A gifting circle is a pyramid scheme that is gaining a strong foothold in even the most anti-MLM circles.
I was at a party last weekend where I learned about this money scam that rivals even Amway. It offers up even greater deception and insanity, providing both a smoother pitch and bigger promises.
A gifting circle is a pyramid scheme
Gifting circles are a type of pyramid scheme and they are illegal. These go by many names, like gifting circle or gifting cloud. All of them are pyramid schemes.
I would list mocking MLMs within the top 10 of my favorite personal finance activities, but this new one takes the cake. It’s one thing to tell people they can earn a few hundred dollars a month selling toiletries to their friends and family. It’s quite another to promise a $40,000 payout.
You read that right: $40,000
As soon as I heard that number I knew I was going to be told something ludicrous, and my friend delivered. It’s called a Gifting Circle. But it can also go by some other names.
Other names for a gifting circle
If you’re not sure what you’re taking part in is a gifting circle, here are some other terms the scheme typically goes by:
- Money Pot
- Money Circle
- Gifting Tree
- Circle of Gold
- Commitment Circle
- Flower Money Tree
- Gifting Wheel
How a Gifting Circle works
A Gifting Circle is a clever way of sugar-coating the words “pyramid scheme”. It’s an elaborate, expensive scam that primarily targets women. They go by a number of different names, and often come with a made up history about helping women through war times.
Gifting circles induct women into the group for a specific amount of cash, usually $5,000.
The groups are made up of 15 women, called a circle, but of course it’s actually a pyramid. Eight women on the bottom layer, then four, then two, and one at the top.
The woman at the top collects $40,000 when the bottom level is filled. This happens when each of the eight newest initiates gives her a $5,000 “gift.” Once she gets her gift (they might call it her “birthday” or say her “cloud has rained”), she leaves the group, which subsequently splits in two.
The remaining members move up a level, and both groups start looking for new members to recruit to start the cycle over.
My friend was trapped in a gifting circle
When my friend explained this to me, I actually grabbed her shoulders and shook her forcefully yelling “Scam! It’s a SCAM!”. She looked dubious but otherwise nonplussed. She had not participated in the gifting circle herself because she, thankfully, did not have $5,000 lying around for such BS.
Another girl at the party piped up that she had gone in for a “half-step”, which is $2,500. However, she got nervous and pulled her money out. Nevertheless, both of these young women insisted over and over that the gifting circle was 1) not scam, 2) not illegal, and 3) that one of their friends made it through twice pocketing as much as $90,000.
All three of those points are untrue, especially the last one. Neither of my friends realized their gifting circle is a pyramid scheme.
If anyone is trying to lead you into an investment with the reassurance that it is “not a scam” and “not illegal”, that is a big red flag that it is definitely both.
Honest business doesn’t need to lead with that defense. People selling legitimate products and services don’t start off by telling you what their business is not. They don’t have to, they should be too busy selling you on what value they can provide.
Scams work the opposite way. They try to dazzle you with too-good-to-be-true promises, while simultaneously reassuring you nothing shady is going on.
Gifting circles are 100% illegal!
Gifting Circles are illegal, make no mistake about it. It’s laid out in section 206 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
My friend admitted she was aware the Gifting Circle wasn’t totally with the law, but assured me there was a loophole. There is an exchange of a gift card for the cash, which makes it a transaction instead of the gift.
I don’t think paying $5,000 for a $100 gift card to Victoria’s Secret is really fooling anyone, but perhaps it is enough to dodge some legal red tape?
The target of this Gifting Circle is affluent, well-connected women
A $5,000 buy-in is cost-prohibitive to many, which means this type of scam is more likely to target a more affluent demographic. This itself is a problem, because many people with higher incomes or wealth will consider themselves “above” money scams.
There’s a stigma attached to scams that they only happen to people that are of a low socioeconomic class, and stupid or bad with money, when that really isn’t the case. Both elaborate and simple scams can and do happen to anyone regardless of their income, education, or wealth.
A gifting circle is a pyramid scheme, even if it happens to rich people.
The reason scams pop up so frequently and operate so successfully is because we’re hardwired to believe them
The sell is incredibly persuasive, particularly for the Gifting Circle.
A group of friends joining together to pay out a big “gift” to another friend works under the guise of women helping women. The close friendships between participants create an atmosphere of trust and security, which easily overcomes most hesitations you would otherwise feel to parting with $5,000.
Seeing your friends participate, or even profit, from the scheme assuages any worry that you might have that it’s not legit.
To venture even deeper into the crazy underground garage of this multi-story scheme, there is even a made-up history that Gifting Circles were established during World War II to help wives and mothers whose husbands were off to war. You can read more about the dark fairytale mythology that is Gifting Circles here.
Rest assured no matter what anyone tells you, a gifting circle is a pyramid scheme.
There are so many layers of psychological swindling happening that it is downright disorienting.
These scams persist further because people will lie to keep them going. Do I think this girl my friends “know” made $90,000 through gifting circles? Fuck no — unless she is at the heart of this scam and on her way to jail.
Do I think she’s telling them it’s worked for her multiple times to get more buy-ins? Of course, that’s the easiest sell: “look it worked for me, so it will definitely work for you”.
My only regret is she wasn’t at the party so I could ask her directly to tell me more about how she made off with nearly six-figures by asking friends of friends to give her $5,000 each as a “gift”.
People in the middle or at the bottom of the Gifting Circle likely don’t know they’re part of a scam
The person at the top definitely does.
The person at the top of a gifting circle is actively committing fraud. They are a con artist. They are not your friend. They are not a victim.
They are conducting an elaborate scheme to steal money directly out of your pockets. Frankly, you should report them to the police and have them arrested for robbing you and your friend group. But doing so comes with the embarrassment of having to admit you fell for their ruse.
A gifting circle is a pyramid scheme, and sometimes it happens to good people.
You should never feel embarrassed or stupid if you’ve lost money to a Gifting Circle.
You should feel angry that a friend deceived you.
Everyone makes mistakes with their money. Sometimes these are small mistakes, but sometimes they’re big. Chances are, the more money you have the more likely you are to make a bigger mistake. You simply brush yourself off, learn from it, and move on.
Gifting circle arrests
This is the first time the gifting circle is a pyramid scheme has crossed my path. However, it’s one of the most common pyramid schemes in the city.
The main one in the city is called Prosperity, but there are others with names like “Women Empowering Women”.
My girlfriends said the one they had been involved in was called something with the word “cloud” in the name (in reference to your payout being “when your cloud rains”) but insisted they couldn’t remember the name. I’m guessing they just didn’t want to tell me because I was freaking out.
There is a CTV news clip about gifting circles that includes an interview with the Calgary Police Department Economic Crimes Division that is also worth a watch here.
The only way to make money is to earn it. Don’t give it to assholes.
It’s amazing what people will allow themselves to believe for the prospects of easy money. It’s important to get the word out to help prepare people for the situation. I can imagine the social pressure to participate must be pretty significant. Sort of me being at an Amway party a “friend” has roped you into. You really don’t want to buy anything but feel obligated because you think everyone is buying. Great post Bridget!
Yah this is the craziest one I’ve found yet!
Bridget. You make a lot of blanket negative statements. Please explain why this particular gifting program is illegal. You site the criminal case but what aspect of the code does it not comply with?? Also you classify this as a scam but show me someone who has lost money?? You can get your money out anytime you ask for it because there are many people waiting to replace you. Plus this is 100% voluntary. There is no obligation. The payout is fixed so there is no gamble unlike a lottery or a casino. Nobody has been arrested and in fact many police officers and CRA employees are involved complete with a thorough review against the governing laws. I realize that there may be several different versions of these programs that don’t do things to stay on the right side of the law but it’s unfair of you to use your ridiculous blanket statements for every program. During the wars, gifting circles were common so I don’t know where you get off saying that it’s a made-up story. So you have no evidence to back up any of your statements. Maybe you should actually do some research when you write a piece on something. My biggest peave about your story is that people tend to believe what they read from seemingly credible sources. Your BS will prevent people from getting the information they need to possibly change their lives and the lives of their friends and family. I’ve changed my life and the lives of the people around me. This is not for everyone but it is life changing for some. Shame on you Britney !!!
I legit linked a news show warning against these scams. If you take the time to watch it, you can see that the police are involved and trying to prevent people from losing money in these, particularly in Alberta.
