Pyramid schemes are nothing new. They go by many names and offer a lot of different variations, some of which sound like harmless fun or even legitimate business opportunities. But in the end, not only are pyramid schemes a good way to lose a lot of money and the trust of your friends and family, they’re also illegal.
Last year, ITRC exposed a new Facebook pyramid scheme that left users at risk. It is beginning to resurface again this year and here’s how you can stay ahead of the game. If you’re new to the concept of this kind of scam, a pyramid scheme works by building on your own “meager” investment. You are approached by someone who’s already involved in the scam and told that if you pay up the specified cost, you will then make a multi-fold return on your “investment” by recruiting others to join in the scam. For example, you may be asked to pay $5,000, which is shared among the people on the level above you; then you’re tasked with recruiting ten other people to each pay $5,000. You will make a portion of their investments, as will the people above you. The selling point for the hapless people you recruit is that they will turn around and each find ten people to join in, and the game goes on.
It’s not hard to see why this is illegal under the endless chain scheme laws. All it takes for one person—possibly even you—to lose all your money and make no return is for someone to not uphold the bargain of finding ten people to each pay in their share.
But what about the ones that don’t require massive cash payments? Over the years, this type of scam has been presented with everything from children’s books to dish towels to panties—seriously, ladies’ underwear, in which you send a pair of undies to the next person on the list, then get ten other people to join in the panty fun. Even the old concept of the chain letter—“send this letter to twenty of your friends within the next twenty-four hours…don’t let the chain be broken or there will be deadly consequences!”—seems harmless on the surface because it doesn’t appear to cost you anything more than some postage or a click of your email forwarding mouse. But that’s not actually what’s at stake.
A new scam that’s making its way around social media is called the “secret sister” game, and it’s nothing more than an old-fashioned pyramid scheme. In this version, new recruits agree to send a $10 gift—perhaps a candle, some gloves, or some fancy lotion—to the names on the list. They will then turn around and recruit ten more people to do the same, thereby ensuring that they receive $10 gifts from thirty-six people down the line. It seems harmless enough, right?
Wrong. First of all, it violates the terms of service for sites like Facebook, and could result in your account being blocked. In this era of privacy, security and identity theft, there’s simply no reason to participate in a “game” of this kind. Even if you end up a winner, what you win is a houseful of cheap gifts from total strangers. The more likely outcome, though, is the possibility that someone is gathering and storing the personal information on everyone who plays along. This kind of threat is too great to ignore for a cheap candle from someone you’ve never met.
For your own sake, and the safety of your identifying information, you need to file this one in the “something for nothing” scam drawer and get rid of it. Whether it’s money, children’s books, chain letters, or even underwear, no one starts these things because they have too much free time on their hands. There’s typically an underlying motive that you can’t see, and in this case the consequences could be lasting damage to your identity.
As always, anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our 24-hour toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.