Parents accuse online sellers of price gouging on baby formula


As dealers jack up prices by as much as 300 percent, frantic parents say platforms are doing little or nothing to intervene.

Lisa Davis, a 42-year-old mother of five, with her 14-month-old son, Jack. Davis says she’s reported price gouging of baby formula to eBay, but it has done “nothing about it.”

Parents seeking to locate baby formula amid a statewide shortage are saying that price gougers are selling bottles and cans marked up by as much as 300 percent or more on websites like eBay, OfferUp, Amazon, Craigslist, and inside Facebook communities. But in many cases, they’re discovering that the platforms are doing nothing to punish the unscrupulous merchants.

“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 thinks that she has notified roughly 20 predatory formula listings to eBay. “But eBay does nothing about it.”

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

“[G]et over it,” the seller responded back in an exchange reviewed by NBC News. “it is not unlawful u may disapprove but u have NO right to interfere in my business. folks do it constantly.”

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

But the breadth of such price gouging is impossible to assess; parents with babies say they often don’t have the time to submit complaints with government agencies, and the tech companies they are complaining to say they don’t have data to give. A survey of more than 100 presumably price-gouged formula listings across various websites and interactions with 13 parents in states throughout the country reveals that the problem has been spreading online.

“People don’t appreciate how horrible this is right now,” Davis added, “or how little sites like eBay seem to care.”

That’s partly because there is still no federal law preventing price gouging, and many state laws do not include formula sales, explained Teresa Murray, the consumer watchdog director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. And while many independent-seller platforms do have laws clearly barring this activity, the companies often aren’t able to fully police them, she added.

“The reality is that they may not have the ability to police in real-time what’s being placed up for sale on their websites,” she said. Parents, meanwhile, are stuck paying the price.

While eBay’s published regulations prohibit “inflating the price of goods in reaction to an emergency or disaster” and require “items that are regarded essential” to be “offered at a reasonable price,” Davis claimed several listings she highlighted remain online while others have sold out. A spokesperson for eBay, Scott Overland, said that the firm has been striving to solve price gouging via the formula crisis.


“We work with manufacturers and government officials to identify items at risk of price gouging and have a price-gouging reporting mechanism available to our entire community to report any potential violations of our policy,” he said. “Due to the continuous shortage, we are increasing up our manual screening 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 continuing to search for a special high-calorie formula for her identical twin girls, who were born alive in February. She recently joined a 35,000-member Facebook group called “baby formula for sale,” which has gained lots of followers in the past week. Like other Facebook groups, it has hundreds of comments dating all the way back weeks complaining about evident price gouging by fellow group members.

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


Ashley Settle, a spokesman for Meta, which owns Facebook, stated that in Facebook groups, it is not against Meta’s regulations to advertise things at inflated costs.

Some parents also report seeing pricey infant formula on Facebook Marketplace, where Settle stated formula is prohibited from being sold. One such Marketplace listing, with the coded title “Baby food1,” purported to sell one 19.9-ounce can of Enfamil Gentlease for $100 plus shipping, which would ordinarily retail for roughly $25 to $30. Meta removed the listing after NBC News inquired about it.

“Like other platforms for purchasing and selling commodities, there may be occasions where some people sell forbidden items on Marketplace whether they understand it or not,” stated Settle. “We seek to locate and remove these items and urge individuals across our platforms to report activity that may contravene our rules.”

Gouging on Amazon

Collins claims that she has also detected Amazon pricing gouging. According to her, she has seen Enfamil EnfaCare formula selling for $166 on Amazon, compared to the $113.99 she spent at Target and Walmart for the identical product before the scarcity, which generally lasts a week.

Purchasing on Amazon would increase her formula costs by over 45%, but she may have no choice if her daughters finish the last of the cans she’s managed to obtain before they run out. According to her, Amazon did not remove the number of listings she had reported to them. Third-party vendors, who advertise on Amazon but are not affiliated with the corporation, did not appear to have been suspended.

If you’re expecting a baby in the next three weeks, Lori Capps of New Mexico has turned to Amazon for a tiny supply of formula. She claims she’s come across 20 to 30 third-party postings that overcharged her and her friend, a single mother with a child who is tube-fed and needs one can of Neocate Junior formula per day when searching for these items. That product’s four 14.1-ounce cans usually cost roughly $175 for a case. However, she discovered that an Amazon listing that is still current asks for $320. A third seller is charging $84.99 for a single can, while another is charging $305.

Because Amazon made such a big deal about not permitting this for toilet paper and cleaning goods in 2020, it irks Capps. She adds that she has reported five different formula vendors and even contacted Amazon’s customer support directly without success. In the present, there is clearly price gouging [of formula] occurring everywhere. I can’t believe Amazon is allowing this to happen.”

Amazon spokesperson Patrick Graham said the company is always reviewing the prices on the site. – “To ensure that our prices are fair, we compare the submissions from our selling partners on a regular basis with pricing from both within and outside our store. We withdraw the offer and take appropriate action with the seller if we uncover pricing that violates our policy.”

Breaking point

Tara Routzong, an Alabama mother of two who resides just outside Birmingham, has gone to extremes to find cheaper infant formula than what can be obtained on the internet. Because of her severe allergies, Routzong’s 5-month-old daughter is completely reliant on Enfamil Nutramigen hypoallergenic formula.

Searched the internet with her hubby. On Craigslist and OfferUp, Routzong spotted other formula brands being offered at inflated prices, and he decided to give it a try. Enfamil Gentlease, which retails at Target for roughly $18, was being sold for $75 by an OfferUp seller before shipping.

OfferUp spokesperson Brandon Vaughan said in part that while the platform “does not generally control pricing on our marketplace,” it established price-gouging protocols at the beginning of the pandemic for certain items and recently “engaged those protocols on baby formula.” Investigators are on the lookout for and remove violative listings on OfferUp, as well as the ability for customers to report them.

To get her hands on the Nutramigen formula, Routzong turned to eBay. In contrast, the six 32-ounce bottles were priced at $200, which would normally cost her around $63 at Walmart. Sobbing, she reported the ad but received no response. Instead of ordering it online, her husband drove six hours round trip to a Walmart in Troy, Alabama. Her supplies are running low, and she has no idea what will happen when they run out.

There is no other option but to pay these exorbitant charges if the situation requires it, she remarked. “Is there anything we can do?”