BBB December Scams


Spam Emails Containing Phony Invoices

BBB began receiving complaints May 2018 from consumers receiving vague emails from someone named “Dylan Whitehouse,” from an address located at Wilmington College. BBB has verified with the college there is no one there by that name, and the physical address is not valid. The email states, "Your order has shipped. Your order can no longer be changed, and you owe $879.99. Thank You, Customer Service."

We are unsure about the goal of the email, since the link to pay this alleged bill appears to be broken. In one case, someone reported that clicking on the link turned off their computer. Others report that hitting unsubscribe seems to result in similar emails coming multiple times a day.

Regarding these emails, BBB has received 84 complaints, 52 inquiries, and daily Scam Tracker entries. Frequency has increased during the holidays; consumers may not be paying attention to bills or invoices and are at greater risk to pay without double-checking.

BBB advises you not to reply to email, but to run antivirus software, and report the emails to spam@uce.gov as well as your email provider.

Secret Sister Gift Exchange

The Better Business Bureau is reminding you again this year not to add items for the online “Secret Sister” gift exchange to your holiday shopping list--the exchange and other similar invitations are illegal. The campaign, which began making the rounds in 2015, has again been circulating on social media sites, in particular, Facebook.

The post claims that participants will receive dozens of gifts in exchange for sending one gift valued at $10. Users are encouraged to invite others to participate in the holiday gift exchange, where they will receive information on where to mail gifts.

But there is one big problem with gift chains like “Secret Sister” – they are pyramid schemes. The U.S. Postal Inspector says that these types of gift exchanges are considered illegal gambling and that participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud. Pyramid schemes are illegal, either by mail or on social media, if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate.

Here is how the scheme works: A Facebook user will post a status about a holiday gift exchange, asking a minimum of six friends to participate. Participants will receive a list of two names, and instructions to send a gift to the participant in the first spot. That person’s name is then removed, and the participant in the second spot is moved up to the top of the list. You then add your name to the newly-available second spot, and send the gift exchange invitation to six other friends. Those six will repeat the process in hopes that if everyone purchases one gift for a stranger, they will receive as many as 36 gifts in return.

Unfortunately, it isn’t likely to happen. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scheme 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.

If you receive a chain letter by mail, email, or social media, especially one that involves money or gifts, ignore it. Report the post to Facebook by clicking in the upper righthand corner and selecting “Report post” or “report photo.” And as always, be wary of any solicitation that requests money or personal information, such as your address.

For more information, visit U.S. Postal Inspection Service site: https://www.uspis.gov/news/scam-article/pyramid-schemes/

For more information on scams, check out BBB Scam Tips (BBB.org/ScamTips). Report suspicious activity to BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker).