It's tempting, when you get an invitation from a friend on Facebook, to participate in a holiday gift exchange, especially when that gift is wine. This year, I've had four friends ask me to participate in a wine exchange, and all of the invitations are worded like this:

It doesn't matter where you live, you are welcome to join. I need a minimum of 6 (or preferably up to 36) wine lovers to participate in a secret wine bottle exchange.

You only have to buy ONE bottle of wine valued at $15 or more and send it to ONE secret wine lover. Afterwards, you will receive anywhere from 6 to 36 wine bottles in return!! It all depends how many wine drinkers join. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you the information! Please don't ask to participate if you're not going to follow through with sending one wine bottle....we'll have lots of sad wine drinkers if that's the case!

Who doesn't want to participate in a fun exchange where anywhere from six to 36 bottles of wine show up at your front door in exchange for the one bottle you bought and sent? If you really take a look at what this involves, the answer is simple: You.

Here are the reasons why.

  1. It's illegal to send what is essentially a chain letter through the United States Postal Service because it's a form of gambling. The USPS says chain letters are "illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants." It doesn't matter that your chain letter isn't technically a paper letter. Delivering the request via computer is also illegal. (If you want to really delve into the legality of it, check out Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute.)
  2. Consumer-to-consumer shipping of alcohol is illegal through any shipping service. In fact, all direct-to-consumer wine shipping is getting more complicated, even using FedEx and UPS, companies that are cracking down on anyone who doesn't have a license to ship. USPS does not ship alcohol for anyone. While you probably won't get in trouble for shipping wine and not disclosing it (but I'm not promising you won't), there's a definite chance your package won't make it to its destination if alcohol is detected in it. So, in addition to the fact that you're doing something illegal, the wine you send may not make it to its destination. And, if anyone else chooses to send you wine, you may not get it.
  3. You're giving your personal information to people you don't know. You give your name and address to the person who invited you to join — and you mostly likely know that person. But, if the exchange plays out perfectly, there's the potential for 35 other people you don't know obtaining your name and address.
  4. The exchange never plays out perfectly. It's a pyramid scheme, and ultimately pyramid schemes don't work. As a spokeswoman from the Better Business Bureau told ABC WHAM, "I've never seen anybody post after Christmas a photo of them surrounded by 36 bottles of wine."

My advice is to ignore the wine exchange request. Go out and buy yourself a $15 bottle of wine that you really like, open it, and then toast to your wise choice not to take the gamble.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.