Secret Sister Gift Exchange: Is It Real or a Scam?

November 3, 2015 Updated: November 3, 2015

You may have seen it on Facebook: a post that promises a “secret sister gift exchange” that allows you to get 36 gifts in exchange for one.

As the saying goes, if it sounds to good to be true then it probably is. That means the “secret sister” posts don’t hold much water.

Here’s an example:

Welcome to our secret sister gift exchange! Here’s how it works:

1) Send one gift value at least $10 to secret sister #1 below.

2) Remove secret sister’s name from #1; then move secret sister #2 to that spot.

3) Add your name to #2 with your info.

4) Then send this info to 6 other ladies with the updated name info

5) Copy the secret sister request that I posted on my wall, to your own wall. If you cannot complete this within 1 week please notify me, as it isn’t fair to the ladies who have participated and are waiting for their own gifts to arrive. You might want to order directly from a web-based service (Amazon, or any other online shop) which saves a trip to the post office. Soon you should receive 36 gifts! What a deal, 36 gifts for giving just one! Be sure to include some information about yourself … some of your favorites. Seldom does anyone drop out because it’s so much fun to send a gift to someone you may or may not know … and of course it’s fun to receive. You should begin receiving gifts in about 2 weeks if you get your letters out to your 6 people right away.

Many commented that the exchange is a pyramid scheme and consumers should be very, very cautious., a website dedicated to exposing hoaxes, says the practice of gift chains is illegal. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says:

“There’s at least one problem with chain letters. They’re illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants. Chain letters are a form of gambling, and sending them through the mail (or delivering them in person or by computer, but mailing money to participate) violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute. (Chain letters that ask for items of minor value, like picture postcards or recipes, may be mailed, since such items are not things of value within the meaning of the law.)”

The scams seem to have proliferated on Facebook, Reddit, a couple forums, and a few dubious blogs.

As an alternative, Reddit has a “secret Santa” tradition that tends to work out pretty well.