You've probably seen it on Facebook: "I'm looking for six ladies to participate in a 'Secret Sister' gift exchange!" The post goes on to promise that by sending just one $10 gift to one person, you'll receive 36 such gifts in exchange from 36 other people. But these types of pyramid schemes have existed for much longer than Facebook has, and they're scams, the Independent reports; their newfound resurgence has led to many a news article with headlines like "Viral 'gift exchange' chain letter delivers false promises." Though it may sound good in theory, think about the math involved: Six people each invite six more people, hence the 36 gifts the original participants will supposedly reap. But then it continues, and at each stage, the number of people who must be involved in order for you to actually receive your 36 gifts increases exponentially: By just the 10th stage, more than 60 million people would have to take part.
Pyramid schemes are illegal in the United States and against Facebook's Terms of Service—and, as a cybersecurity lawyer tells the New York Daily News, they're also dangerous. In order to get on the list and have a stranger theoretically send you a gift, you have to give out your personal information. That's not a good idea in the first place, and there's also the possibility someone might send you something dangerous, the lawyer says. "I don't [know] why people do things like this," she adds. "Most people look at it like it's just $10, and it's kind of exciting and different or whatever. I think that's what most people are thinking—and thinking is a loose term here." Rumor-busting website Snopes has also taken on the chain gift exchange and points out, "While a handful of individuals claimed to have received a single gift, none reported an avalanche of $10 trinkets arriving at their doors. Had such a plan ever borne fruit, accounts of such success mysteriously remained virtually non-existent." (Read more chain letter stories.)