If you use Facebook or other social media sites, there’s a good chance you’ve seen posts about the secret sister gift exchange circulating around Christmas time for the past few years. But if you’ve been wondering what it’s about, or even thinking about getting involved, you should think again. The secret sister gift exchange is a hoax, and participating in it is illegal.
What is the Secret Sister Gift Exchange?
This popular gift exchange asks participants to send a gift valued at $10 or more to one other participant, promising that they’ll receive up to 36 gifts in return. All for a minimal $10 purchase from Amazon! But before you succumb to temptation and start scouring the Internet for a suitable trinket to send to a stranger, you need to know that there’s a good chance you’ll never see even a single gift in return – much less more than 30 of them.
How the Secret Sister Gift Exchange Works – Allegedly
Posts inviting users to participate in secret sister gift exchanges appear around the holidays on Reddit, Facebook, and other social media sites and online forums. If you express interest in the exchange, you’ll get a message that looks something like this:
“Who’s ready to spread some holiday cheer? Let’s participate in a holiday gift exchange. Here’s how it works:
1) Send a gift valued at $10 or more to secret sister #1 on the list below.
2) Take secret sister #1’s name off the list, and move secret sister #2 to that spot.
3) Put your name and address in slot #2.
4) Forward the updated message to six more ladies.
5) Copy the secret sister gift exchange invite that I posted to my wall and paste it to your own wall. If you can’t do this within a week, let me know, because it isn’t fair to the other ladies who have participated and are waiting to receive their gifts. Order a gift from Amazon and send it to your secret sister, and soon you’ll get 36 gifts back! You should start getting gifts in about two weeks if you send your letters out six people ASAP.
Sounds easy, right? And even if you don’t get any gifts back, you’re only out $10, right? Well, you’re not only unlikely to receive any gifts, but the people you invite to join probably won’t receive any gifts if they participate, either.
The Problem with Secret Sister
There’s one big reason you shouldn’t participate in secret sister gift exchanges – they’re a pyramid scheme. Only the first participants will receive any gifts. That’s because an astronomical number of people would need to participate for everyone to receive the 36 gifts usually promised by these hoaxes.
By the time you reach the fourth level of participation, you’d need to have 1,300 people sending $10 gifts in order for everyone to get 36; by the time you reach the sixth level, you’d need a sports arena to hold them all. By the seventh level, you need to recruit as many people as live in Washington, D.C. and Houston, TX combined; by the 11th level, you need to have everyone in the U.S. getting in on it. That’s not going to happen.
Of course, there’s a bigger issue with secret sister exchanges than just not getting your presents. They’re illegal under the Postal Lottery Statute. Secret sister gift exchanges are a modern take on the chain letter, in which similar messages were circulated through the mail back in the good old days. Chain letters are a form of gambling, and they’re illegal if they ask participants to send money or items of value.
Other Fun Gift Exchanges to Try Instead
So, if you get invited to participate in a secret sister gift exchange, don’t do it. Even if you think the cost of participating is negligible, you’re more likely to receive Christmas gifts from Santa Claus himself than to receive anything from your secret sisters. Let your friends and family know that they, too, should avoid the secret sister gift exchange.
If you still have a burning need to exchange holiday gifts with a stranger over the internet, consider trying Reddit’s Secret Santa gift exchange. You’ll just be giving and receiving one gift, but you won’t be breaking the law. If you’re not super invested in getting a gift back, consider purchasing something for Angel Tree or another local holiday gift drive. Instead of throwing your money away on a pyramid scheme, you could make the holiday much brighter for someone in need.
Have you participated in any online gift exchanges? Let us know in the comments below.