BBB warning: Secret Sister gift exchange resurfaces on social media

Published 9:29 am Monday, November 19, 2018

RALEIGH — A popular holiday chain letter has resurfaced and is making waves across social media.

Better Business Bureau serving Easter North Carolina first warned of the “Secret Sister” gift exchange back in 2016. The social media campaign claims participants will receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending one gift valued at $10. Users are encouraged to invite others to participate in the holiday gift exchange, where they will receive information on where to mail gifts.

“This online gift exchange, which is an illegal pyramid scheme, has made its way back this holiday season,” said Mallory Wojciechowski, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Eastern NC. “Consumers need to be aware that this is happening and think before responding to a post that mentions this on social media.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Services says that gift exchanges are illegal gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud. Pyramid schemes are illegal, either by mail or on social media, if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate.

How this scheme works:

Scammers will often hack into someone’s social media platforms and post about the exchange with the intention of getting of people to believe that their friend is starting it for the holidays. The post mentions that if a participant purchases one gift for a stranger, she will receive as many as 36 gifts in return. 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.

If you receive a chain letter by mail, email or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, ignore it. Report the post to Facebook by clicking on the three little dots in the upper right corner of the post. Consumers can also report to the scam to BBB Scamtracker at

For more information you can trust, visit

Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina is a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit corporation serving 33 counties in eastern North Carolina. The organization is funded primarily by BBB Accredited Business fees from over 3,700 local businesses and professional firms. BBB promotes integrity, consumer confidence and business ethics through business self-regulation in the local marketplace. Services provided by BBB include reports on companies and charitable organizations, general monitoring of advertising in the marketplace, consumer/business education programs and dispute resolution services. All services are provided at no cost to the public, with the occasional exception of mediation and arbitration.