When we think of illegal gambling, we picture things like unsavory characters taking bets under the table in the shadowy back room of a hole-in-the-wall bar, or maybe a high-stakes poker game in some mobster’s basement. We don’t think of what appears to be an innocent holiday gift exchange on our favorite social media platform.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case this holiday season. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning Canadian and US residents of a new scam that’s not only duping Facebook friends out of money – it’s being classified as a form of illegal gambling online.
There’s a post showing up on thousands of Facebook pages these days (and other social media websites) that’s encouraging people to partake in a Holiday Wine Bottle Exchange. The poster claims that it’s a 100% genuine opportunity to exchange wine as gifts with people all over the world.
Holiday Wine Bottle Exchange Scam
“ATTENTION WINE DRINKERS!!!,” it begins (which tends to grab the attention of most of today’s 21 and over). “Let’s create some positive vibes over the next few weeks leading up to the holidays. Anyone interested in a holiday wine bottle exchange?”
From there, the post advises that anyone can participate, regardless of their location, thanks to Amazon Wine; a service that allows people to purchase a bottle of wine online and have it delivered to any address around the globe. The poster asks for a minimum of 6, or preferably maximum of 36, friends to play along.
Those who choose to participate are then asked to buy and send a single bottle of wine, valued at $15 or more, “to ONE secret wine lover”. They then submit the same post to their friends, subsequently receiving anywhere from “6 to 36 wine bottles in return”.
6+ for 1? That Doesn’t Add Up
A traditional gift exchange has each person buy one gift for one other person, and in turn receive one gift. So how is it that wine lovers are giving 1 bottle, but getting 6 to 36 in return?
If the mathematics behind this holiday gift exchange aren’t adding up in your head, there’s a good reason for it. It’s because the friends must send their wine bottle to the person who tagged them in the post. So as long as at least 6 people respond, the poster gets 6+ bottles.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s actually a Pyramid Scheme, and like all pyramid schemes, it’s mathematically impossible for everyone to benefit. The people at the top of the chain get lots of wine, while those at the bottom get nothing because there simply aren’t enough people left to participate.
How Is It Illegal Gambling Online?
According to the BBB, who contacted the NY Attorney General’s Office about the holiday wine bottle exchange, a pyramid scheme is:
“a fraudulent system of making money based on recruiting an ever-increasing number of ‘investors,’”
And as for it being classified as illegal gambling online, that relates to a law prohibiting the age-old Chain Letter Pyramid Schemes that took place before the internet came along; Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, Postal Lottery Statute. The introduction of the internet, email and social media has, by default, transitioned the law to cover online pyramid schemes as well.
The US Postal Service deems chain letters gambling because they require people to send money to the top person on the list. They then scratch out that name, add their name to the bottom, then send it out to numerous other people who are supposed to do the same.
Paying money in hopes of getting more money back, when there’s a risk that you’ll receive nothing? That’s what gambling is all about. And while I enjoy a good wager now and again, these holiday wine bottle exchanges are among the most deceptive forms of illegal gambling online.