November 26, 2019 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned not to fall for ‘Secret Sister’ invitations. The campaign is supposed to be an online ‘Secret Santa’ among strangers but relies on a pyramid scheme and is therefore considered illegal in Canada. Every holiday season the gift exchange scheme pops back up. The BBB recommended ignoring the invitations and reporting it to the CAFC and, or the BBB Scam Tracker.
‘Tis the season for scammers. Unfortunately, fraudsters also prey on the upcoming holiday spirit. One scam that resurfaces every holiday season is the so-called ‘Secret Sister’ campaign. The Better Business Bureau warns against the gift exchange that is supposed to work similarly to an online ‘Secret Santa’ among strangers. Unfortunately, what sounds like cheery, pre-Christmas fun, is considered illegal in Canada and the U.S.
Secret Sister is based on a pyramid scheme which means the social media based gift exchange campaign relies on participants to recruit more individuals for the scheme. Subsequently, these campaigns are considered a form of gambling in Canada and the U.S. Participants could face penalties such as jail time, fines or a lawsuit for mail fraud, according to the BBB.
2015 was the first year, the Secret Sister campaign became popular through Facebook. It promised participants in cheery, like charity sounding invitations by email or social media posts to receive up to 36 gifts in exchange for sending in one gift ‘valued of at least $10’.
However, here is the catch. Since the campaign relies on new recruits, as soon as people stop participating, the gift supply stops correspondingly. The anticipated ‘6-36 gifts in return’ probably never arrive.
Furthermore, in order to join the campaign, participants have to sign up and are asked to provide postal addresses and email addresses. Providing unknown people with personal information is never a good idea. The danger of becoming a target of identity thieves and other fraudsters is very high.
Every holiday season the scheme pops back up. This year a newer version focuses on exchanging bottles of wine. ‘Some pyramid schemes try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government. These imposter schemes are false as the government will never endorse illegal activity. No matter what they claim, pyramid schemes will not make you rich. You will receive little to no money back on your “investment” or gift exchange,’ said the BBB in its statement.
The BBB recommends to ignore invitations for gift exchanges among strangers and asks anyone who receives such a request to report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and, or to the BBB Scam Tracker. More information on pyramid scams can be found on the website of the CAFC.
Marina Burghard writes for Canadian Fraud News about fraud-related cases, whistleblower, jurisdiction, identity theft, consumer protection, etc. – essentially about scams and how to protect yourself against this kind of fraudulent criminal behavior. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Science where her interest in criminology grew. Besides fraud, Marina’s scientific interest lies in terrorism, extremism and how to deal with it as a society.