Don't let baby formula shortage lure you into scammers' hands: Internet Scambusters #1,016
Nobody follows the news closer than scammers, which is why they're hyperactive right now conning parents and caregivers hunting for baby formula.
The nationwide shortage of infant formula has opened the floodgates for crooks offering non-existent products, and price gougers charging as much as 10 times the normal price.
In this week's issue, we'll explain how they operate, what you can do to avoid the scams and, hopefully, find baby formula.
Let's get started…
Scammers and Price Gougers Cash In on Baby Formula Shortage
Desperate parents and caregivers are falling victim to scammers taking advantage of the national shortage of baby formula in the US.
Crooks use hijacked social media accounts or fake profiles to post offers of infant formula, often targeting mom groups on Facebook. And they force victims to pay via cash transfer apps like Venmo by promising overnight delivery. Venmo payments generally can't be reversed.
The scammers post enticing photos showing stacks of product or store aisles packed with different brands of formula and say shoppers can buy any brand shown in the pictures. Other stolen photos show the supposed seller feeding a baby - a ruse intended to make the scam more convincing.
They're also using online ads, fake websites, emails, and SMS text messaging services to hook victims.
Hundreds of baby formula scam complaints are pouring into consumer organizations every day as manufacturers step up frantic nationwide efforts to build up stocks of essential supplies.
Meanwhile, greedy opportunists who have secured supplies are price-gouging, offering packs that normally cost $20 for $200 or more. And people are paying.
Price gouging is not always illegal (depending on state laws) but it's unethical and often targets the people in most need who can least afford high prices.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has launched an investigation into the shortages, says the crisis is "causing enormous anxiety, fear and financial burden."
What To Do
Because they're so distressed, many victims let their guard down in the rush to find supplies, falling for scams they might otherwise spot.
If you're a parent of formula-fed infants, or know someone who is, here's what to do to avoid the scammers.
- If you see a website, ad, or social media post that doesn't provide a verifiable address - that is, one you can confirm in a phone book or a street map search - it's probably a scam.
- Check the language and grammar in the wording of any offers. Poor English usage is often a sign of a scam.
- Research the name of any supposed supplier companies or individuals. Have they been named in complaints or scam reports?
- Don't pay via cash transfer apps, gift cards, money wires, or cryptocurrency (usually Bitcoin). Use a credit card and your payment will be protected by the card company's scam protection policy. If the seller refuses a credit card because they say they're a private individual, know that you are probably risking your money and may never receive anything.
- If the seller is local, arrange to meet them so you can collect before you pay.
- If you're tempted to pay a significantly higher price for your normal brand of baby formula, check with your pediatrician to see if an available alternative might be acceptable.
- If you think you've been scammed, report it to the FTC. If you've been price-gouged, report it to your state's consumer protection department.
Finding Baby Formula
If you're desperate to track down baby formula, try the following:
- Speak to your OBGYN doctor or pediatrician to see if they have any supply samples or know where to obtain some.
- Check if you're eligible for the government's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). They may be able to help you find formula.
- Use established and reputable online community and social media groups to seek baby formula. Local groups dedicated to helping moms find formula are also springing up. But always follow the tips above to avoid being scammed by unscrupulous individuals.
For more suggestions and information, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Yes, there's nothing more important than your baby's safety, health, and nutrition. But it's important not to be rushed into a buying decision because of the urgency of your need. You may lose your money and never get what you thought you were buying.
This Week's Scam & Privacy Alerts
Don't Find Me: Google has launched a new service that stops your name and other personal information showing up in its search results. Start here to begin the process.
Vacation Warning: This is the busiest time of year for making vacation rental bookings and scammers are out in force. Book through established agencies and never agree to go offsite to make your payment. According to consumer advocate Michelle Couch-Friedman, that's the biggest red flag warning of a scam.
No Comp: "Free money" crooks have launched a new scam via hijacked Facebook accounts. They send messages to the person's friends saying their name appears in a list showing they're entitled to thousands of dollars in unclaimed Workers Compensation payments - on payment of a fee. Don't pay. If you think you're entitled to a payment, check with the US Department of Labor and search from there.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!