By Maddie Silva
The holidays are a time of childlike wonder and excitement, accompanied by occasional insecurity, loneliness, but, mostly just copious amounts of holiday stress. This season of giving is also a time when individuals are at their most vulnerable. Many fall prey to holiday scams. The Better Business Bureau warns Christmas shoppers that scams are prevalent during this time of year.
The Facebook gift exchange scam seems to be ubiquitous in recent years. The well-known urban legend busting website, snopes.com, alleges that one such gift exchange, the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange,” started in 2015 and spread across social media platforms. The message begins with a benign invitation to participate in a gift exchange. All the participant needs to do is buy one gift valued at $10 or more and send it to one other sister. The participant will receive 36 gifts in return. Snopes points out that this scheme “hinges on static participation levels for every individual group exchange.”
Some participants have claimed to have received a gift as a result of the Secret Sister Gift Exchange but it seems that no one has received the promised, though oddly specific, 36 gifts. Many commenters point out that this swindle is a repurposed relative of our old friend, the chain email. The U.S. Postal Service points out that this scam is both “mathematically impossible,” and illegal. Chain letters, emails, and now Facebook statuses are a form of gambling. Delivering money to participate in this lottery violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute, which states:
“Whoever knowingly deposits in the mail, or sends or delivers by mail:
Any letter, package, postal card, or circular concerning any lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance;
Any lottery ticket or part thereof, or paper, certificate, or instrument purporting to be or to represent a ticket, chance, share, or interest in or dependent upon the event of a lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance;
Any check, draft, bill, money, postal note, or money order, for the purchase of any ticket or part thereof, or of any share or chance in any such lottery, gift enterprise, or scheme;
Any newspaper, circular, pamphlet, or publication of any kind containing any advertisement of any lottery, gift enterprise, or scheme of any kind offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance, or containing any list of the prizes drawn or awarded by means of any such lottery, gift enterprise, or scheme, whether said list contains any part or all of such prizes;
Any article described in section 1953 of this title—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both; and for any subsequent offense shall be imprisoned not more than five years.”
An article on various holiday scams from local Kansas newspaper, The Wichita Eagle, reminds social media users of the old adage: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. The Wichita Eagle also cautions consumers that friends’ accounts can easily be hacked and to report hacks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. immediately.