Buying Stuff You LOVE Online 

Have stuff you love? One might argue consumerism is all about the love people have for the things they buy. And consumer protection, well, that’s the promise that the sale of things will be clear and fair. Plain and simple. You love your stuff and so there are laws and rules that protect you as the consumer when you are buying things. Sometimes, people pay for things online that they never receive. For some, that’s heartbreak.  

Buying stuff you LOVE online: - Three photos of stuff: clothes hanging on a rack, shoes displayed with bright red boots in the middle, red handbag. Pictures are overlapping and positioned to the left against a pink background with a framed outline of white hearts.

So, what do you do when the thing you committed to purchasing from a website never arrives as a package at your door as promised?  

  • Try to discern whether the site is a scam or if the delivery delay was due to an error. Talk to friends and family about what happened and discuss. Do some browsing on the website. If pictures look pixelated and you notice spelling errors, the site is likely a fake.  
  • Found a fake? Inform your financial institution to dispute the charges. For credit cards, you have 60 days from the time the transaction was posted on your credit card billing statement to file a chargeback dispute (some cards allow more time, but not all). This means there is a clock ticking on when you can file a claim with the credit card company. If the item never arrives and you have found the website to be a fake, it is unlikely the company itself will not issue a refund. In this scenario, filing a dispute with your credit card company is your best course of action for a refund. 

The Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule is a Federal Rule that protects your mail, internet, or telephone orders of merchandise. What does the rule do? 

  • Sellers can solicit orders by mail, internet, or telephone only when they have a reasonable basis to expect that they can ship the ordered merchandise within the time stated on the solicitation (if no time is stated, within 30 days). 
  • If the seller cannot ship within the time stated (or 30 days, if no time is stated), the seller must get consent from the buyer to delay shipment.  
  • Without buyer consent to delay shipment, the seller must issue a prompt refund for the unshipped merchandise.  (Federal Register, Federal Trade Commission

Vermonters may file a consumer complaint with the Consumer Assistance Program when purchased items are not received, or are misrepresented:

Find something you love online? Protect your money. Take steps to verify the website is valid and perform online searches about others’ interactions with the site before buying. If you find that customers commonly say they do not get the product, or items are different than purchased, or advertised promises were not honored, look elsewhere. There is a chance the new thing you have come to love does not exist. 

Feeding Baby During the Formula Shortage

By Crystal Baldwin

There are only two kinds of food a newborn baby can eat: breastmilk and simulated breastmilk, otherwise known as baby formula. Formula has since the eighteen hundreds been a helpful nutritional supplement—establishing itself as a necessity to grow our infants, helping to overcome milk/food allergies or the obstacles that present in breastfeeding, and providing an alternative for families.  

Baby drinking formula from a bottle
Baby drinking formula.

At six weeks, my baby developed a milk protein allergy. Still too young to eat solids, my family began investing in the protein dense, nutrient rich smoothie that is formula to make sure she was fed.  

Sure, sometimes when I went to the store the preferred brand of her soy-based formula was out of stock. Determined, I sought alternatives to purchasing in-store, so that my baby could have the food she liked. I could buy in bulk from wholesale stores, or direct from the manufacturer online. I opted to have the containers of formula delivered to my doorstep. Upon each delivery arrival, I felt a pang of extreme gratitude in knowing that my baby would eat. I wish I could extend this feeling to every parent navigating the baby formula shortage. 

The Biden administration has highlighted the concern of the baby formula shortage with a plan to alleviate the struggle, which was predominately initiated by a voluntary recall at the largest U.S. formula manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, three months ago.  

The federal government has been: 

  1. Working with other infant formula manufacturers to increase production, expediting the safe import of infant formula from abroad. 
  1. Calling on both online and store retailers to establish purchasing limits to prevent the possibility of hoarding.  
  1. Simplifying product offerings to increase the speed and scale of production, to stabilize the overall volume of formula available on the market. 
  1. The USDA is urging states to allow WIC recipients to use their WIC benefits on a wider variety of products so that if certain sizes or types of formula are out of stock, they can use their benefits on those that are in stock. 

The federal government is now: 

  1. Invoking the Defense Protection Act, diverting needed ingredients to infant formula manufacturers before sending the supplies to other consumer goods. 
  1. Launching Operation Fly Formula, utilizing Department of Defense commercial aircraft to transport overseas U.S. approved infant formula to deliver it to the store shelves faster
  1. The FDA is working with the largest U.S. formula producer to reopen Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan facility.  

