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Better Business Bureau warns against illegal ‘secret sister’ gift exchanges

Better Business Bureau 

Gift exchanges grow in popularity during the holiday season, but consumers should exercise caution when choosing which ones to participate in, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The popular “Secret Sister” exchange that has been circulating on social media claims that participants will receive as many as 36 gifts in exchange for one gift valued at $10.

The exchange is alleged to be an illegal pyramid scheme that may subject participants to penalties for mail fraud, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s gambling and pyramid scheme laws.

In the “Secret Sister” exchange, six friends invite six more friends who all send gifts to the participant in Spot 1 before that person’s name is removed. The process repeats itself with the participant in Spot 2, and so on. The catch is that participants are asked to disclose personal information, like a home address.

BBB said it’s a typical pyramid scheme, where money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizable return for those who participate.

If you receive a request like this, either by mail, email or social media, BBB advises you to ignore it.

“Chain letters of this kind that involve money or other valuable items are illegal,” says Tom Bartholomy, president of Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina. “If you start or send one, you are breaking the law.”

Such chain letters often try to win participants’ confidence by claiming they are legal or endorsed by the government. That is not true.

Consumers should be skeptical anytime personal information is requested in order to participate, BBB says. The information could be used for identity fraud.

For more information about chain letters, call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 888-877-7644.

Check out bbb.org to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, report a scam, read tips, follow us on social media, and more.

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