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Northeast Ohio moms trade, donate, sell baby formula online amid shortage

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 8:21 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - There are now scam warnings, high prices, and empty shelves all because of the national baby formula shortage.

It’s a wild world right now for parents in search of food for their babies.

Some moms are swapping formulas.

Some parents are selling extra food leftover from a child who doesn’t need it anymore.

We wondered if it’s all legal? And could it be dangerous?

This Friday is 6-month-old Benjamin Lindeman’s half birthday.

Benjamin’s mom Christine expected challenges as a first-time mom.

“But, I never thought that not being able to find what he needed to eat would be one of those challenges,” she said.

She’s part of a breastfeeding mothers group online. It’s now become a place to turn for local moms who are not only struggling to produce milk but struggling to purchase it too.

“It’s been really challenging to find the formula that he would tolerate,” she said. “We have tried four different types of formulas. I started to see more pictures of ‘hey I have this type of formula. I live here. If anybody needs a porch pick up, it’s free.”

In an act of pure kindness, Lindeman says a fellow mom gave her a few cans of Similac Pro Advance formula to get her through a few more days without having to make a painful formula switch again.

“It meant a lot that a mom was able to think of someone else, and make it just so simple to feed my baby. It meant a lot,” she said nearly in tears.

Especially because she knows others don’t part with formula as easily.

Understandably though, some parents are trying to recoup the cost of a can they don’t need anymore.

And as we discovered the state attorney general says-- that’s ok.

“Sure. If you own your baby formula you can give it to your sister or your neighbor. It’s like borrowing an egg or cup of sugar,” Attorney Dave Yost said.

Other moms in various Facebook groups told 19 Investigates about the wheeling and dealing going on.

We saw it ourselves too.

Expecting moms usually get free samples in the mail or from the doctor’s offices.

A simple search on Facebook shows some people are selling sample cans of formula.

But as you can imagine, there’s a risk related to buying those.

“I would be concerned about buying hand to hand from a stranger whether or not the baby formula is pure,” Yost said.

As far as price gouging goes - the attorney general says Ohio does not have a statute about price gouging.

That makes it hard to prosecute unless an increase is just unbelievably outrageous.

His office says it has taken at least one consumer report of price gouging related to formula this month though.

Another thing to be on the lookout for-- our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad say some sellers may not even be real.

Just this week, the Better Business Bureau put out a scam warning related to the formula shortage.

Apparently, scammers are messaging desperate moms, showing them pictures of cans they say they have available.

Then, after a mom sends a payment through Venmo or Paypal, no formula ever shows up.

The following is advice from the BBB:

Check out the website before making a purchase:

  • Visit BBB.org to check a business’s rating and BBB accreditation status. Impostors have been known to copy the BBB seal. If it is real, clicking on the seal will lead to the company’s BBB profile on BBB.org - check the domain of the URL.
  • Conduct an internet search with the company name and the word “scam.” This may locate other complaints about the site.
  • Make a note of the website where the order is placed. Take a screenshot of the item ordered, in case the website disappears, or a different item is received in the mail than what was advertised.
  • Credit cards often provide more protection against fraud than other payment methods.
  • Think before you click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites.

Report suspected online shopping fraud to:

  • Better Business Bureau - file a complaint at BBB.org or report a scam at BBB.org/scamtracker.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - file a complaint at reportfraud.ftc.gov or call 877-FTC-Help.
  • National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center - report intellectual property and counterfeiting violations to iprcenter.gov/referral/view.
  • Internet Crime Complaint enter (IC3) - file a complaint at ic3.gov/complaint.
  • Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre - file a report at antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca or call 1-888-495-8501.
  • Facebook – report ads that violate Facebook’s policies by clicking the *** next to an ad to go to facebook.com/business/help.
  • Instagram - report copyright infringement or other policy violations at help.instagram.com.
  • Amazon – report suspicious activities and web pages at Amazon.com.
  • Google – report scams at Google.com.
  • PayPal - call (888) 221-1161 to speak with a live person instead of using an automated system if you receive an item that is not as advertised.
  • Credit card company - Call the phone number on the back of the credit card to report the fraud and request a refund.

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