You might’ve received an email or message on a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram about a Secret Sister gift exchange.
Normally, you ignore all messages like that online, but maybe you considered partaking in the spirit of holiday cheer and all.
However, you totally shouldn’t, because it’s a big fat scam that has tricked so many people, local police departments all over America are warning people not to fall for it.
This scam is nothing new. In fact, Snopes has debunked a lot of these chain-mail exchanges.
The Better Business Bureau has labeled it a “typical pyramid scheme”:
“This is a typical pyramid scheme. This is on Facebook instead of the old way of using letters because social media allows it to spread a lot faster. Pyramid schemes are illegal either by mail or on social media if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizable return for those who participate.”
There are some variations to the “Secret Sister” scam post, but they typically look something like this, or contain the following language:
“I need at least 6 ladies to participate in a SECRET SISTER gift exchange. You only have to buy ONE gift valued at least $10 or more and send it to ONE secret sister, and you will receive 6-36 in return.”
You’re not going to receive any gifts from another Secret Sister, let alone 6-36 of them. So if you think that you’re going to send a bath bomb you got on discount from a Marshall’s basement and then get a bunch of swag in return, think again.
Back in 2016, the “Secret Sister” giftstravaganza was a “wine exchange.” Imagine how annoyed you’d be if you found out you just bought some random stranger a bottle of wine with no booze of your own to show for it.
There are tons of other scams that mean Grinches try to pull during the holidays, and they are pretty diverse and clever. As a general rule, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Sure, they’ll look like the real deal and offer up amazing deals on hot holiday items like popular toys, electronics, clothing, pretty much anything. There’s a reason why those Gucci slippers are only $85 new on that website: it’s because the site’s fake.
Sometimes scammers go out of their way to make a website look like another popular one, so always look for that little security lock in the upper left hand corner of your browser’s URL bar to make sure you’re on a legit site. Type in the website’s URL manually if you think a deal looks shady.
Seasonal work scams
Plenty of places need extra help around the holidays, so getting a seasonal job isn’t all that difficult. But beware of certain Craigslist and social media job postings that seem a bit vague. Sometimes they’re just scammers trying to get hold of people’s personal information for identity theft.
Family injury scams
You’ll get random phone calls or maybe even messages that a family member was injured abroad or got in a car accident and they urgently need their medical copay ironed out before emergency procedures can be performed. Yeah, it’s all BS. Stay away from that hot noise and while you’re at it tell the scammer to bite themselves. Hard.
We’ve all seen pop-up advertisements with promises of free gift cards if you just take a bunch of quick surveys, but there’s a problem with these: they never make good on their promises. At their most benign, these offers are a waste of time. At their worst, you’ll inadvertently install malware on your computer that collects your personal data, which dirty hackers use to steal your dollah dollah bills.
Season’s Greetings E-Cards
You want to send someone a nice little card in their email to brighten them up during the holidays, but scammers sometimes use them to rope you into clicking on a link that’ll redirect you to a pernicious site or input some of your personal information. Don’t fall for it.
False shipping alerts
With all of the online shopping and craziness of the holiday season going on, it’s easy to lose track of the stuff you’ve ordered. Scammers bank on this knowledge and will send fake shipping notifications and links to your email in the hopes you’ll click on them. Avoid this by 1.) knowing what you ordered and 2.) logging directly into the site you ordered from. Also, hover your mouse cursor over the sender’s email address. If it doesn’t look official, stay away.
Charities that aren’t charities
Fake charities are always popping up in the wake of natural disasters, with people pocketing money that generous givers think are going to benefit victims. Scammers take advantage of your giving nature during the holidays by setting up false ones. Make sure to do some research into any charity you’re planning on sending money to; otherwise, you’ll just be paying for some criminal’s newest computer that they’ll use to scam a bunch of other people.
A letter from Santa
It’s a cute gesture: sending your kids a letter from Santa Claus. But some companies that offer this service aren’t companies at all, just a bunch of thieves looking to steal your private information. If you’re planning on using one of these services, look them up online or check their status with the BBB first.
Weird forms of payment
If you find a deal for a product and someone’s asking for you to pay for it in iTunes Gift cards, wire transfers, bitcoin, money orders, or Western Union transfers, then immediately stop doing business with them.
If you have to travel for the holidays, it’s only natural to look for a deal. Problem is, lots of these “services” that save you money can end up costing you a heck of a lot in the long-run. If you’re dealing with an unknown company, look into them. And, of course, don’t wire them any money.
The puppy scam
Everyone wants to get their family a new pet for the holidays, but looking for deals on cute and furry friends online can result in you getting a way different animal than you bargained for, or no animal at all. Reverse Google Image search the photos of puppies places sell online. If that same picture pops up on multiple sites, chances are it’s a horrible scheme.