sister: An Illegal Pyramid Scheme

How it plays out:
The “Secret Sister” gift exchange seems like a fun way to spread cheer within the social media-verse, but it’s actually an illegal pyramid scheme, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

Akin to old-timey chain letters, the Secret Sister gift exchange asks participants to buy a gift of at least $10 value and send it to your “secret sis.” In exchange, it promises them 6-36 gifts in return. Participants must provide their personal information and information of members from their social network. Then, those people must provide their friends’ information, and so on …

Once a participant breaks the chain, the original participant is out $10 and will probably never get one gift, let alone 36!

Just like any other pyramid scheme, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Secret Sister counts on “the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop taking part in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.”

Gift exchanges, the USPIS says, are gambling, and participants can face charges of mail fraud, fines and jail time.

Protect yourself:

  • Delete it:  Even though it seems lovely to receive many gifts from all over the globe, it could cost you your identity and your freedom. Disregard any social media post, email or letter asking to be a Secret Sister.

  • Report it: Let the social media platform you’re using know about the circulating scheme by clicking on “report post.”

  • Protect it: Restoring your identity is no joke! Keep your private information to yourself.

  • Question it: Some of these fraudsters claim the U.S. government endorses these schemes; not true! Pyramid schemes are illegal, and no government agency would promote them.

Don’t get on the naughty list this holiday season. Steer clear of the Secret Sister or any other social media gift exchange, keep your money and your identity safe, and jingle all the way to a joyous holiday! Click here for more resources to help combat scams and fraud.

Holiday Closure: All DoverPhila locations will be closed Wednesday, June 19, for Juneteenth (a federal holiday).

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