Secret Sister online gift exchanges are illegal, BBB says


The Better Business Bureau is cautioning consumers about the online Secret Sister Gift Exchange. The exchange has been circulating on social media sites and 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.

While gift exchanges grow in popularity during the holiday season, BBB advises consumers to use caution when choosing one to participate in. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's gambling and pyramid scheme laws, gift chains like this are illegal and participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud.

"Chain mail which involves the exchange of money, gifts or other items of value and promise a considerable return to participants are illegal," said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. "If you are wanting to participate in a holiday gift exchange, this is definitely not the way to do it."

Whether you receive a chain letter by mail, email or social media - especially one that involves money or gifts - Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission remind you that:

- Chain letters that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain letter or send one, you are breaking the law.

- Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your "investment." Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.

- Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming they're legal and endorsed by the government.

- If you've been a target of a chain email scam, contact your Internet Service Provider and forward the email to the FTC at

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers information about chain letters at, or you can call the Postal Inspection Service toll-free at 1-888-877-7644.

For more advice about how to be a savvy consumer, go to To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373 or go to BBB Scam Tracker.

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