The story that they were started in the war is myth. There’s no evidence to back up those statements, you’re just hanging on to them because you want them to be true.
I have no idea why you’re asking me to “do some research” when it’s clear from the post that I did extensive research. I included all the links to my sources above, you might want to check them out.
You haven’t changed your life or those of the people around you. You’re still hoping you’ll get your payout. You won’t. It’s not coming. You put $5,000 into nothing.
Also, my name is Bridget, which you got right at the beginning of your rant but seem to have forgotten by the end.
When a donation happens transparent and without misinformation or any fraud, there’s nothing illegal that happened.
I’ve donated before and I sign my legal consent. I’m not going to cry with a charity that they stole my money, and I fully am aware that this was a gift – so that means I do not expect a return.
One person donating another is fully legal. A community that comes together and supports each other this way is also fully legal – it’s even a constitutional right.
When people advertise it as a guaranteed investment and promote it with wrong language or deceptions, yes obviously it’s wrong and fraud should be stopped.
However you make the mistake to call all of the mandalas a fraud, when – you may or may not know – it’s only a community. It’s like calling a whole village a fraud because they interact in a way which you don’t align with. That is stupidly negative. When people are talking from truth and they lay out everything – they cannot ever be a fraud.
There’s no mandala organization or CEO either lol – it’s never more than a group of 15 and they all act on their own.
For many people this system of donating works well and they benefit majorly from it, so your negativity or judgment is a bit too emotionally fueled it seems almost.
One of the funny contradictions in your post was that you call it a scam in the same phrase you say the person got refunded. Read that again. A scam means someone has been robbed as far as I am aware, so a scam that refunds is quite remarkable.
Take some time and look for systems that rely on exponential growth, all around you, economy, finances, just think about it. Now is the exponential aspect of a system making it a scam? Making it impossible so it’s crap?
As far as I can tell, all of our economies are based on the need for infinite growth yet you call something a scam because of this aspect, which is interesting.
Actually, Drum boy is correct. This is a terrible article and verges at points on extreme misogyny. I think you do yourself and women all across the world over a big disservice to describe money raising schemes in your unaware generalisations. You have the privilege of making an impact with your blog so please think before you post.
This is crazy! At first, I was hoping your post would be about make-up selling parties and online jewelry sales – which can be scam-my enough, IMHO. Perhaps the scariest part is how people reacted when you talked with them about it. Yikes!
haha it’s true — I have written about those before: https://www.moneyaftergraduation.com/2014/09/22/the-1-reason-i-will-never-join-an-mlm-is-because-i-am-good-at-math/ they are EVERYWHERE
it seems like at least 1 in 3 people is in some sort of scam.
WOW! I have never heard of this scam, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I do enjoy reading about these MLM schemes.
Me too. Crazy MLMs are my guilty pleasure!
What the heck! I’ve never even heard of this before, but it definitely sounds like a terrible scam. I did fall for an MLM once, but I would never do this!
I’ve seen people do ok in MLMs — it’s more of an exhausting challenge with little payoff than it is a real “scam”.
This takes the cake as far as fraud, however. Can’t believe it’s happening.
Crazy, I’ve never heard of this before. I am part of a Calgary swap & shop and plenty of ladies post the “make money at home, join this group” post and I can’t help but wonder what they are involved in.
A lady I work with has a side gig in financial planning and invited me to an information course to see what it’s all about. I told my mom about it and the first she said was ” it’s a pyramid scheme!” I didn’t know that was a thing. Have you heard of a financial planning pyramid scheme before?
I haven’t — but maybe it’s something like Primerica or Investors Group, they’re heavy on the sales pitch.
I would say anything that has a hint of being a pyramid scheme probably is one, but I’d be extra cautious about anything that manages your money.
wow… that’s all I have to say… wow…
Also, I hope that I never fall for anything like this…
You won’t! It’s easy to be enticed by the idea but just remember the old adage is true:
if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If there really was a “get rich quick scheme” wouldn’t we all be rich??
Kinda like just take these pills and you’ll be 30 pounds lighter!! If it were that easy we would have all caught on by now….
