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Scammers lurking behind gift exchange invites

Crooks are seeking money, and personal information
Posted at 2:52 PM, Dec 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-11 20:33:14-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Reports are coming in about social media posts, emails and text messages, asking us to join a holiday gift exchange with people we don't know. Consumer experts warn it's another gateway to our wallets for scammers.

You may want to give the ladies in your life a heads up about this one because it specifically targets them. The "secret sister" gift exchange continues to get attention on social media. Now another post is popping up as a "wine club" exchange. Consumer experts say the mission is the same for scammers, they hope you'll play along giving them money and your sensitive information.

It's like a "secret santa" for women. We all have that family member who shares these emails and posts... it says to send a gift to your "secret sister" and you'll get up to 36 gifts back, depending on how many "sisters" sign up. But in the past many report never getting a gift at all and they've also given up personal information.

"What's out there can never be taken back. So, I absolutely believe social media has fueled this. Social media is a huge opportunity for scammers so scammers can target people that they think would be more likely to participate in this," said Adah Rodriguez of the Better Buisiness Bureau of Southern Colorado.

Now, another post is making the rounds, asking people to make questionable decisions exchanging gifts with people you don't know, but this time it's being pitched as a wine exchange.

"It's not legal to send wine or ship wine in all states, so you could be violating a state law somewhere but most importantly, the U.S. Postal Service wants to let us know that this is considered a multi-level marketing scheme," said Presidnet and CEO of the BBB Greater Maryland Angie Barnett.

Consumer experts say it's all an illegal pyramid scheme, but many people get roped in because they believe the gift exchange is an innocent friend's idea. When it's really a hacker posting or reaching out.

"You also don't know the person who is even soliciting you. Scammers are smart. They could've taken control of your friend's email address sending you an email phishing for your information asking you to be a part of this scheme. You may assume it's your friend when in reality it's a scammer," said Rodriguez.

Believe it or not, this "secret sister" scheme has been around since 2015, so if you think nobody falls for this, think again. If you are tagged in a gift exchange post you can either just ignore it, or report it to United States Postal Inspectors.

To file a report: https://www.uspis.gov/report/

Find more information and a warning from the BBB:https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/18854-bbb-warning-secret-sister-gift-exchange-is-illegal