Secret Sister Facebook Scam 2018: Police Warn Against Return of Gift Exchange Scam

Online Scam
Facebook users have been advised to ignore messages linked to an old gift exchange scam. It is highly unlikely you will ever receive a gift, especially if you are further down the chain, and the whole scheme is illegal. iStock

Facebook users have been advised to ignore messages linked to a gift exchange scam known as "Secret Sister," which has currently resurfaced on social media.

The scam, often targeted at women, claims to be a "holiday gift exchange," promising up to 36 gifts in return for sending a single gift with a value of at least $10. Users are asked to invite others to take part in the exchange—making it a form of pyramid scheme, experts warn.

Victims will expose their personal data if they take part and, as noted by the online fact-checking website Snopes, it is simply an updated form of the illegal "chain letter" scheme. It is highly unlikely you will ever receive a gift, especially if you are further down the chain.

The scammers' messages have already started to appear on Facebook and Twitter—indicating that some social media users are falling for the ploy as the holiday season approaches.

I have already seen so many secret sister / gift chain / blessing looms this season from Facebook friends I previously thought were functioning adults with average intelligence #disappointing #happyholidays #pyramidscheme

— Amanda Patrick (@AmandaSellers22) November 13, 2018

One Facebook post published earlier today, read: "Doesn't matter where you live —you are welcome to join. You have to buy one gift valued of at least $10 and send it to your secret sis. (Hello, Amazon!) You will then receive 6-36 gifts in return. This seems so fun!" A Twitter post was also published today in almost identical language. "Just comment 'I'm in,'" it read.

The Facebook post has since been deleted.

The Wauwatosa Police Department in Wisconsin warned about the scams this week, writing: "It's back: the Secret Sister on Facebook. It's illegal. Help stop these scams: Ignore them." It posted a link to a Better Business Bureau blog post that was first published in 2016.

The BBB explained: "This type of gift exchange may seem reasonable enough in theory: Six friends invite six more friends, who all send gifts to the participant in spot 1 before that person's name is removed. This process repeats itself with the participant in the 2 spot, and so on.

"Of course, starting this gift exchange comes with a catch—you need to disclose your personal information, such as your home address. This is a typical pyramid scheme. This is on Facebook instead of the old way of using letters because social media allows it to spread a lot faster."

According to Snopes, the social media exchange scam dates back to 2015, when it spread on Reddit and forum posts. It elaborated: "The plausibility of actually garnering returns was secondary to a far bigger problem with the Secret Sister scheme. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, gift chains aren't just 'mathematically impossible'; they're also illegal."

Social media users are highly advised to stay away from the scheme.

Secret Sister Facebook
An example of the Secret Sister scam posted to Facebook. Facebook/Screenshot