Right??? I think the $40K is too seductive. People just want so bad to believe it.
honestly, if your not in it, you wouldn’t understand it and apparently that’s the issue. There are always people trying to find fault in things they don’t understand. Please say in your lane and keep your mind on your own gain. Somethings are not all what you perceive them to be. That’s the blessing in this, it isn’t for all mindsets.
It’s a scam =)
I have never heard of that. It amazes me what people will try for a huge pay out. When I was younger my Mom was in a Club Hand. Basically a bunch of women would put money in a pot every month and when it was your month to collect, you got the pot.
I laughed out loud when I read your last line because it was so perfect in its truthfulness, bluntness and simplicity: “The only way to make money is to earn it. Don’t give it to assholes.”
Anyway, I’m a new reader, also in Calgary, (still!) working in O&G. I enjoy your blog. Congrats on your wedding!
I fell for one of these… and one of the main reasons was that I trusted the friend who brought me in at the time. Never again… and sadly, I am no longer friends with that person.
Yep, that’s the saddest part of it all.. it breaks friendships over greed.
How did you end up losing money on this scam?
I “bought” a spot for $5000 and I invited some of my girlfriends to see it (hoping they would join too). None of them did and now the cloud I’m in isn’t moving anymore. I can’t even get my money out because there’s no new women on the bottom of the pyramid to “eek me out”.
Actually, the city I’m living in is just now starting to see these circles pop up. And its become very popular because, well it works! Don’t ask me how but I know 2 friends personally that have invested 1,400 dollars and after 5 weeks or so, got paid 11,200. The only thing they had to do was find 2 investers to bring with them to the circle.
Yah, everybody “personally knows two friends who this has worked for”
I got invited by two groups already, and went to three meetings. I was impressed as I knew some of the ladies, and made their money back, and put in another $5000.00, a couple more times. They are on their third time, and helping out others. I was supposed to go to another meeting tomorrow, but I think I will decline. Thank you for all the stories on here. And I was assured it wasn’t a scam, and the police know about these circles, and so did Revenue Canada. I even met an old neighbor at the last meeting, and he told me it really works and he made money already, and joined in April! Yes, it is secretive, and it was a little confusing and disconcerning to me. I also don’t have $5000.00, yet alone $2500.00, nor do I want to ask anyone else for the money! What I do know is that in Calgary, it works different, and I heard that from someone who used to live there, and now she lives here, and has made some serious money!! She also said that she had money before that because she had worked for a great company. I’m glad I saw this, but the people are making money. I just don’t have it to give, and want to know exactly, how is it a scam! They even said that the police were at one of the meetings.
A co worker is or was involved in one. Never did hear how it turned out. Badly I’m sure
What a shame.
So… did you do it? Do you know a friend that did it and lost money? And can you lay out specifically the illegal parts about the gifting circle of receiving 5 g?
If you reread the post, you’ll see it specifically mentions Section 206 of the Criminal Code of Canada that names these scams as illegal…
I did it and made money and was then able to help out friends. Where under section 206/207 does it say it is illegal? I gave in $5,000 and got $5,000 back in exchange for a GC. I didn’t get more than I gave from any one person which is in subsection 8. The group donates a whole lot to charity too… they are all volunteers who keep it going. At least the gifting circle I am part of does. Not sure if they are all like this.
Good job setting things straight Lori J and Lola. I agree, there is nothing wrong with this and people need to educate themselves properly, do your homework and stop bashing things that you have no experience in. Go out there and clock your 9-5 and pay the big guy 28 – 40% taxes on your hard earned dollars….good luck in whatever method you choose to get ahead, as long as yes, it is legal.
Well said Lori
A true ‘gifting circle’ is not what you have described here. Yes some clever, or not so clever women, may have named their venture a gifting circle but they have used the name inappropriately. Because as you have quite rightly stated here, their venture is in reality a pyramid scheme. A true gifting circle is where people contribute excess goods, time and services to the circle and people take from the circle what they NEED (notice the word need here). No-one gives what they cannot afford or cannot do without. A gifting circle is a way of equally sharing resources and time, in that those with excess give, and those with less receive. As it’s name implies, it’s structure is circular in nature. It is not a pyramid structure.
It is very sad that some women have taken this beautiful notion of giving and receiving and used it to deceive others and defame its name. So please DO NOT be deceived. What has been described as a gifting circle here and in some other places is a distortion of the truth. Namaste.
