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Watch for scams when shopping during baby formula shortage: BBB

With 73 per cent of consumers losing money, online shopping scams are one of the riskiest scams affecting Canadians.
Baby formula
Baby formula.

With panic buying reported in parts of the country, the shortages in the supply of baby formula in the U.S. are beginning to have a ripple effect in Canada.

Though the Canadian government is closely monitoring the issue, some parents and caregivers have already started to face challenges.

Especially in some Canadian markets, the demand for special types of formula designed for babies with food allergies is reported to be higher than the supply. 

In March, Health Canada issued a statement indicating some infant formulas made in the U.S. and destined for Canada (for babies with food allergies and other medical conditions) may be in short supply. Health Canada also implemented an interim policy allowing infant formula manufacturers in Europe to ship their products to Canada to mitigate the shortage. 

However, due to shortage concerns, some parents will seek alternative methods for purchasing formula for their babies and toddlers, which could create opportunities for scammers. 

According to the 2021 BBB scam tracker risk report, one-third of the scams received by Canadian BBBs last year were about online shopping scams.

With 73 per cent of consumers losing money, online shopping scams are one of the riskiest scams affecting Canadians.

With supply chain issues affecting the availability on a number of everyday products, including formula, scammers are actively seeking opportunities to separate you from your money. 

How baby formula shopping scam works

It often begins with an ad, post, or social media group post indicating the seller has baby formula available.

The buyer contacts the seller via chat or direct message, and the seller will show the photos of the available products.

The buyer makes a payment through a peer-to-peer platform such as PayPal (a BBB Accredited Business) or Venmo (a BBB Accredited Business), but the formula never arrives.

Signs of a potential online purchase scam include: 

  • Positive reviews on the website that have been copied from honest sites or created by scammers. Be aware that some review websites claim to be independent but are funded by scammers. Visit the BBB's website to do your due diligence.
  • No indication of a brick-and-mortar address or the address shown on Google Maps is a parking lot, residence, or unrelated business than what is listed on the website.
  • Misspellings, grammatical errors, or other descriptive languages that are inconsistent with the product. 
  • The seller advertises on a social media site and is communicative until the payment is made. Once the payment clears, they are unreachable.

BBB tips on making a safe purchase online:  

  • Verify the business
    • Visit the BBB's website 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 its website. Be sure to double-check the domain of the URL, and see is the website really originating from the site it appears to be.
  • Do your research
    • 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.  
  • Pay with credit cards
    • Credit cards often provide more protection against fraud than other payment methods.  
  • Think before you click

Report suspected online shopping fraud to:  

  • Better Business Bureau
  • Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
  • Report to the relevant company
  • 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 your credit card to report the fraud and request a refund

For more information about shopping online, visit BBB's online shopping resource page.