Parents accuse online sellers of price gouging on baby formula

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  13 comments

By:   Jesselyn Cook

Parents accuse online sellers of price gouging on baby formula
Parents struggling to find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage are reporting that price gougers are selling bottles and cans marked up by as much as 300

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Parents struggling to find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage are reporting that price gougers are selling bottles and cans marked up by as much as 300 percent or more on websites like eBay, OfferUp, Amazon and Craigslist, and inside Facebook communities. But in many cases, they're finding that the platforms are doing little to punish the predatory sellers.

"If you go onto eBay, there is page after page after page of people selling formula for double, triple, quadruple what it costs in stores," said 42-year-old Lisa Davis, a mother of five from Lehi, Utah, who supplements her 14-month-old son's diet with formula due to his small size, as strictly advised by his pediatrician. Davis estimates that she has flagged around 20 predatory formula listings to eBay. "But eBay does nothing about it."

Enfamil baby formula on sale on eBay for $200.

In one case, she found a single 12.4-ounce can of Enfamil Gentlease listed for $60 before shipping — more than triple what Target, Walgreens and other out-of-stock stores are currently charging. She informed the seller that she had reported it to eBay for its inflated price, which only elicited an angry response.

"[G]et over it," the seller wrote back in an exchange reviewed by NBC News. "it is not illegal u may dislike but u have NO right to interfere in my buisness. people do it constantly."

State attorneys general and elected officials have raised concerns about the online price gouging of baby formula in recent days. In a May 13 letter that Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, sent to FTC Chair Lina Khan, they warned that they were aware of price gouging and scams targeting parents specifically on sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

But the scope of such price gouging is hard to gauge; parents with newborns say they typically don't have the time to file complaints with government agencies, and the tech companies they are complaining to say they don't have data to share. A review of more than 100 seemingly price-gouged formula listings across these websites and conversations with 13 parents in states across the country reveal that the problem has been growing online.

"People don't realize how bad this is right now," Davis said, "or how little sites like eBay seem to care."

Lisa Davis mixes a bottle of formula for her 14-month-old son, Jack, at a hotel room in Austin, TexasIlana Panich-Linsman for NBC News

That's partly because there is still no federal law prohibiting price gouging, and many state laws do not cover formula sales, noted Teresa Murray, the consumer watchdog director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. And while many independent-seller platforms do have policies explicitly banning this practice, the companies often aren't able to adequately enforce them, she added.

"The reality is that they may not have the ability to police in real-time what's being put up for sale on their websites," she said. Parents, meanwhile, are left paying the price.

Formula arrives in US, reserved for babies with allergies and hospitals


While eBay's published policies prohibit "inflating the price of goods in response to an emergency or disaster" and require "items that are considered essential" to be "offered at a reasonable price," Davis said several listings she flagged remain active while others have sold out. A spokesperson for eBay, Scott Overland, said that the company has been working to address price gouging through the formula crisis.

"We work with manufacturers and government officials to identify items at risk of price gouging and have a price-gouging reporting tool available to our entire community to report any potential violations of our policy," he said. "Due to the ongoing shortage, we are stepping up our manual review of listings to protect against price gouging of baby formula."

Facebook problems


Inside rapidly growing Facebook groups dedicated to selling formula, members say unpaid, volunteer administrators have been tasked with searching and removing price-gouged sale posts, which they say pop up often throughout the day.

Samantha Collins, a 34-year-old mother in Channahon, Illinois, was searching for a special high-calorie formula for her identical twin girls, who were born premature in February. She recently joined a 35,000-member Facebook group called "baby formula for sale," which has gained thousands of members in the past week. Like other Facebook groups, it has hundreds of comments dating back weeks complaining about apparent price gouging by fellow group members.

220520-baby-formula-price-gouging-mn-1545-c74241.jpg

A posting on Facebook advertising baby formula for sale Facebook

NBC News has seen posts in the group featuring images of formula being sold at inflated prices, including one advertising "two cans" of Enfamil Neuro Pro for $110 each, when the largest cans of that product generally retail for less than half that cost, and another asking for $34 per 12.5-ounce can of Enfamil Infant Formula, which normally costs around $18.

Ashley Settle, a spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook, said that in Facebook groups, it is not against Meta's rules to advertise items at inflated prices.

Some parents also report seeing overpriced baby formula on Facebook Marketplace, where Settle said formula is prohibited from being sold. One such Marketplace listing, with the coded title "Baby food1," appeared to sell one 19.9-ounce can Enfamil Gentlease for $100 plus shipping, which would normally retail for around $25 to $30. Meta removed the listing after NBC News asked about it.

