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BBB warning: Scammers are taking advantage during baby formula shortage

"Once they get the money, the conversation usually stops and unfortunately the mother or guardian never receives that formula that they purchased," Wetzel said.
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS — On Wednesday afternoon, St. Louisan Abby Kasten and her six-month-old Zoey relax on their porch.

It's much needed after all the stress that's been piling on.

"Now you go to the store and shelves are empty, maybe a few cans, but you're lucky to find any," said Kasten.

They are just one of the thousands of families affected by the baby formula shortages.

"You literally have to go on a hunt, my family calls it the formula hunt. We just go to store to store and hope somebody has formula. Zoey doesn't miss a meal and that's why the formula is very needed," Kasten said with a chuckle.

She went to different cities to find some and her family out of state are searching for her too.

She's also gone to social media.

Credit: KSDK

"There are different groups on Facebook. Moms are trading or a sample can be going for free or selling cheaper than it would be. I'm joining anything and everything to feed my baby," said Kasten.

While this can be a safe route, the Better Business Bureau sent out a warning to watch out for potential scammers.

The scam

Online purchase scams, in which consumers pay money over the internet for one thing and receive something substantially different or nothing at all, were last year’s riskiest scam, according to the 2021 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report.

So far this year, more than 4,000 online purchase scams have been reported to Scam Tracker. 

The baby formula shortage is no exception.

Sarah Wetzel with the BBB of St. Louis said scammers will always try to cash in when there's high demand and low supply.

With this latest scam, an ad, post, or social media group post could be offering baby formula for sale.

"They reach out to them direct message or chat so then the buyer shares them a picture and they feel confident it's something they'll receive," Wetzel said.

That's when scammers ask for payment through Venmo or PayPal.

"Once they get the money, the conversation usually stops and unfortunately the mother or guardian never receives that formula that they purchased," Wetzel said.

A red flag could be the urgency of the sale.

"Because there are so many mothers out there looking for formula, so they may say, you need to purchase now or we're not going to have it an hour or so," said Wetzel.

As Kasten continues to do her own research, she feels the desperation and can't believe others would take advantage of that.

"It's kind of crazy to think that somebody would scam someone for formula, I mean it's a baby!" Kasten said.

"Scammers have a long history of exploiting scarcity, and this is a particularly heinous example of their lack of scruples," said Michelle Corey, the President and CEO of the BBB St. Louis. "Parents desperate to feed their children should still take the proper care to buy from trustworthy vendors, or else they could lose their money along with their peace of mind.”

Tips for safe online shopping

  • Check out the website before making a purchase: You can check BBB.org to see a business’s rating and BBB Accreditation status. Some may copy the BBB seal and if it's real, clicking on the seal should lead to the company’s BBB profile.
  • Scamadviser.com can sometimes tell you how long a website has been in operation. Scammers create and shut down websites regularly, so a site that has only been operating for a short time could be a red flag.
  • You can also do an internet search with the company's name and the word “scam.” This could locate other complaints about the site.
  • Scrutinize reviews: Scammers frequently post positive reviews on their websites, either copied from honest sites or created by scammers. Look at the bad reviews first. These are more likely to be real and can help identify scams.
  • Search for contact information: Look out if the site does not have a U.S. phone number or uses a Gmail or Yahoo business email address. Another important feature to look out for is if the site does not list a brick-and-mortar address, or the address shows on a Google map as a parking lot, residence, or unrelated business.
  • Keep a record of what you ordered: Make a note of the website and take a screenshot of the item ordered in case the website disappears or you receive an item that's different from what was advertised.
  • Pay by credit card: Credit cards can be an added layer of protection and you can dispute it if the product doesn't arrive
  • References: You can also ask for references if there are other mothers who have purchased it, you can ask about their experience and the product ordered

How to report

You can report scams to the Better Business Bureau by clicking here

Wetzel says you can report what's going on and even report a particular company.

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