Fake books in the "lie-brary" at Snowkings' Winter Festival in 2023. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio
“I’m looking for people to participate in a huge book exchange.”
So begins a post you’ve probably seen circulating on Facebook lately, especially if you’re in the Northwest Territories, where it seems to have gained a new lease of life.
Here’s an example, taken from an NWT resident’s Facebook profile on Sunday:
This post – with some variations – has been doing the rounds for nearly a decade.
“All you have to do is buy your favorite book (just one) and send it to a stranger. (I’ll send their details in a private message.) You’ll receive a maximum of 36 books back to you, to keep. They’ll be favorite books from strangers all over! If you’re interested in taking part, reply to this message with IN.”
It’s a simple premise. Reply to the message, paste the text on your own page, send a book, then sit back and wait for a whole whack of books to arrive at your doorstep.
The evidence also suggests it’s a scam. Kinda.
The book-exchange Facebook post is a basic form of pyramid scheme. Those schemes are so-called because they look like pyramids: the person at the top (whoever started this whole thing) gets lots of books, but it’s not sustainable. Whoever’s at the bottom is not going to get anything unless they scramble to find new recruits who haven’t already participated, and eventually you’re going to run out of people who want to sign up.
So somebody loses.
It’s not the world’s worst scam in the sense that you cannot be persuaded to part with thousands of dollars – unless you want to send a very expensive book – but there are still risks associated with it.
You are highly unlikely to get 36 books out of this, although some people do report getting at least a few. Think about it: it is not possible for everyone to send one book and get many more books back. The books have to come from somewhere! Being fair to the post, it does state 36 is a maximum, but the chances are that some people read the “36” without fully grasping that.
You’re handing over your personal information to strangers, or at least to friends of friends – see the part in the post about people’s details being sent back and forth. You don’t necessarily know where that information will end up or what someone might decide to do with it, although you could use a different name or a work address to be safer.
Again, there are worse scams out there. But the danger of this one is either that you buy a book and don’t get anything back or, even if you do receive some books, you’re participating in a scheme where, eventually, a large number of people are going to buy a book and be sad when they get nothing back.
Pyramid schemes are illegal in most countries, including Canada. It is highly unlikely that anyone is coming after you for your Facebook post about books, though, as this is quite a low-grade version of one.
Lastly, here’s a 2015 article republished by The Huffington Post in which one person declares: “I did the Facebook book exchange and I’m not sorry.”
They basically argue that they got a few books, had a little fun and while some people not getting books is “pretty crap,” they got over the guilt.