Are social media gift exchanges legal?

The old axiom is true: You get what you pay for.

And if you decide to join one of those “secret sister” type deals that are all over social media, you’ll probably end up with nothing – if you’re lucky.

Here’s how these scams work: You see a social media post that seems like a fun little holiday-themed adventure: Send the next person on the list something for $10 – say a bottle of wine or a book – put your name on the list, and next thing you know, you’ll find an avalanche of $10 gifts arriving at your doorstep.

Seems too good to be true because …it’s too good to be true. Not only does the math not work, but you’re also opening yourself up to the feds knocking on your door instead of the deliveryman with a bottle of Pinot.

“Under federal law, this is a lottery and lotteries are illegal,” said W. Les Hartman, a partner at KMH&L who specializes in criminal defense. “There are three elements to a lottery: Consideration, offering of a prize, and chance. In this case, the consideration would be you sending that original bottle of wine or book or other item of value. The prize here would be the promise of having more items sent to you, and clearly the element of chance exists here in that you’re not winning anything based on merit.”

Really, what these “secret sister” schemes resemble most are the chain letters of yesteryear.

Another way to look at them: Pyramid schemes.

“The people that enter early could potentially get what’s being promised, but like any pyramid scheme, the last to join are likely to get nothing.” Hartman said.

Of course, there’s one other point to keep in mind: This seemingly innocuous holiday game also means you’re giving out your name and address to strangers without any oversight.

“You’re opening yourself up to identity theft,” Hartman notes.

So this holiday season, leave the gift-giving to people who know how to handle it best: Grandparents and Santa Claus.


© 2017 KMH&L Lawyers. All rights reserved.
Mercer County NJ Law Office | Kalavruzos, Mumola, Hartman & Lento, LLC


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