You might have noticed a post circulating social media recently called the "Secret Sister" gift exchange. It's the latest version of a scam that has been around for decades, and it's back just in time to capitalize on people in a giving mood.

The campaign, which was first big in 2015, seems like a harmless Facebook post asking friends to exchange gifts.

"You send a gift to the person on top, but ultimately you're going to get 32 gifts with your participation in this," Jim Winsett, of the Better Business Bureau, said.

The post claims that 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.

In reality, it's a pyramid scheme and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service 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 the assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate.

"It's a violation of the law, and pyramid schemes are something they could pay a penalty for participating in something like that," he explained.

This is what the post looks like:


People are encouraged to invite others with the promise to receive something in return. The problem is each layer of the pyramid must attract new recruits, meaning someone, in the end, will be left empty-handed.

"It can't be substantiated, eventually you have to reach that dead end," Winsett said.

Here is how this scheme works: If a consumer 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 the first spot before that person's named is removed. This process repeats itself with the participant in the second 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.

Not to mention, the post requires you to share your address to potentially everyone in the chain, making you vulnerable to even more scams.

The idea behind the "Secret Sister" isn't new, it's morphed over the years. It started as chain letter gift exchanges in the 1990's and email chain letters in the early 2000's. Now it's moved to social media to lure new people in.

"I think there's some level of excitement to think I can donate one $10 gift and receive 32 in exchange if you will," Winsett said.

To avoid this scam, the best thing to do is completely ignore it altogether and do not give out personal information to anyone on social media.

The BBB of Chattanooga said they have not received any complaints so far. However, Channel 3 did a search, and the post was shared as recently as this morning in our area.