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Secret Sister gift exchange program is back for the coronavirus pandemic. Don’t fall for it

Secret Sister gift exchange program is a yearly scam that preys on the vulnerable.

A Target employee prepares to hand a customer a curbside pickup purchase in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.
A Target employee prepares to hand a customer a curbside pickup purchase in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to make times hard for families across the world. And a new social media program — called Secret Sister — promises to help make others happy during the holiday season.

  • But don’t fall for the social media post’s promises — it’s a scam.

What is the Secret Sister program?

For several years, Facebook members have noticed a shared social media post that promotes a gift exchange between friends. It’s a scam, though, as I’ve written about before.

The post asks you to buy a gift for $10 or more. You share the post with your friends. The scam then says you to put your name on a list. Then, you will receive 36 gifts total from your friends.

What’s new this year?

The Better Business Bureau has said the 2020 version might have a unique take to the scam since it will be pushing for people to make others happy in a tough year, according to

  • “A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online,” the BBB said. “You might see references to receiving ‘happy mail’ or doing the exchange ‘for the good of the sisterhood.’”

The BBB dismissed the trend, according to The Oregonian.

  • “The cycle continues and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts for unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.”

The full post reads:

  • “Anyone interested in a secret sister gift exchange? It doesn’t matter where you live! You only have to buy ONE gift valued at $10 or more and send it to one secret sister! You will get 6-36 in return. Let me know if you’re interested and I will send you the information. (Please don’t ask to participate if you are not willing to spend the $10).”

It’s a scam, though:

  • Fact-checking website reported that the exchange is “false.”
  • The Better Business Bureau called the scam a “typical pyramid scheme.”
  • Paul Krenn, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, told BuzzFeed News: “The odds are likely greater that Santa Claus, himself, would fly his sleigh into the middle of Times Square to personally distribute the gifts,” Krenn said.

It’s also illegal

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has weighed in on the scam. It has said that chain letters are considered “‘illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants. Chain letters are a form of gambling, and sending them through the mail (or delivering them in person or by computer, but mailing money to participate) violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute.”