Feds issue urgent warning over formula scams exploiting shortage


the severe shortage of infant formula has forced frustrated parents to scour social media for enough supplies to feed their children—their desperation is now becoming a target for scammers looking to exploit that distress.

A new urgent warning from the Federal Trade Commission sounds the alarm that thieves have begun to invade the shortage for their own illicit profit, ‘appearing online and enticing desperate parents and caregivers to pay high prices for a formula that doesn’t never happens”.

“Scammers exploiting the high demand for baby formula have hit new lows,” the bulletin said, warning that the schemes can create fake websites or social media profiles using product images and logos of milk brands. mothered, “all of this to make you think you’re buying products from official company websites,” the FTC said.

The government agency’s alert marks the latest in a growing wave of similar warnings: Seven states across the country are now advising parents to remain vigilant amid the formula frenzy.

“Parents of infants in North Carolina are struggling to feed their babies during the current baby formula shortage. But instead of helping parents in this perilous position, scammers are looking to take advantage of this crisis to quickly steal from money,” the North Carolina attorney general said. Josh Stein’s office said Wednesday.

“Parents, feeling the pressures of scarcity, may find themselves scrambling to find alternative solutions but in the end could end up getting ripped off by unscrupulous bad actors online,” said the Secretary of State for New York, Robert J. Rodriguez, in a recent alert. “It is imperative that parents and guardians are aware of scams and know how to spot illegitimate online sales.”

“Anyone who seeks to profit from this crisis in a way that breaks the law will be held accountable,” New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella said in an alert on Wednesday, warning against buying preparations. from “unreliable or unknown online sources,” and that families should “thoroughly research any online retailers that claim to offer formulas for sale through the Better Business Bureau.”

The Better Business Bureau told ABC News it has previously received complaints from parents who say they have been victims of online formula scams – and issued its own alert earlier this month.

“Someone claims to be selling this product and asks people to pay using a PayPal or Venmo like system or cash app. And once that money is paid and the order is placed, they never end up getting this product,” said BBB spokeswoman Sandra Guile.

Experts say scammers can appear legitimate — posting ads or commenting on reputable social media groups offering to sell formula — then disappear once they’ve received payment.

First-time mom Jessie Esparza-Wohlgemuth had scoured every store and social media group she could think of to try and find formula for her 6-month-old son, Elijah Matthew.

The shortage has made these precious cans hard to find. Across the country, parents are faced with empty grocery shelves and limits on how much they can buy at one time. Esparza-Wohlgemuth was starting to lose his mind.

So when someone reached out online at the end of April to offer what seemed like a bargain, they got excited – almost two dozen decently priced boxes of Nutramigen – enough for Elijah and more to redistribute. to other mothers in the community. The potential seller even sent photos of the available products.

Esparza-Wohlgemuth sent payment of nearly $300 and offered to send the seller a prepaid shipping label.

Then the seller stopped responding to his messages and those coveted cans never showed up.

“I realized, yeah, I just got scammed,” Esparza-Wohlgemuth told ABC News. “That moment when you feel there’s relief — and then you realize you’ve just been taken advantage of — it’s really hard. That’s $290 I could have spent on my own child, for diapers, wipes, clothes. It’s heartbreaking someone would do that to a little person and take advantage of moms who are literally scrambling to find food for their babies.”

For enterprising fraudsters, the frenzy of families to feed their children amid the shortage presented a ripe opportunity.

Tennessee mom Kate Fazio says she was scammed earlier this year. The person she tried to buy from even sent her a fake tracking number.

“The link she sent was for something that was delivered to California. It wasn’t formula. I never received my formula from her and she stopped responding to me pretty quickly after that. “, Fazio said.

Fazio reported the scam to his local authorities, PayPal and his bank, but saw no progress for months. She said she saw other mothers calling the same fake seller for similar scams just last week.

On Wednesday — after ABC News reached out to PayPal for comment — Fazio said his money was refunded “as a one-time goodwill gesture,” according to a message from the company to Fazio shared with ABC News.

ABC News contacted PayPal, which confirmed that it refunded Fazio.

PayPal said its platform has a zero-tolerance policy for fraudulent activity and will arrest anyone who attempts to defraud customers or violates platform policies.

Experts advise consumers using cash payment apps such as PayPal or Venmo to use the “goods and services” feature for their transactions, which provides additional purchase protection. If a seller does not keep his promises, the wronged buyer gets a refund.

Parents looking for infant formula online should research who they are buying from to ensure the seller is legitimate, experts say – even when searching for the company, person or product by typing their name with terms such as “review”, “complaint” or “scam”. .”

Social media groups offered families a unique forum for the crowdsourcing formula within their communities, but these groups also offered easy-to-infiltrate landmarks for scammers. The Better Business Bureau says it can be a red flag if a seller advertising on social media is communicative until payment is made, but once payment is made, they are unreachable.

“Think before you click. Pay particular attention to email solicitations and online advertisements on social media sites,” BBB’s formula scam alert reads.

A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, told ABC News that the company does not tolerate fraudulent activity on any of its platforms and actively reviews and removes suspicious activity.

Experts suggest keeping receipts for all transactions and, if possible, using a credit card for the purchase, as this may offer better protection against fraud than other payment methods.

“That someone took advantage of me at a time when I was already vulnerable, fearing that I wouldn’t have enough to feed my child, made me feel even more vulnerable,” Fazio said. “As a mom, your number one goal is to take care of these kids. Keep them happy, feed them, keep them safe.”

Members of the public wishing to report suspected online shopping fraud can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at BBB.orgor report a scam at BBB.org/scamtracker.

Consumers can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at reportfraud.ftc.gov or call 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

ABC News’ Patrick Linehan, Alexandra Myers, Jasmine Perry, Laura Romero and Vanessa Weber contributed to this report.


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