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12 Scams of Christmas, Day 12: Pyramid Schemes

Posted at 10:00 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 10:58:00-05

TULSA, Okla. — It seems like a harmless game. You give and expect gifts.

They go by names like Secret Santa, Secret Sister, Holiday Wine Exchange, and the Blessing Room, just to name a few.

But these exchanges are actually pyramid schemes and the criminals that target victims, are tricky.

You're told it's a way to brighten someone's day and receive a little something in return. Plus, and the secret sister gift exchange doesn't require a huge buy-in.

Angela says she was tempted. She called us to say "I was told I could buy a $10 gift card and send it to a secret sister, then I'd receive anywhere from 6 to 36 in return by getting more people to be involved. I was wondering, is this legit for Christmas exchanges? It sounds fun."

The Better Business Bureau says folks like Angela are right to ask questions since it's a common scam around the holidays.

"I'm running the risk that if I give someone a dollar, the last two or three people on the list are going to give me a dollar that's a really simplified version of it," says Angie Barnett, with the BBB.

But the BBB says you likely won't receive anything and are giving away your personal information.

These schemes, however, can become costly when more money is involved like with the blessing loom or cash app circle.

"People were receiving notifications that all they had to do was invest $500 to get $5,000 ."

Participants would load up prepaid cards then wait for their investment to grow.

"Money is to be made by those at the top and the further out the circle goes, when I bring in friends to invest and then they bring in friends, the money dries up, there's not enough money to support that large group and the pyramid literally collapses ."

The BBB says these online scams became more prevalent right as the pandemic hit.

"People were losing money at a time when they could not afford to do so ."

In addition to being a poor investment, these schemes are illegal. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service considers it a form of gambling.

So if you receive one of these invitations, just ignore it, or report it on the social media platform.

And remember, it's also illegal to mail alcohol via the post office.

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