Online gift exchanges are bogus, illegal

via Moak: Online gift exchanges are bogus, clarionledger.com, 12/9/2015

PDF: Gift scams

Every year around this time, various messages start appearing on social media and email with something that sounds like a really great idea: send a gift to a person on some list, and you’ll be showered with gifts in return! With the season of giving upon us, a lot of folks seem ready to gleefully join in. But be warned: Not only is this scheme unlikely to send the mailman to your door laden with gifts from perfect strangers, the whole thing is illegal.

The “Secret Sister Gift Exchange” (SSGE) is just one of many of this type of solicitations making the rounds on Facebook and other social media. According to Snopes.com, several similar schemes are making the rounds, including ones in which you can allegedly send books to kids.

“SSGE encourages you to mail a gift worth $10 to a stranger at the top of the list,”explains the Federal Trade Commission’s Carol Kando-Pineda. “Supposedly, in return, you’ll get a pile of presents from other participants. SSGE and come-ons like it encourage you to hop on board an enticing cash- or gift-giving experience. Sounds like a good time, right? Sorry, Blitzen, stop that sleigh!”

SSGE, Kando-Pineda explains, is just another version of a pyramid scheme, the well-worn ploy to get people to send money or items to a person at the top of a list, in exchange for the potential of receiving lots of money. But according to many sources, the U.S. Postal Service considers these schemes to be illegal gambling.

A related ploy is the chain letter, which often warns you to ignore it at your peril. Earlier this week, I even saw a Facebook chain post that asked you to “repost this on your wall if you love Jesus; keep scrolling if you don’t.” I sure do love Jesus, but I’m not falling for such silliness. (In fact, didn’t Jesus tell us to show us we love him by serving others in his name, not by guilting people into reposting some Facebook message? I mean, who are the people who cook this stuff up?)

Now, to be clear, there are legitimate (and fun) ways to help people during the holidays that don’t involve participation in some sketchy Internet pyramid scheme. Here are five:

  1. Buy a gift card for somebody and find sneaky ways to make sure they get it, but don’t know who gave it to them.
  2. Help out at a local charity that feeds, clothes or supports people in need. (If you really want to make an impression, you could commit to helping at other times, too.)
  3. Instead of giving gifts that will be forgotten in a few days, take the money you would have spent on that person and give it to your favorite organization in their name. (But be wise about it; check out the charity on give.org, Charity Navigator or similar sites.)
  4. Perform an act of service for a shut-in or neighbor in need. Bushes need trimming, leaves need raking; houses need straightening. Such service will not only benefit the person receiving it, you’ll reap the rewards, too.
  5. Spend quality time with your family. As someone once said, “There is no present like time.”
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