You don’t have all your facts straight. This article is full of holes. This type of thing isn’t for me but I have been exposed to it. It is not a pyramid scheme but keep believing it is.
so your saying this is true ?
My friend just joined a gifting circle. One of the members sponsored her for $5,000. That person will get their $5,000 back . My friend and the sponsor will split $40,000. It seems too good to be true. I told my friend we will wait & see.
Thank you for writing this article. I agree with you it’s a scam. Her friend recruited her and now my friend has to recruite 2 more friends.
Well… in an active circle where do you think the people at the top used to be? AT THE BOTTOM…. The bottom keeps filling up and pushing people to the top.. Once they make it to the top it’s their birthday… more people coming in allows everyone to get pushed to the top to the birthday seat. As long as people keep joining or coming it keeps flowing… and no, I am not a member, but I am versed in how it works.
It’s a scam.
It relies continuously on recruiting new people. For you to “get to the top”, hundreds of new people will need to be recruited, which is very unlikely.
I am a part of one of these Gifting Circles and have been since July 2016. I am in the “birthday” spot for a second time, I also have 2 half spots in another cloud. My son is in the “birthday” spot for a second time also. My best friend has already made $100,000, she is a single mom and just 2 weeks ago bought a condo. I personally know many who have made money in this. I also know a few who have gifted then decided to leave before reaching the “birthday” spot to collect their $40,000 and did receive their $5,000 back, I still have not heard of anyone losing their money. Yes there are many scams out there and people need to be cautious but this is not one of them. A friend personally contacted both RCMP and CRA to make sure this was legal and was told by both that it is and we do have many RCMP members and CRA employees in our group, . We also had the lottery commission look at this as we were hosting meetings in a casino and it was deemed legal by them as well.
If you have the mindset that this is a scam then absolutely this is not for you, but I am forever grateful that I was introduced to this amazing group because it is truly life changing!!!
Stop lying, Lynn.
100% truth Bridget, I have no reason to lie.
Bridget, you really have no idea what you are talking about. This is not the “scam” you are presenting. People really DO make a lot of money and everyone helps to get each other to the birthday spot. Anytime you invest money, whether into stocks, etc, you are taking a risk of losing it. Most people are willing to part with the $5000 or $2500 when they try to go for their $40,000. It’s part of the game. And it IS NOT illegal. If it were, people would be getting arrested left right and centre. I know of NO ONE who has been arrested or charged, do you???? If you are going to LIE, maybe check YOUR facts first.
I think people are scared of the unknown, if they fully educated them selfs about this they would understand how it works. They have no faith that good things can happen to good people.
I know of many people who have done this and it changed their lives for the better and made many of their dreams come true. And no they aren’t in jail or charged with a crime they are on holiday or driving nice cars 😉
yes i have to agree with Shauna May
Everything in life that is shaped like a pyramid is a scam. I think that way of thinking, right there, shows lack of intelligence.
It’s happening all over again in BC. I was just approached and I
can’t believe people still believe that it will come true. What’s that saying??? If it’s to good to be true then it is!! Is it because it is our friends who try and sell us this amazing pitch. Please someone do something about this. I have told my friend that it is a right out scam but she believes them. It doesn’t help when they have known someone who has received the 40,000. I mean I saw it happen too but never received anything in the end. I was a victim of this long time ago….I’m not embarrassed but wish I knew better back then.
How do we save our friends from falling for this scam yet again?
Hi, Drum boy. Ms.Brittany is correct. The U.S. has signed off that all levels of this process entitled, “gifting circle” with sirnames of all sorts truly are illegal. Even if you make money. That’s pretty cut and dry. I wanted to invest thinking it’d be great way to increase my portfolio. I did and still haven’t received a dime. I was told numerous reasons.
This said, I have seen it work when the team is family. But it is still illegal… It’s also gambling. So “chance” is what you’re taking. Lady luck in it’s deepset finest intent. I pray all that are involved do receive their “WOW”moment.
Many people are trying to find ways into making this illegal, finding all kinds of excuse to stop people from financial gain. This type of savings have been around for years. Now that Covid-19 is here and people of color are finding ways to overcome to job loss, bill payments and just living a better life. Here’s some privileged person who don’t know about the culture, making their reason as to what is illegal. The process has been set for many years in the Asian community, Hispanic, white community been doing it and nothing was said. Just as soon as something comes out that helps black and brown people. Its illegal. This is not a pyramid and its all volunteer. You make decisions daily with your money. So let us make the same with ours.
