Fans of the old horror movie Poltergeist 2 remember the classic line “They’re back” and so it is with the classic Secret Sister scam which returns each holiday season. I first reported to you about this scam in 2015. It seems harmless enough when you see it come up in your email or on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter where it has increasingly been found lately. It is often titled the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange.” Commonly it provides you with a list of six people and you are told to send a gift worth at least ten dollars to the first person on the list, remove that person’s name from the list, move the second person on the list to the first position, add your name to the end of the list and then send the list to six of your friends. In theory, you will receive thirty-six gifts for your small contribution of ten dollars.
So where is the harm?
First of all, it is a blatantly illegal chain letter and violates Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1302. In addition, like all chain letters, ultimately, it is destined to fail because it is a pyramid scheme where ultimately we run out of people on the planet. In one particular version of this illegal chain letter, you are required to provide personal information that can lead you to become more vulnerable to scams and identity theft schemes.
Holiday pyramid schemes come in a wide variety of disguises including exchanging bottles of wine and the Secret Santa Dog scam where you are lured into sending a gift to your “secret dog,” but they all are just scams that entice you into sending gift or money to scammers while participating in an illegal pyramid scheme.
Avoid all chain letters regardless of the guise under which you receive them. They are illegal. In addition, although in some instances these chain letters are turning up on Facebook pages, it is a violation of your Facebook terms of agreement, so you potentially face the loss of your Facebook account if you participate in the scheme.