NEW YORK STATE (WWTI) — By now, consumers far and wide are aware of an ongoing, nationwide baby formula shortage. New York’s Attorney General and Division of Consumer Protection are alerting parents—beware scams and price gouging.
Scarcity is due to recalls on baby formulas and supply chain disruptions occurring across the U.S. According to Consumer Protection, scammers—and retailers—manipulate shortages to scam the desperate. Scams are often rooted in online sales and private sellers who increase the price. Letitia James, Attorney General of New York, said that although it’s legal, price gouging is still an issue.
“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,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said in a press release. “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.”
The Office of the Attorney General also confirmed reports of baby formula sold online for prices exceeding retail values. “The national baby formula shortage is terrifying for parents concerned about how to feed their children,” Attorney General James said in a press release. “The last thing any family needs is to be price gouged on critical nutrition for their little ones, which is why I am putting profiteers seeking to take advantage of this crisis on notice.”
Be careful when shopping online. Beware fake websites and third-party vendors. Read seller policies, review ratings and consumer comments, and do a broad internet search before making a purchase. James’ office also advised buying only as much formula as needed rather than panic buying to stock up.
For websites that advertise unusually low prices, consumers should also be wary and diligently verify the legitimacy of the seller. For online purchases, consumers are advised to use a credit card rather than a debit card. That way, if an item arrives in a different description or doesn’t arrive at all, individuals can dispute the charge with their credit card provider.
When buying baby formula, make sure products are not subject to recall. Confirm the formula is new, sealed, and not expired. Information on recalls can be found on the FDA’s website. Parents with difficulty finding formula should talk to their child’s doctor before trying to water down formula or make their own. Doing so could potentially be dangerous to a child. James also asked those with extra unopened formula to consider donating it to local food pantries or organizations that support similar causes.
Consumers should also know their rights. New York law prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to their health, safety, or welfare for an unconscionably excessive price. And the federal Mail, Internet, or Telephone Merchandise Rule states that all orders must be delivered within 30 days, unless otherwise stated. If there is a delay, consumers must be notified. This applies to merchandise sold online, by mail, or by phone.
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—(800) 697-1220—is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, except for on state holidays. Price gouging can be reported to the Office of the Attorney General by filing a complaint online or calling (800) 771-7755.