The New York State Division of Consumer Protection today issued guidance to parents who are experiencing frustration over the national baby formula shortage.
New Yorkers need to be aware of unscrupulous practices from individuals who are using the baby formula shortages to scam desperate parents. These scams are typically rooted in online sales, and private sellers who are marketing cans for double the price knowing that big retailers have empty shelves and little information about when they may receive the next shipment.
“Parents, feeling the pressures of the shortage, may find themselves scrambling to find alternative solutions but in the end could end up being scammed by unscrupulous bad actors online,” said Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “At a time when there is a national shortage of baby formula, it is imperative that parents and guardians be aware of scams and know how to spot illegitimate online sales.”
Here are some important tips to help consumers make informed decisions:
Safety check the product: Make sure the formula you are buying is not subject to a recall. Information on recent formula recalls can be found on the FDA website. Confirm the formula is new and still sealed in a tamper proof container. Check the expiration date and be certain the product won’t expire before you are able to use it all.
Beware of social media: In the era of social media marketing, sham businesses and scam artists can easily contact unwitting consumers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than one in four people who reported losing money to fraud in 2021 said it started on social media with an ad, a post, or a message. If you receive a direct message with an offer to sell you formula or if you see formula for sale on an online marketplace, be especially cautious. Try to arrange for an in-person meeting, so you can be sure you receive the products you’re buying.
Use caution when shopping online: Shop on trusted sites with retailers known to you. Do your research if you want to try a new site or retailer. Performing a broad internet search will provide you with important feedback from other customers. Are there any reviews? How is the company responding to its customers? Read the comments within any social media advertisements. This will help you assess what to expect if something goes wrong, and if the comments are turned off, that’s a big red flag.
Beware of Fake Websites: Fraudsters continue to advance in sophistication to perpetuate scams, fake websites resemble legitimate sites, with very credible-looking logos, pictures, and payment options. If the website is advertising unusually low prices, consumers should be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller. Consumers should review the copyright date and domain creation date, as recently created sites are a tell-tale sign of scam sites, and typos on the web site are a red flag that it may not be legitimate.
Beware of third-party vendors: If redirected from a trusted site to a third-party site. Read the sellers policies, review ratings, and consumer comments, and most importantly, do a broad internet search before making your purchase. Trusted retailers who host third party sellers do not warranty their sales, thus you could get a substandard product or no product at all when you take the risk and purchase from an unknown third-party vendor.
Read the product specifications: Online marketing is geared to get you to buy so it is important to understand the product you are purchasing and the terms of the sale to ensure you are getting what you want. Is the brand and type of formula being sold what you are looking for? Is the size of the product you are buying the same as what you are expecting?
Use a Credit Card: For online purchases, be sure to use a credit card rather than a debit card. If the item that arrives is different than what you ordered or you don’t receive the item at all, dispute the charge with your credit card provider.
Know Your Rights: The Federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (the Mail Order Rule) of 1975, updated in 2014 to include online orders, applies to merchandise sold to consumers online, by mail or by phone. It states that your order must be delivered within 30 days unless otherwise stated. If there is a delay, you must be notified. If the company cannot reach you to obtain your consent to the delay, they must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money you paid for the unshipped merchandise.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.