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Nationwide baby formula scam looks to have roots in North Carolina

As the nationwide hunt for infant formula continues, a new worry for parents: scammers taking advantage of you online.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's a natural instinct nowadays: When you need something and can't find it in stores, you search online. For thousands of parents looking everywhere for baby formula, one resource is Facebook. 

That's where Terri Bair of Pennsylvania, and Laurel Smith of Texas, found a haven of help.

"I found a couple of social media groups that women were on ...," Bair said. "They would help with shipping, whatever you need. If they could find it."

Smith said the group was a "godsend." 

"A lot of great moms were on there that found formula from all over the country, wherever they live," Smith said.

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With both women desperate to find formula for their newborns, they began messaging individuals offering the product. One woman said she lived in a small North Carolina town and could access baby formula through her workplace. 

"A bunch of moms commented and said, 'Oh, please send me this kind or that kind,'" Smith explained. 

Both mothers trusted the woman because she appeared to be a mother herself, with children in her profile picture. They messaged her, and that's when the alleged scam started. 

The woman asked for payment through Venmo, which both women agreed to and paid. Smith paid for half, $40, and asked for a shipping number to ensure the product was coming. The woman sent her that number, so Smith paid the rest of the amount for a total of $80. 

Bair's experience was nearly identical, with the woman asking for payment up-front through an online payment option. The woman provided a shipping number as well when Bair asked.

Neither woman received their baby formula. 

"Monday morning, another woman posted in our same group and the girl's name is the same girl that I had paid, and she said, 'beware of this person, I've been scammed by her and so have others,'" Smith said. "And that was when, you know, all warning bells went off. So I went and checked the tracking real quick, and it was completely gone. Disappeared."

Bair and Smith both tried contacting the alleged scammer, but got nothing.

Smith called the Eden Police Department, because that's where the alleged scammer lived, according to her Facebook profile. They were aware of the individual and began investigating.

"I don't know how many people she scammed," Smith said. "I know it's quite a few."

So far, WCNC Charlotte can confirm there are victims in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas. 

"We don't need any explanation from her at this point," Bair said. "Give us the money back and we'll call it good."

Both women said they're upset that another mom is possibly scamming mothers who can't afford to lose their money. 

"It's annoying that I'm missing it, but it's not going to break me," Bair said. "Some of these women, especially the ones that spent over $100, they don't have the extra money."

Smith said she hopes this serves as a warning to everyone to be skeptical of others online and not to let their guard down.

"I'm a hard person to scam," Smith said. "I usually do a lot of research. I did in this case, I looked at her profile. And it does take a certain amount of trust to be exchanging formula or anything on Facebook with a stranger."

"The fact that someone, anyone would do that, much less another mom, it's just reprehensible," Smith said.

The Better Business Bureau shared these tips for dealing with transactions online from someone you don't know.

  • Emotional appeal
    Any pitch that ratchets up your emotion will inhibit your rational judgment.
  • Sense of urgency
    You must act now, or else. 
  • Request for unorthodox payment
    Gift cards, prepaid credit cards, wire transfers, etc. 
  • Explanations that don't ring true
    If your new "landlord" can't show you inside of the house, that could be because they don't own it. 
  • You won, now pay up
    It's not a prize if you have to pay for it. Taxes, fees, shipping, whatever. 
  • Too good to be true
    That's because it's not true. Sorry, your long-lost relative didn't die, leaving you millions. That car you bought online for a third of its Kelly Blue Book value doesn’t really exist. The son of a billionaire diamond broker didn’t “swipe right” on you and fall instantly in love. That work-at-home job paying you hundreds of dollars an hour for stuffing envelopes isn’t real. 

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