Settle said that the enforcement of the company's commerce policies, which apply to Facebook Marketplace, relies primarily on automated technology, but that some listings are manually reviewed.

"Like other platforms for buying and selling goods, there may be instances where some people sell prohibited items on Marketplace whether they realize it or not," said Settle. "We work to find and remove these listings and encourage people across our platforms to report behavior that may break our rules."

Gouging on Amazon


Collins said she has discovered price gouging on Amazon, too. She said she has seen her daughters' Enfamil EnfaCare formula being sold on Amazon for around $166 for a pack of six 13.6-ounce cans, which typically lasts her about a week, compared to the $113.99 she paid for the same product from Target and Walmart prior to the shortage.

Buying on Amazon would raise her formula expenses by more than 45 percent, but it could soon be her only option as the girls drink the remaining cans she has managed to secure. She said she has reported a number of listings to Amazon, but they did not come down. It did not appear that the third-party sellers, who advertise on Amazon but are not part of the company, were suspended.

Lori Capps of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a 37-year-old mother-to-be who is due in three weeks, has turned to Amazon to secure a small supply of formula. She said she has come across 20 to 30 price-gouged third-party listings there while searching for herself as well as for her friend, a single mother whose child is fed via a tube and requires one can of Neocate Junior formula per day. A case of four 14.1-ounce cans of that product regularly retails for around $175. But a still-active Amazon listing she found is asking for $320. Another charges $305, while a third seller charges $84.99 for one can.

"It bothers me because it [Amazon] made a big deal about not allowing this for toilet paper and cleaning supplies in 2020," said Capps, who added that she has reported five different formula sellers and even contacted Amazon's customer service directly to no avail. "Cut to today and there's obviously price gouging [of formula] happening all over. It's so frustrating that Amazon is letting this happen."

Amazon spokesperson Patrick Graham said the company is actively working on monitoring prices on the site. "We continuously compare the prices submitted by our selling partners with current and historic prices inside and outside our store to determine if prices are fair. If we identify a price that violates our policy, we remove the offer and take appropriate action with the seller."

Breaking point


Other parents, like 32-year-old Tara Routzong, who lives just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, have found these prices so debilitating that they have resorted to extreme measures to find formula offline. Routzong's 5-month-old daughter, who is entirely dependent on Enfamil Nutramigen hypoallergenic formula, has severe allergies and nearly ran out of her supply two weeks ago.

Routzong and her husband scoured the internet. He struck out on Craigslist and OfferUp, where Routzong said he saw other formula brands being sold for far above market value. In one listing he found, an OfferUp seller charged $75 before shipping for a single 12.4-ounce can of Enfamil Gentlease, which retails for about $18 at Target.

Jack, Lisa Davis' 14-month-old son. His pediatrician recommends supplementing his diet with baby formula because of his small size.Ilana Panich-Linsman for NBC News

While Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment, OfferUp spokesperson Brandon Vaughan said in part that while the platform "does not generally control pricing on our marketplace," it created price-gouging protocols at the start of the pandemic for certain items and recently "engaged those protocols on baby formula." OfferUp has a team of investigators who proactively search for and remove violative listings, he added, and users can report listings as well.

Routzong tried eBay, where she was able to find the Nutramigen formula she needed. But it was priced at $200 for six 32-ounce bottles, which usually cost her about $63 at Walmart. She reported the listing, with no response, and started sobbing. Her husband made a six-hour roundtrip to a Walmart in Troy, Alabama, instead of buying it online. But she only has a few days' supply left, and doesn't know what they'll do when it runs out.

"If it comes down to it, we'll just have to start paying these ridiculous prices," she said. "What choice do we have?"


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Waykwabu
Freshman Quiet
1  Waykwabu    one month ago

Some time ago we experienced a shortage of baby formula in Australian supermarkets.   Immigrants from China were buying up as much as they could and shipping it back home to their families in China.  No matter how much the manufacturers of the product increased their production,  the product was always purchased immediately, leaving empty shelves.   Even when the supermarkets imposed a limit of two cans per person, families would  have all their children go into the shop and purchase two tins, take it outside to their car, and come back inside for another purchase.

As far as I know there was no resale to Australian residents,  eg on EBay, etc.  it all went to China.  I know there were some who made it a business, shipping the formula to contacts in China,  who would then onsell it.  Whether there was undue profiteering, I couldn't say.   Others shipments were direct to the shippers families.

