Securing Our Communities: Secret Sister Gift Exchanges

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

The Secret Sister Gift Exchange is a type of pyramid scheme primarily targeting female Facebook users, in which perpetrators use the guise of an innocent holiday gift exchange to steal personal information from participants. In these scams, Facebook users send direct messages or emails to others, inviting them to participate in the exchange. To join, new recruits must provide their name and address, send one gift valued at $10 to another participant, and forward the invitation to other women. In exchange, they are promised a return of up to 36 gifts from other participants and future recruits.

While the offer may be tempting, the gift exchange is nothing more than an Internet-based pyramid scheme, with gift givers rarely seeing any gifts in return. More importantly, however, those who surrender their names and addresses may expose themselves to future fraudulent activity and identity theft when their personal information ultimately ends up in the possession of cyber criminals perpetrating these scams. To make matters worse, pyramid schemes such as Secret Sister exchanges are actually considered a form of illegal gambling, so participation in this activity could leave unwitting gift givers criminally liable and subject to jail time, fines, or lawsuits for mail fraud.

The NTIC Cyber Center encourages social media users to take the following precautions to protect their personal information and avoid participating in Secret Sister gift exchanges and other pyramid schemes:

  • Beware of any activity that promises the receipt of gifts or money through mail, email, or social media.

  • Ignore requests to participate in pyramid schemes, as they are both dangerous and illegal.

  • Report or flag any social media posts that appear to advertise or recruit participants for Secret Sister or similar schemes.

  • Never provide personal, financial, or other sensitive information to unknown solicitors in-person, over the phone, or through email, text message, or social media.

For more information about Secret Sister Gift Exchange scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s website and report any instances via the BBB Scam Tracker.

From the NTIC Cyber Center to you, best wishes for a happy and cyber safe holiday season!

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.