Every morning, M.J. Jaafar goes online and scans through hundreds of postings trying to find baby formula for her three-month-old daughter.

Most days, she comes up empty. Then Jaafar’s heart sinks and anger sets in when she encounters scams and price gouging that victimizes families already desperate to feed their babies.

“It’s baffling and mind-blowing that people are using this crisis for infants to price gouge or scam people for money,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of hoarders too, people going to every store and buying all the formula you could find and selling it on Facebook."


As the baby formula shortage intensified this month, families are turning to Facebook groups in desperation. Hundreds of groups exist in which people sell or donate formula, along with giving advice on how to survive the traumatic manufacturing disaster.

Nearly half the nation’s formula is out of stock, primarily due to a shutdown of America’s largest manufacturer due to contamination.

Now an entire industry of secondhand products has emerged as people come to the realization that store shelves won’t be stocked any time soon. A 78,000-pound shipment from Europe arrived Sunday, destined for hospitals and doctor’s offices.

Jaafar’s daughter Maya was born in February, and she had 10 cans that lasted until this month. Her specialized type was nowhere to be found locally, so she drove from her Austin, Texas, home to Oklahoma on a scavenger hunt for more.

She settled on her doctor’s office after coming up empty.

But mostly, Jaafar hopes to find formula on her own through Facebook, like thousands of others. One of the top groups is named “baby formula for sale," which has 35,000 members. The top hashtag is #ScammerAlert.

Shelves typically stocked with baby formula sit mostly empty at a store in San Antonio on May 10, 2022. Parents across America are scrambling to find baby formula because supply disruptions and a massive safety recall have swept many leading brands off store shelves.
Shelves typically stocked with baby formula sit mostly empty at a store in San Antonio on May 10, 2022. Parents across America are scrambling to find baby formula because supply disruptions and a massive safety recall have swept many leading brands off store shelves. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

One mother posted screenshots of a transaction in which she begged for a FedEx tracking number, but the woman who allegedly made the sale kept coming up with excuses such as, “Give me about an hour. I had to run to the doctor before they closed.”

“She will bargain with you til you give her money then ignore you. I was stupid enough to do it through cash app,” the mother, Andrea Aldaco, said.

A similar scenario happened to Jessie Esparza-Wohlgemuth, who was ghosted by a different woman after sending $290 through PayPal. The woman texted back a screenshot showing a PayPal error screen. Then silence.

“Did you just legit scam me? I seriously need my money back, that’s really upsetting,” Esparza-Wohlgemuth texted with no response.

Often, the alleged seller lures the purchaser into a false sense of security by coming off as a caring mother.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been having such a hard time finding my sons formula as well. It’s such a terrible time but we gotta do what we can to make sure our babies are fed,” said one seller whose Facebook homepage had photos of a baby and another young child.

The seller would only accept Venmo and took Sandra Soe Makaveli’s $242, then disappeared. A determined Makaveli is probably one of the few who recovered her money.

“Called my bank and got my money back but I’m traumatized and scared to get formula through Facebook now,” she said with a crying emoji. “I can’t believe she did this because she’s also a mom of two. I went with it because she said she could send them out today. I texted her from my account at first then she stopped replying after I sent her money.”

Others post photos of boxes filled with formula but at exorbitant prices. Then they are excoriated in the comments section by angry mothers.

Jaafar said unscrupulous sellers go through store shelves and buy all of the items they can, leaving nothing for families.

“They have piles and piles. I’ve seen crazy numbers,” Jaafar said of postings she has seen. “Pure amino [formula], this can is the size of your palm. I saw people saying $250, $300. A can like this will last with us for a few days. The normal cost is $18 to $30.”

Scams have become so prevalent that the Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation into the baby formula black market. This comes after the agency recently issued a “buyer beware” bulletin urging parents to use reputable dealers and pay by credit card. But for many, this is not a practical option as store shelves and major online outlets are out of stock.

In the interim, an army of scrupulous mothers, including Jaafar, has emerged to educate others about any illicit behavior by sellers.


“Is this really happening? Are ppl really charging $100 a can and then turning off the comments on the post. I understand this is a baby formula sale group but the creed and prices are not real !!!!!!!” she recently posted.

Below Jaafar’s comment was a photo of a large cache of formula. The seller said she was also a mother trying to recoup what she paid. Within 15 minutes, the seller’s post was deleted, and Jaafar received a message from the woman.

“She wanted me to delete that photo because it had her name on it,” Jaafar said. “I didn’t answer.”