The whole problem was caused by the Chinese population not trusting  their own product.

 
 
 
shona1
Junior Participates
1.1  shona1  replied to  Waykwabu @1    one month ago

Spot on Way..they call them daigou shoppers and they are a pain in the arse..

Had Chinese crews coming off the ships here and buying up all the baby formula they could get their hands on. Numerous times the cops were called on them and they were chucked out of Woolies.

The sailors started attacking the locals who were trying to stop them, but when the cops rolled up they soon pulled their heads in...trollies were unloaded and they got booted out..been going on for months and we had a gutful.

One good thing with COVID they banned all crews coming off the ships...but just announced last week they are allowed back on shore again.

The locals don't take kindly to this sort of disgusting behaviour and the Chinese crews will not be welcome here if they continue doing it...

It's $20 a tin here and they are getting up $150 on the black market in China...even had bus loads of Chinese coming out to the regional areas from Melbourne doing the same thing.

But the town's contacted the next one's and they were barred from entering the local supermarkets when they rolled up..and they were run out of town..

The diagou shoppers started doing the same thing with loo paper during the shortage but selling that here... they stopped that to when all the town's closed ranks and they couldn't get any...and wasted their money on a 10 hour round trip...

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  shona1 @1.1    one month ago

Hard for me to understand that.  The supermarket shelves here are loaded with baby formula at normal prices.  There was a time a number of years ago when some criminals mixed melamine into the formula and caused thousands of babies to be sick and some died.  I think the perpetrators were eitiher executed or serving life sentences.  Maybe back then there was a black market. 

 
 
 
shona1
Junior Participates
1.1.2  shona1  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1.1.1    one month ago

Evening... unfortunately it is from that incident that people still do not trust the Chinese made formula after all these years...it has really taken off since the one child policy was removed...

They also go for Australian made vitamins and clean them out as well...it is the middle class that is coming into $$ and that is where it is generating from.

When asked why they just said Australian and NZ is far better and trust it... plus they think it is better quality for their babies...and as they have the $$ they want it. They supply shopping lists for their buyers here who go out and purchase what they want. Diagou buyers can earn up to $50,000 a year doing it. Some chinese students studying here have chucked their courses and become professional buyers.

Hell we don't mind supplying it but not when they clean everything out and leave nothing for the locals. There are a couple of ships waiting to come in so we will see what happens now...

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1.1.3  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  shona1 @1.1.2    one month ago

Of course I have no need for baby formula and Chinese medicines and vitamins have worked fine for me, but I hope you don't run out of Australian Oats - one of my favourite breakfasts.

 
 
 
shona1
Junior Participates
1.1.4  shona1  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1.1.3    one month ago

It's alright I can always send you some over...for a slight fee naturally..

 
 
 
igknorantzrulz
PhD Quiet
1.2  igknorantzrulz  replied to  Waykwabu @1    one month ago
The whole problem was caused by the Chinese population

Milkin it !

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago

Someone should beat the shit out of those gougers. 

 
 
 
Freefaller
Professor Participates
3  Freefaller    one month ago

I could be wrong but I believe most mothers have free and easy access to a better alternative to formula.

 
 
 
Tessylo
Professor Principal
3.1  Tessylo  replied to  Freefaller @3    one month ago

Not all mothers are able to breastfeed.

 
 
 
Freefaller
Professor Participates
3.1.1  Freefaller  replied to  Tessylo @3.1    one month ago
Not all mothers are able to breastfeed.

That's why I used the word "most" in my comment

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
3.1.2  Split Personality  replied to  Tessylo @3.1    one month ago

)You can make scientific  arguments all day about how many hundred thousands years 

old humanity is, but infant formula wasn't invented until 1865

and reliable, sterile baby bottles around 1950  (killing thousands of infants before 1950)

and yet here we are complaining about something missing from our list of conveniences.

Throughout history women have employed other women to breastfeed their babies.

The formula shortage while inconvenient has been typically politicized

as just another political weapon.

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
4  Split Personality    one month ago

My mother called a few weeks ago to complain that someone was using our Philly address for 

baby items, mostly samples of Enfamil and similar "free samples" with coupons.

While she watched the mail carrier drop off similar 6x6x6 boxes house by house on the other side of the

street, outside the door or in the patio, and shortly afterwards a man came along and started collecting them.

My Mom reported it to the mail carrier and had her send the box back to the manufacturer.

A - why are they sending out free samples?

B - probably no chance in hell that the free sample is returned to the manufacturer.

Scammers and scoundrels everywhere...

 
 

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