- Needy parents say they are being scammed by people claiming to sell infant formula.
- Parents who spoke with Insider said they were scammed out of hundreds of dollars.
- Authorities are trying to crack down on fake sellers and scammers.
When Marie Brennan was contacted on Facebook by a woman offering six boxes of formula she had struggled to find for her baby on the shelves, she agreed to pay him $300.
The cost including shipping was about $14 more per box than the price at the supermarket. But given the nationwide shortage of infant formula — caused by issues with the supply chain and the recall of some potentially contaminated brands — Brennan told Insider she was “desperate.”
The seller seemed quite legit, with over 600 Facebook friends and profile photos of a woman with children. The person said she was in charge of a Walmart in Ohio and had access to the formula as soon as the shipments were delivered to her store.
Brennan, who needed the formula for Annabel, her 22-month-old baby with special dietary needs, sent the fee through Venmo. Then she waited – and waited.
The formula never arrived.
At first, the seller claimed to have sent the package a few days earlier and the postal service was to blame, Brennan said. But after two weeks, the person blocked Brennan on Facebook. The 38-year-old realized she had been scammed.
Parents order a formula that does not exist
“I was upset and angry,” said the mother of two from Valley Cottage, New York, who is about to give birth to her third child. “It adds to the stress of my pregnancy, and my husband calls these people ‘thieving bastards’.”
Brennan, who met the scammer on the public Facebook group ‘The Infant Formula Shortage Group’, whose 2,500 members are meant to help each other during the crisis, said she reported the ‘seller’ to the platform’s administrators.
The person was added to a list of more than 350 people believed to have targeted the group’s mothers, according to Brennan.
Meanwhile, NBC News reported this infant formula was marketed on websites like eBay, Craigslist, Amazon and Facebook Marketplace with a markup of up to 300%.
Authorities are trying to crack down on fraudsters and scammers
The situation is so serious that the United States Federal Trade Commission said it was investigating the possibility of fraud and price gouging as opportunists took advantage of the formula shortage.
In a statement, commission chairwoman Lina Khan said her agency would “fully enforce the law against anyone who cheats, exploits or defrauds” families wishing to buy infant formula to feed their children.
Brennan is pessimistic about the chances of her con man getting caught.
“I feel like I can’t trust anyone,” she said. She added that feeding Annabel felt like ‘trial and error’ because regular milk ‘curds in her stomach’. Most types of solid food also make her vomit, she says.
Lyn Murphy of Swedesboro, New Jersey, said her 4-month-old daughter, Hadlee, had a sensitive stomach that could only tolerate a certain type of formula.
The brand is particularly hard to find, so when Murphy, 35, had just a few bottles left, she clicked on a website that said it was in stock.
She spent $200 on the ready-to-use formula but was horrified when it never showed up, she said. The site ignored her pleas, but since she had paid by credit card, she was able to recover the cost through her bank.
Murphy said she was “so scared” Hadlee wasn’t getting the right nutrition that she took the risk again. One person – who again had pictures of children on the Facebook page – responded to a plea Murphy made on the forum, she said. The mother-of-three said she sent the seller $135 via Venmo before asking for a tracking number for the package. She received neither the number nor the formula.
“It’s awful,” Murphy, who was later blocked by the person she paid, told Insider. “I spent so much money trying to get my hands on this stuff, but I’m going broke.”
There are still stories of kindness
Nonetheless, the strength of human kindness helped Murphy cope. Members of the support group read her post about the scams and sent in bottles of formula they had located. “I’m very grateful,” Murphy said.
Likewise, Clara Green, 35, of Atlanta, was overwhelmed when her family and friends banded together to comb through the city for her 8-month-old daughter, Baeza.
The mother described the shortage as sad and depressing, but said ‘parents caring for each other’ during the emergency was ‘beautiful to watch’.