The Better Business Bureau Just Issued This Urgent Warning to Shoppers

You'll want to be careful when shopping for one sought-after product online.

Shopping online requires a fair amount of trust, namely that you're getting reliable products at a reliable price. But the internet is rife with criminals looking to take advantage of shoppers, making it that much more challenging to determine whether you're purchasing from a valid retailer and not a scammer. In fact, according to Statista, 78.8 percent of consumers worldwide said they have fallen victim to an online purchase scam in 2020. Now, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued an urgent new warning that applies to a highly sought-after product. Read on to find out what the agency says customers must pay attention to when shopping.

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There is a massive baby formula shortage.

baby formula in container
New Africa / Shutterstock

In recent months, new parents have been put in a concerning predicament due to a shortage of baby formula. Nationwide, it has become increasingly difficult to find formula both in stores and online, forcing retailers like Walmart and CVS to limit the amount that customers are able to buy at one time. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the shortage was initially prompted by supply chain issues, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a voluntary recall of some products by Abbott Laboratories—a major producer of baby formula—in February.

As of April 24, 40 percent of the most popular brands were out of stock, whereas 10 percent is the normal rate, according to The Wall Street Journal. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to increase production and import more formula, parents remain concerned about how to feed their children for the time being. If you're looking for different ways to buy formula, however, the BBB cautions against one purchasing method that could actually be a scam.

Don't buy baby formula from these sellers.

hacker at computer
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On May 12, the BBB issued a warning to parents and caregivers about potential scams when purchasing baby formula online. Capitalizing on the growing panic, scammers will post ads on the internet or on social media stating that they have baby formula available. When a buyer contacts the seller through a direct message or chat, the seller will then ask for payment via a "peer-to-peer platform" like Venmo or PayPal, both of which are BBB Accredited Businesses. According to the agency, after the transaction, buyers never receive the formula.

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The BBB recommends checking for these telltale signs that you're being scammed.

woman at computer
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While cons and scams do occur, there are ways that you can protect yourself before they happen. The BBB recommends checking for misspelled words or grammatical errors in posts, as well as "descriptive language that is inconsistent with the product." Also, if the seller doesn't have a brick-and-mortar address, it could be an indication of fraud, and if they do have an address, double-check it on Google maps. If it appears that the address shows a parking lot, residents, or an unrelated business, steer clear.

You may also think that positive reviews indicate reliability, but scammers have found a way around this as well. According to the BBB, sometimes these reviews are copied from honest sites or even made up by the scammers themselves. Review websites can also be funded by scammers, the BBB cautions, even when they say they are independent. You can crosscheck accreditation status on the BBB's website.

If you suspect fraud, report it immediately.

woman holding cellphone and credit card
fizkes / Shutterstock

In general, the BBB advises consumers to "think before you click." If something feels off or misleading, it may be your gut telling you to keep your distance. In addition to checking for accreditation status, you can also search the company's name with "scam" and see if any complaints come up.

Scammers are known to stop responding after a purchase is made—even when they were prompt and responsive at first. If you do end up purchasing, using a credit card may offer some protection in the event you are scammed, and make sure to take a screenshot of the item you ordered.

The BBB asks that you report suspected online shopping fraud on its website, as well as to other agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. Depending on what website you used, you can also file reports with Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, PayPal, or your credit card company.

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