Scam Alert -- Facebook Gift Exchange is Really a Pyramid Scheme

  
     
Social Media Gift Exchange is Really a Scam
November 17, 2015

It may only be November, but scammers are already taking advantage of holiday goodwill. The latest seasonal scam is a gift exchange that's actually a pyramid scheme. Look out for this con on Facebook, Instagram and other social sites. 

How the Scam Works:
You spot a friend's post on your Facebook or Instagram feed. It's inviting you to join a 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 or 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 impossibly to sustain. This may seem like a harmless hoax, but these schemes are a form of gambling and illegal in the U.S. and Canada. 

Protect Yourself From Social Media Scams
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 the scam to Facebook. On Facebook report scam posts and other suspicious activity by following these instructions
  • Report the scam on Instagram. On Instagram report scam posts and other suspicious activity by following these instructions

For More Information
See examples of the social media posts in Buzzfeed's coverage of the scam and learn more about US Postal Inspectors' stance on chain letters

To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker)