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Secret Sister Gift Exchanges Are Illegal, Says BBB

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on November 20, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Secret Sister Gift Exchange is not when you secretly exchange your sister for someone else. That would be human trafficking, which is definitely illegal. The Secret Sister Gift Exchange is an electronic chain letter that makes its way around the internet, either in the form of email or social media, during the holidays. The basic premise is that you send one person a gift, and then share the letter with six of your friends, and eventually you will receive 36 gifts. Yes, this is a pyramid scheme. No, you should definitely not participate. And yes, it is illegal.

What Is a Pyramid Scheme

In case you aren't familiar with pyramid schemes, the premise is that when you are invited to join, you are on the bottom of the pyramid and you pay the top person some amount; in this case, $10. Then you invite an assigned number of people, say six, to join in the pyramid layer before you. If this layer gets five more links in the chain, you will end up on the top of the pyramid and be receiving gifts from, eventually, all 36 people below you.

It Doesn't Seem That Risky, Does It?

In order to participate in this scheme, you need to divulge something about yourself, either your email or Paypal address, or maybe even your home address. Doing so opens you up to security risks during an already vulnerable time of the year.

Believe It or Not, This Is Gambling

In addition to it being a risk to your security, it is also illegal. According to the Better Business Bureau, the U.S. Postal Inspection Services says that gift exchanges, especially pyramid schemes like these, are a form of illegal gambling, and participants could be arrested for mail fraud. Ones that involve the U.S. Mail can also be considered federal offenses.

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