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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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BBB Tip of the Week: Secret Santa Pyramid Scheme

Erin T. Dodge

In the spirit of giving, social media posts and emails abound for gift exchange programs where you send a single gift or one-time cash amount to a stranger on a list to receive 10 gifts in return.

This sounds great! But is it too good to be true? Yes. This is an illegal pyramid scheme.

Some popular names for these illegal schemes include the Secret Sister Gift Exchange, and Stocking Stuffer Swap Until You Drop.

No matter what the scheme is called, you should never participate. If you get an email or social media invite from your family, friends and acquaintances, consider letting them know that it is an illegal chain letter scheme.

Better Business Bureau shares the following information and advice about these types of schemes:

The U.S. Postal Service has determined that chain letter activities are illegal gambling. Even if the request is through email or social media, if you mailed a gift, money or request to participate, then it is illegal. You can read more at

The reason pyramid schemes are considered gambling is because they tend to break down the further along they go. Those who start the scheme get more, but after awhile participants get nothing in return. Are you participating early or late in the scheme? It is gamble.

Some social media sites have prohibited pyramid scheme activity, so participating may cause problems with your account.

When you come across an exchange pyramid scheme that is handled completely online, you should still be extremely leery and avoid it completely. If you are asked to purchase an electronic gift card online to send to a stranger with the promise of receiving multiple in return, then it is likely a scam to get your credit card or bank account information so thieves can use it for fraudulent, unauthorized purchases.

Be wary of “local” gift exchanges that could be gathering home addresses as targets for burglary during the holiday gift season.

Instead of getting wrapped up in receiving more than you give, consider getting into the holiday spirit by giving a gift to a neighbor, friend or family member in need or donating to charity instead. You can research charities before you donate at

For more information on holiday scams, visit or call (509) 455-4200.

Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor

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