Channel 8 reports Facebook users have been duped into a pyramid scheme. It first made the rounds on the internet a couple years ago but seems to come back every holiday shopping season. It goes like this. You’re asked to buy a gift for someone worth $10. Then supposedly your name gets added to some list to receive 36 gifts.
These pyramid schemes are illegal and were easy to crack down on when they were done the old fashioned way by postal mail. But investigators say with social media, these things spread so fast they can’t warn people in time. Facebook warns that putting your private information out there puts you at risk. And that risk is way worse than just losing the $10 you’re spending on that gift.
And Snopes now reports since people are getting wise to the Secret Sister scam, they’ve renamed it as a Wine Exchange. Instead of a gift, they ask you to buy a bottle of wine. Same scam. They just want your personal information.
Scam Alert: Do not participate in #SecretSister gift exchange circulating on #Facebook. It's a scam and also illegal.— BBB | US (@bbb_us) November 13, 2018
Learn more: https://t.co/M0x6WyVYO8#gifts #holidayseason #CyberAware pic.twitter.com/AFSLkPCyV2
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service posted this message on Facebook when the “Secret Sisters” posts first started appearing back in 2015:
Several of you have reached out to ask questions about the legality of these types of events or questioning how it could be a scam if you know friends who have already received gifts.
We caution folks against becoming involved in these types of events because they are a form of pyramid scheme. The people at the top of the “pyramid” benefit most–and might actually receive the items promised. However, for everyone to receive what they’ve been promised, each layer of the pyramid must attract new recruits. It’s mathematically impossible to sustain.
Consider a typical pyramid that involves six individuals in the chain. By the time you’ve reached the fourth level of participation, nearly 1,300 recruits must be onboard. Today, social media might make that a bit easier in than days past, which required chain letter-type solicitations by mail. However, upon reaching the sixth level of participation, you’d have to attract more recruits than could be seated in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. By the seventh level, you’d need more participants than folks living in Anchorage, AK. The ninth level requires you to recruit all of Houston, Tx and the Washington Metro area combined—and you still wouldn’t have enough participants.
The 11th round requires everyone in the United States to join in, if the promise is to be fulfilled. The odds are likely greater that Santa Claus, himself, would fly his sleigh into the middle of Times Square to personally distribute the gifts.
Fraudulent pyramid schemes typically violate the Lottery Statute (Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302). They contain all three elements of a lottery: prize (expectation of monetary or other gain from participation in the pyramid); chance (the monetary return you may receive from your participation is entirely up to chance, that is, dependent on the efforts of those below you in the pyramid), and consideration (the price of your gift to join the pyramid).
Pyramid schemes carry hefty penalties. If you are convicted federally, you may be fined or imprisoned not more than two years, or both; and for any subsequent offense you may be imprisoned not more than five years. But there’s more than federal prosecution to worry about. Many states have anti-pyramid laws on the books that call into question the legality of these activities. Facebook’s rules may also prohibit this type of activity.
Absent all the legalities, it’s unfortunate—but nonetheless likely—many well-intentioned, present-bearing sisters will experience first-hand the age old adage: “tis better to give than to receive”, as the sense of sorority dissipates upon realizing the promise of a gift in return cannot be fulfilled. The best way to avoid disappointment? Avoid the pyramid altogether.