BBB warns of ‘Secret Sister’ pyramid scheme

A Quad Cities telemarketing operation has been ordered to pay $820,000 for fraud. This is...
A Quad Cities telemarketing operation has been ordered to pay $820,000 for fraud. This is according to the Iowa Attorney General’s office.(mgn image)
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 10:52 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The Toledo-area Better Business Bureau warns of a pyramid scheme scam popping up in the region.

On Thursday, BBB said it was receiving numerous calls from consumers regarding the “Secret Sister” pyramid scheme. It is especially promoted on Facebook as a way to send out a few $10 gifts to selected friends and receive 36 gifts in return.

The “Secret Sister” gift exchange campaign quickly became popular in 2015 through Facebook posts promising participants would receive up to 36 gifts, in exchange for sending from one to six gifts. Each holiday season the scheme pops back up. A newer version of this scam involves exchanging bottles of wine; another suggests purchasing $10 gifts online.

Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating, the gift supply stops as well, leaving hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.

Pyramid schemes are illegal. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service explains that these gift exchanges are considered a form of gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud – although we at BBB doubt the average consumer would be prosecuted.

More dangerous, when signing up, the alleged campaign organizer is asking for personal information such as a mailing address or an email. With just a few pieces of information, cyber thieves could expose you to future scams or commit identity theft.

The next time someone promises a bounty of gifts or cash by mail, email, or social media, BBB recommends the following:

Ignore it!

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