Cuyahoga County Scam Squad warns ‘Secret Sister’ Facebook gift exchange is illegal

The BBB and Cuyahoga County Scam Squad are sending out a warning that the Secret Sister Facebook gift exchanges are not only a scam, they’re also illegal.
Updated: Dec. 6, 2019 at 4:28 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - You’ve probably seen them on Facebook. They’re called “Secret Sister” posts where a friend asks you to buy and send a $10 gift in exchange for a bunch of gifts in return.

Often, the posts boast if you share with your friends, you will get six to 36 gifts in exchange.

“You are supposed to sit back and wait for all of your gifts to come from other people who are on this list," said Sue McConnell, President of the Cleveland Better Business Bureau.

McConnell calls the Secret Sister gift exchange a pyramid scheme. She said it doesn’t work.

“The point of a pyramid scheme is it only works if others down the list provide other names and they follow through with the request," McConnell explained.

The chances of you getting even one gift are slim, according to the BBB. Beyond that, there are serious consequences.

First, it’s illegal

“The postal service considers it illegal gambling," McConnell said.

It could also be dangerous.

Distribution lists are shared with people you may not know, even though you may know the person who originally tagged you in the post.

This year, it’s not just the Secret Sister gift exchange popping up on social media. There’s also the wine exchange and even one for your pets!

McConnell said no matter the type of gift, these schemes are all the same.

Be especially wary if the post says “not a scam. It’s real!”

“If you see somebody declaring, ‘This is not a scam,’ it’s a scam," McConnell said.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from this scam.

  • Ignore it. Ask yourself if it’s worth breaking the law.
  • Report it. Report the post to Facebook
  • Never give out your personal information to strangers
  • Be wary of false claims saying these posts are legal or even endorsed by the government.

19 News is teaming up with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad to protect your cash and identity.

If you’re a victim of a scam or maybe you didn’t fall for the scam but still got a questionable email or phone call, give the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad a call at 216-443-SCAM.

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