Your friend’s Facebook post makes it sound like easy money: Buy a gift worth $10 or more, send it to a “secret sister,” and then watch as many as 36 gifts come back your way.
Most people would probably recognize that as a scam.
But a quick search of Facebook reveals the popularity of the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange,” an old-school scam with a new-tech twist.
Fort Worth police on Tuesday warned internet users to beware of “scammers taking advantage of holiday goodwill” through social media gift exchanges.
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“This ‘gift exchange’ is the latest version of a hoax that’s been around for years,” the department said in a news release, passing along a warning from the Better Business Bureau. “It’s the same premise as a pyramid scheme and/or the pre-Internet chain letters.”
According to the BBB’s advisory, the concept of scams like the secret sister exchange is that “you send money 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.”
Lindsey Haase, a spokeswoman with the BBB of Fort Worth, said she hasn’t seen any confirmed reports of Fort Worth citizens falling victim to the secret sister exchange, which is a threat on Instagram, too.
But around the holidays, people become more “susceptible” to con artists’ intentions, Haase said. Another scam her office noticed this month was a website falsely advertising seasonal jobs at Target, promising to pay up to $18 an hour.
The website, which requested only the zip code of the user, traced back to China and presented a risk of viruses and identity theft.
Years ago, mailed letter chains were a more rudimentary version of the current secret sister scam, Haase said. The internet then brought about email scams, and social media only proliferated the problem.
“Because it's on the internet, it really spreads like wildfire,” Haase said. “I think people tend to be of the giving spirit around the holiday season and think the best of people and they’ll do the right thing. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.”
▪ 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.
Ryan Osborne: 817-390-7684, @RyanOsborneFWST