Connecticut Better Business Bureau is urging consumers to steer clear of social media posts about gift exchanges that appear to be pyramid schemes.
On Facebook for example, the Holiday Wine Bottle Exchange is spreading like wildfire, without victims knowing they are breaking the law, and they likely may receive nothing at all.
Social media posts say the sender needs between six and 35 wine lovers to participate in a secret wine bottle exchange. To get a piece of the action, the posting says “You only have to buy one bottle of wine worth about $15 or more, and send it to another wine lover.” The post then promises participants will “…receive from six to 36 wine bottles in return, depending on how many wine drinkers join.”
The pitch is alluring, but is it too good to be true? You bet, according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz.
“This is reminiscent of chain letters of years past. In this case, the online presence spreads offers – good and bad – far and wide, quickly raking in significant amounts of money and gifts. More important, the scheme itself is illegal.”
The people at the top of the pyramid are also looking for personal information, such as your home address.
The Wine Bottle Exchange is similar to the “Secret Sister” gift scheme, in which people are urged to send $10 dollars and receive up to 36 gifts in return.
The United States Postal Inspection Service says gambling, pyramid schemes and gift chains like this are illegal.
At face value, the Holiday Wine Bottle Exchange might seem reasonable: In theory, six people who are involved will invite six more friends to participate, with donations being bumped up the chain to higher-ups.
“Pyramid schemes are against the law, whether by mail, email or social media channels, especially if the organizers are asking for money or other valuable items, with the assurance of a generous return for those who participate,” adds Schwartz. “Beware.”
If you receive a chain letter by mail, email or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, Better Business Bureau recommends:
- Check with BBB before becoming involved in suspicious and possibly illegal activity. Better Business Bureau urges victims or would be victims to report the incident to BBB’s Scam Tracker, at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/connecticut
- To avoid this scam, the best thing to do is completely ignore it altogether. Do not give out personal information to anyone or share or repost it.
- Chain letters via social media and U.S. mail that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain letter or send one, you are breaking the law.
- Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your “investment.” Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.
- Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming they’re legal and endorsed by the government.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers information about chain letters at www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect, or you can call the Postal Inspection Service toll-free at 1-888-877-7644.
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