Gift giving during the holiday season should be a selfless celebration, but even the holiday spirit won’t stop online scammers. According to NBC and additional outlets, a message popping up on Facebook and Instagram claims that people can participate in a “secret sister gift exchange”—and it’s a recurring scam. This is what you’ll see:
This particular “gift exchange” has reappeared online every year since 2015, per Snopes. The message calls for buying one $10 gift and sending it to someone on the list. In classic pyramid scheme fashion, the promise is you’ll receive as many as 36 gifts in return, including books and wine. Sadly, this is just one of the 14 other Facebook scams you need to take seriously.
Only a handful of people claim they received one single item from the exchange. It’s mathematically impossible for everyone to win and receive a gift, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). And most importantly, it’s actually illegal to participate. The USPIS says chain letters are a form of gambling and joining means you are committing mail fraud—all while putting your personal information at risk. “The main thing to remember is that a chain letter is simply a bad investment,” per the USPIS. “You certainly won’t get rich.” This scam is so common that the Better Business Bureau reminded people to avoid them as early as November.
So if you see this message on your newsfeed or in an Instagram story, ignore it, report it, and stick with in-person gift exchanges instead. And never give out any personal information, which is one of the ways to protect yourself, so you never fall victim to online scams.