The BBB recently published a fantastic article outlining a new twist on an old crime that is leaving many people on social media not only suckered, but also with their personal information completely exposed. The scam is called a "Gift Exchange".
I originally heard about these gift exchanges last year when my sister-in-law joined a group that did "Wine Surprise". Basically what it is, is everybody in the group posts their information and other people from the group prepare a wine basket gift for them, then surprise them by anonymously leaving it on their front porch. My sister in law successfully received, and dropped, numerous baskets without issue. However, in a matter of months the scammers caught wind of these groups and saw it as a prime opportunity to capitalize. Here's what's going on, according to the BBB:
"The scheme starts with a convincing invitation, either by email or social media to sign up for what seems like a great, fun program. All you must do is provide your name and address and personal information of a few additional friends, and tack this information on to a list that’s already started of people you’ve never met on the internet. Next, it’s your turn to send an email or social media invitation to send a modest gift or bottle of wine to a stranger along with their friends, family and contacts.
A newer twist on the idea asks you to give your etransfer email and asks users to pick a name off of a list and send money to strangers, to "pay it forward."
There was even another new twist called "Secret Santa Dog" where you are asked to buy a $10 gift for a "secret dog."
In all of these versions, you give away your personal information, and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts or money to unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts or cash"... however all of their personal data is still publicly available on the internet.
With just a few pieces of information, cyber thieves could expose you to future scams or commit identity theft. To take it a step further, you can set yourself up for robbery. It is absolutely best to avoid these types of groups. If you want to surprise people with gifts, drop off the basket at a friends door or make your mail carrier smile when they open your box and see a little gift.
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