The “Secret Sisters Gift Exchange”, promising money in exchange for small contributions, is actually a Facebook scam, and shouldn’t be trusted by members of the popular social network.
The post which has become viral in recent days is self-described as a “holiday gift exchange”, but is more evocative of a pyramid scheme. It urges users to send a $10 gift to a stranger, and claims that in return they will receive between 6 and 36 such presents.
Those who fall for the scheme are required to write a comment for the original Facebook post, following which they get a a private message in order to become familiar with the whole set of instructions.
This usually contains a name list: the gift has to be delivered to the first person included there, and afterwards the user’s own name and full details have to be written at the bottom of the message.
Similarly to recommendations made in chain letters, the game has to be shared with 6 other female friends as well, and eventually the secret presents will be in the mailbox in a matter of 2 weeks.
“Most people look at it like it’s just $10, and it’s kind of exciting and different or whatever. I think that’s what most people are thinking – and thinking is a loose term here”, explained Cynthia Augello, cybersecurity lawyer at Cullen and Dykman LPP.
Moreover, the exchange has soared in popularity because messages are distributed by friends and family, and as more such stories appear in the newsfeed the game appears trustworthy and legit.
However, as Augello has emphasized, it is highly dangerous and reckless to reveal confidential, personally identifiable information such as home address, account numbers, credit or debit card numbers or social security numbers.
Making such sensitive data available for strangers puts individuals at risk of identity theft or credit card fraud. Also, providing details of this kind breaches the platform’s terms of agreement, and could cause users to have their accounts blocked.
Moreover, even if the Secret Santa-style promise is actually fulfilled and the Facebook member does indeed receive a gift in the mail, there is no guarantee that it will be something safe or pleasant.
For example, perpetrators might deliver potentially lethal letter bombs via the postal service, or unidentified chemicals or powders, like it happened in the 2001 Anthrax Attacks.
In a less frightful scenario, getting involved in this online game simply results in receiving a disappointing present, which makes the participants regretful they ever signed up.
In addition, there is also the question of the legality of this exchange, given that it functions almost the same as a chain letter.
As the U.S. Postal Inspection Service website specifies, chain letters are against the law when they “request money or other items of value, and promise a substantial return to the participants”.
They actually represent a type of gambling, and spending money in order to participate and deliver such messages is in violation of United States Code, Title 18, Chapter 61, Section 1302.
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