This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.
Wine lovers, beware!
Receiving up to 36 bottles of wine in the mail—after shelling out cash for just one bottle—sounds like a holiday miracle. But according to the Better Business Bureau and US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), it could be illegal. So next time you see a “Secret Holiday Wine Exchange” pop up in your Facebook feed, you might want to ignore it.
In these posts, Facebook users share information like the one featured below, promising that if you “Buy ONE bottle of wine valued at at least $12 and send it to one secret person … you will receive 6-36 in return!”
Last year, the BBB sent out an alert to warn people about the consequences of participating in this “illegal scam.”
“Here is how this scheme works: If a consumer purchases one gift for a stranger, she will receive as many as 36 gifts in return,” the organization said in a press release. “This type of gift exchange may seem reasonable enough in theory: six friends invite six more friends, who all send gifts to the one participant in spot 1 before that person’s name is moved. This process repeats itself with the participant in the 2 spot, and so on. Of course, starting this gift exchange comes with a catch—you need to disclose your personal information…”
The release went on to recommend that you ignore all chain letters and avoid giving out your personal information to anyone.
This year, on November 29, the USPIS took to Twitter to remind people about the dangers—and illegality—of the pyramid scheme. “Don’t fall for the ‘Secret Sister’ gift exchange,” warned the press room’s Twitter post.
The USPIS official online statement about chain letters shares more information, alerting that they are “illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants.”
If you have already received a request to participate in a wine or “Secret Sister” exchange, the USPIS suggests the following: “Turn over any chain letter you receive that asks for money or other items of value to your local postmaster or nearest Postal Inspector. Write on the mailing envelope of the letter or in a separate transmittal letter, ‘I received this in the mail and believe it may be illegal.’”
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