Please Stop Spreading Pyramid Schemes Around Facebook

Gift exchanges can be super fun: it’s great to receive a present that you didn’t anticipate at all. However, an attempt by either a well-meaning person or a gift-hogging trickster began on Facebook recently, and zapped quickly around the world. One scheme, called the “Secret Sisters Gift Exchange,” promises thirty-six gifts in your mailbox after you mail out only one, but reality doesn’t work that way.

This scheme also has a variation for parents, where participants send out children’s books to one person on the list and receive as many as thirty-six books back.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has really taken up this cause on Facebook: they’re the experts, since in decades past people used the mail to send their chain letters. (That’s how people circulated advance-fee frauds, too.) In days past, these schemes may have circulated to solicit postcards, cash, or just letters so children could receive some mail.

The USPIS explains why pyramid schemes are a terrible idea unless you are literally the person who started the chain. Note: we are not encouraging you to start a pyramid scheme or chain letter.

Consider a typical pyramid that involves six individuals in the chain. By the time you’ve reached the fourth level of participation, nearly 1,300 recruits must be onboard. Today, social media might make that a bit easier in than days past, which required chain letter-type solicitations by mail. However, upon reaching the sixth level of participation, you’d have to attract more recruits than could be seated in Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

By the seventh level, you’d need more participants than folks living in Anchorage, AK. The ninth level requires you to recruit all of Houston, Tx and the Washington Metro area combined—and you still wouldn’t have enough participants.

The 11th round requires everyone in the United States to join in, if the promise is to be fulfilled.

I don’t care how many Facebook friends you have: you can’t convince everyone in the United States to mail a children’s book or a $10 gift to a random stranger. As it happens, though, these chains are also against Facebook’s terms of service, which bar users from passing around chain letters or other misleading and illegal schemes.

Don’t hit “share.” Don’t say, “LOL, you never know!” as you put your own kid’s name and home address on the list and send it out to strangers. Don’t perpetuate pyramid schemes.

Secret Sisters Gift Exchange [Snopes]
Secret Sister Gift Exchange – Don’t pay or yule be sorry [FTC]

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