The people in your comment sections talking the same old drivel need mental help. A scam is a scam is a scam. Learn how to read. The blogger’s expose was 100%.
Can I simply say what a reduction to seek out someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You undoubtedly know how you can deliver a difficulty to gentle and make it important. More people must read this and perceive this side of the story. I cant imagine youre not more in style because you definitely have the gift.
This is ANOTHER article who forgot to mention that everyone exits the equation, there is no top half sitting there eternally, and the top half of the equation HAS to exit and is forced out entirely, no longer associated and not getting anything after the one time payout. I Understand why pyramids that never stop eventually run dry with many people at the bottom looking for recruits. Then, this is a mathematically unique from a pyramid in that every time 8 people come in someone leaves. Leaving the circle and becoming an available recruit. Why is it being prosecutor the same as a different equation, and shouldn’t the responsible law make new rules for a new equation? Iv heard the only ones that fail are when law gets involved to prosecute, or because the law has failed to protect and enforce proper conduct in these equations, allowing for real thieves to use them as a face, or attendees getting too afraid and trying to pull money out before reaching the payout.
There are a lot of people writing assumption based articles but not mentioning that its an entirely different equation that means to solve the same function. Put money in the hands of people who want it.
As if all ways of making money were not a risk, cost more just to set up a REAL firm, office, register and office supplies, then to go into these things.
The same issue faces you, Finding customers to buy the product. Failed companies is risk, because the law is not holding people accountable in this structure, its a risk.
Thanks for your article. What I want to point out is that when searching for a good on the web electronics store, look for a internet site with total information on key elements such as the level of privacy statement, protection details, payment methods, along with other terms and policies. Always take time to browse the help and also FAQ pieces to get a better idea of how the shop operates, what they are able to do for you, and in what way you can maximize the features.
HBO has a new documentary called “Murder on middle Beach” about a woman who was murdered in Madison,CT in 2010.
They explore the fact that see was running a now-defunct group called the Gifting Table, a multilevel marketing scheme which had been billed as a self-help group. It consisted of a periodic women-only gathering, in which new recruits were required to bring a hefty financial “gift” of $5,000 in cash. Modeled after the courses in a dinner party, the money was an “appetizer,” while members who’d been in the group longer moved up to the “dessert” course, where they would reap as much as $40,000 in gifts. As per the pyramid structure, the idea was then for women to break off and start new groups, beginning the cycle again.
Because the Gifting Table scheme began during the recession of 2008, it was described by its main proponents — who included Madison’s great-aunt Jill Platt — as a way for struggling women to pull themselves out of financial peril. Barbara Hamburg, her sister Conway Beach, and Platt were all involved in recruiting women in the area, and Platt eventually went to jail for wire fraud, filing false tax returns and conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.
At the time Barbara was murdered, she had been on the cusp of receiving a $40,000 bounty, leading some to question if she’d been murdered by someone disgruntled with the system.
You can use whatever name you want but this is a pyramid scheme.
It works as long as you can find women of means that can afford to lose the $5000 buy-in if they don’t get enough members that come after you to support getting you to that Top position. In a large community with a lot of affluent women it can work upto a point. Problem is too keep it going if the hard part. people who are not affluent and can’t really afford the $5000 get sucked in and then mad when there group goes nowhere.
This article sounds senseless: Gifting is scam. How come? Why not stating gambling is scam, lottery is scam, stock market trading is scam. Those are in reality much more similar to a scam than a Gifting Circle. If you fulfill exactly the requirement, there’s no way you can lose a penny. I never lose money in gifting circle because I know beforehand whether it’s achievable or not. The last time I did it I sent a gift $100 after 90 days, I received $8000, I only had to invite 2 friends and none of them lost money. However I advise no one to give away an amount of money you think that will hurt your budget in case you can’t fulfill the requirements but it’s not a quite criminal activity when you voluntarily agree to get in and give in knowing in advance all the potential risks that activity implied. DON’T BE HATER IF YOU CAN’T LOVE, Bridget.