The Rockford Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reminding consumers that the online “Secret Sister” gift exchange and similar invitations are illegal and should be ignored.

The campaign, which began drawing attention in 2015, typically resurfaces around the holiday season, and has again been circulating on social media sites, in particular Facebook.

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.

Seems legit, right?


The big problem with gift chains like “Secret Sister” is that those who chose to participate could find that they are involved in an illegal “pyramid scheme”. The U.S. Postal Inspection Services says that gift exchanges are illegal gambling, if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate, and that participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud.

In addition, anyone who decides to participate in programs like these become much more likely targets of identity theft.

So, it's a lot more "lose-lose" than "win-win" for those taking part.

"Those who get involved often do so thinking that the amount needed to participate is so small it’s worth the risk if they’ll receive gifts worth maybe a couple hundred dollars.I’m sure they have not considered the legality of participating, but pyramid schemes are a serious offense. The best thing people can do is avoid it altogether, if you receive an invitation to participate, ignore it, it’s not worth it.”

Here's how the "Secret Sister" 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 spot 1 before that persons named is removed. This process repeats itself with the participant in the 2nd spot, and so on. Of course, starting this gift exchange comes with a catch – you need to disclose your personal information, such as your full name and home address.

If you receive a chain letter by mail, email, or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, ignore it. Report the post to Facebook by clicking on the three little dots in the upper right corner of the post. And report the scam to BBB at


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