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‘Secret sister’ Facebook scam encourages people to unknowingly break the law

It's safe to assume that anything that looks too good to be true on Facebook probably is

Andrew Griffin
Monday 21 November 2016 16:47 GMT
'Secret Sister Gift Exchange': the festive pyramid scheme

A Christmas Facebook scam appears to be too good true be true – and, of course, very much is.

Just one of a range of malicious hoaxes appearing across the network encourages people to spend money on buying gifts with the promise that they’ll get far more gifts in return. Except only one half of that actually happens – and it’s the bit that involves someone taking your money.

The “Secret Sister Gift Exchange” involves some variation on a message asking people to take part as a way of spreading joy.

“I need ladies of any age to participate in a secret sister gift exchange,” one example reads. It tells people that they “only have to buy ONE gift valued at $10 or more and send it to one secret sister”, after which other secret sisters will send gifts through – as many as 36 in return for sending just one.

At best, the exchange seems to be a kind of pyramid scheme that sees people send out gifts to people. But at worst it seems to be an outright con to encourage people to buy things and then never send anything in return.

Police forces have advised that people don’t take part in the exchange. They have even warned that it might be illegal to do so, even if people are taking part for what they feel are positive reasons.

“Don’t fall for the post popping up on your news feed about a secret sister gift exchange – it’s a scam and illegal,” one US police department wrote on Facebook. “This scam circulated Facebook heavily last year and is making the rounds again this holiday season”.

The Cookeville Police Department said that actually participating in the scam was illegal.

“The gift exchange is a modern version of the chain letter scheme and is illegal,” a representative wrote on the site. “Chain letters are essentially forms of gambling and sending it through the mail violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute.”

All kinds of scams and hoaxes often circulate on Facebook as well as other platforms like WhatsApp, many offering either free things or the opportunity to get them. Many are in fact too good to be true, usually acting as a way of conning people out of their money or encouraging them to give up valuable data like their passwords.

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