BALTIMORE — Desperate moms in need of formula turned to Facebook to find food for their babies, but scammers were waiting.
“My son's name is Landon. He was born January 14th, a month premature,” said Jessica Cassell, a Cecil County mom.
At three months, Landon relied on a special formula, but Cassell couldn't find it anywhere.
“I went to 8 stores and it was gone. So, I started freaking out as a first-time mom,” said Cassell.
Other moms created communities on Facebook listing locations of stores with formula still in stock or even shipping supplies across the country. Cassell made a post in one of the groups and Jacklyn Strickland responded.
“And she commented and said, ‘I have 3 cans for $50,’ and if you don't know the price of formula, that's a really good deal,” Cassell recalled.
Cassell said she’d send payment after receiving tracking information, but the seller needed it sooner.
“She needs diapers for her babies, she needs to get them before the store closes, I need to send this money or else she went there for nothing, ‘My baby has no diapers.’ And I have a baby, I want my baby to have diapers so I sent her more money for the shipping and never received a package,” said Cassell.
The seller created a shipping label, but according to USPS status updates, the item was never dropped off.
“I, fortunately, only sent her about $80, but I've seen other people who need more expensive formula get scammed out of as much $300-$400,” Cassell said. “So, they're scraping up pennies to feed their babies and are getting scammed out of this money.”
Angie Barnett, president and CEO with the Better Business Bureau serving greater Maryland, sees this happen often, not just with baby formula.
“This is an opportunity for scammers to see high demand for a product that has limited availability,” said Barnett.
When buying from sellers on social media, Barnett advises consumers to go with someone who is local.
“So you can inspect the product. Is it damaged, is it dented, is it authentic?” said Barnett.
Use a credit card for better protections, even if it there’s an added charge. And research if the peer-to-peer payment app provides buyer protection.
“When it's fraud, you have to provide proof that it is, and you've got to do a chargeback and you've got to be immediate, provide all your documentation, receipts, communication, keep those in writing, keep those documents whole until you actually receive the product,” Barnett added.
Cassell is now able to find the formula she needs in stores, but the nationwide supply still isn’t fully replenished.
The Food and Drug Administration is working to bolster the supply of baby formula nationwide. Click here for their latest update.
And whether you’re buying formula or something else online, know that several payment apps do not offer buyer protection including Cash App and Zelle.
There are specific terms and conditions for buyer protection policies on PayPal, Venmo, and Facebook Marketplace. Links to their policies are below.