It’s back! Scammers are again taking advantage of holiday goodwill. One seasonal scam that has returned this year is a gift exchange; that’s actually a pyramid scheme. Look out for this con on Facebook, Instagram and other social sites.
The scam works when you spot a friend’s post on your Facebook or Instagram feed. It’s inviting you to join a gift exchange, often called Secret Sister Gift Exchange, and it sounds like a great deal. If you buy one $10 gift for a stranger, you will receive as many as 36 gifts back. Some people are even posting photos of all the gifts they have received in the mail.
This “gift exchange” is the latest version of a hoax that’s been around for years. It’s the same premise as a pyramid scheme and the pre-Internet chain letters. The idea is that you send money (or a gift) to the person at the top of the list, cross them off, add your name to the bottom and send the list to more friends. Eventually, you hope, your name will be at the top, and you will receive all the money/gifts. However, the scheme relies on constantly recruiting new participants, making it mathematically impossible to sustain.
This may seem like a harmless hoax but just like any other chain letter that asks for money or items of value it’s against the law. The U.S. Postal Service considers them illegal gambling. That applies whether you get the request via postal mail, email or social media. And another thing, some social media sites specifically prohibit users from engaging in such schemes. That means it could cause problems with your account and have your page removed.
Take the following steps to protect yourself and others from scam links shared through Facebook, Twitter and other social media:
▪ Don’t take the bait. If it sounds too good or outlandish to be true, it’s probably a scam. Stay away from promotions of anything “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational.”
▪ Be careful of shortened links. Scammers use link-shortening services to disguise malicious links. Don’t fall for it. If you don’t recognize the link destination, don’t click.
▪ Don’t trust your friends’ taste online. It might not actually be them “liking” or sharing scam links to photos. Their account may have been hacked or compromised by malware.
▪ Report suspicious links to the site. Whether on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, report any suspicious posts or activity to the site by going to their help link. Your action might save someone else from losing out.
The holidays bring out a lot of cheer and goodwill, but they also bring out scams and schemes that tend to separate you from your hard-earned money. Take the time to check out anything that sounds too good to be true.
For more trustworthy tips, go to BBB.org.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving the Fall Line Corridor including 83 counties in portions of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. The column is provided by the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The BBB sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a company or charity should be referred to the BBB at 1-800-763-4222, www.bbb.org or by email to email@example.com.