“On a personal note: I have firsthand experience with the formula shortage. Luckily, we’ve always been able to find alternative sources, but it’s been difficult (and scary at times).”

A Vermont Infant Parent

Vermont parents are resilient and savvy–they have been finding solutions to this problem for months. The parents that have been navigating this well know best, but perhaps I can help simplify some of the information that has been circulating. The following, in addition to the VT Department of Health’s help page released last week, might provide some level of clarity. 

Caregiver Formula Shortage Do’s and Don’ts 


  • Buy formula online direct from a verified retailer or manufacturer
    • The New York Times is regularly updating a list of online available baby formula stock, organized by formula type. 
    • Other ways to verify online formula sellers: Check complaints and reviews, check the business registrations in the state of incorporation, perform an internet search of the company name and “scam” or “complaints” to find if others have reported problems. Double-check the website address before completing the order. Scammers will create mock websites, looking very similar to known sites.  
    • Abbott Nutrition has a hotline number for families that need specialty formula. For information and orders, call 1-800-881-0876
  • Talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant (or similar Women, Infants and Children support services (WIC)) about healthy alternatives, such as breastfeeding, temporary use of an alternative formula, and introducing solids—where appropriate. 
    • Your pediatrician is your connection to infant safety. Stay connected regarding infant wellbeing. Lactation consultants are covered under most health insurance providers. They are nurses that provide dietary advice, supplement recommendations, and direct teaching and support for nursing mothers.  
  • Call Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and your pediatrician if you cannot adequately feed your baby.  

If this shortage has caused undue hardship and you cannot feed your baby, especially due to the lack of supply, please reach out for help. 

Do: Buy formula online direct from a verified retailer or manufacturer. Do: Use online parenting social groups, such as on Facebook, to get and share the latest supply updates. Do: Talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant about healthy alternatives; such as breastmilk and introducing solids. Do: Call WIC and your pediatrician if you cannot adequately feed your baby. Don't: Buy from unverified sellers, including unknown websites, sellers in marketplace social groups, and international sellers that are not FDA approved. Don't: Pay more than the fair market price - report price gouging. Don't: Buy more than you need. Don't hoard. Don't: Use unsafe alternatives: like milk or homemade formula. Don't: dilute formula.
Baby Formula Shortage Caregiver Do’s and Don’ts


  • Don’t buy from unverified sellers, including unknown websites, sellers in online marketplace social groups, and international sellers that are not FDA approved. 
    • Scammers lurk at every disadvantage. Not engaging in disreputable activities and keeping scammers away will help everyone in the long run. 
  • Don’t pay more than the fair market pricereport price gouging to the Attorney General’s Office.  
    • When you pay more than the fair market price for a product, the price spikes, making products unaffordable for moderate and low-income Vermonters. Price gouging in a market emergency has repeatedly been proven as unfair and deceptive. If you notice steep increases in the price of formula in Vermont, report the store name and location, and as much identifying information about the product as you can provide, including the formula type, size, dollar amount, and the typical price, as well as a picture, if able to the Consumer Assistance Program of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (CAP).  
  • Don’t buy more than you need. Please don’t hoard. 
    • This may prove difficult, particularly when feeding your baby is at stake. But the economics here are undeniable, if you buy more than you need now while there is a shortage, someone else will go without. It will be difficult, but please stick to the purchasing restrictions outlined by the retailers, as required by the federal government. Calendar your plan to make another formula purchase again before your supply is gone so that you don’t run out. 
  • Don’t use unsafe alternatives: like homemade baby formula, juice, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, plant-based milk, or watered down/diluted baby formula with water.  
    • Baby formula is made to simulate breastmilk with a specialized combination of vitamins and nutrients and its production is FDA monitored. While cow’s milk and other dairy alternatives are yummy for older children and adults, infant bodies can’t adequately digest food alternatives, including excess water, which provokes harm.   
Ally Do's and Don'ts. Do This: Check the stock while in a store and don't buy it. Use online social groups to keep others informed and updated on your findings. Offer to help friends by keeping them informed and buy only if you call them first and confirm they need the formula. Sign up to be a breastmilk donor at VT Donor Milk Center, or ask friends if they would like your excess supply. Don't - Not That: Don't buy formula that you do not need with the intention to donate. In doing so, you reduce available stock for caregivers. Don't offer unsolicited or unsafe advice, such as unrealistic goals for breastfeeding, or suggesting alternatives like milk. Don't show up with negativity. Caregivers and their children need positive support and valuable connection during this stressful time.
Ally Formula Shortage Do’s and Dont’s

This is indeed a stressful time. Those of us on the sidelines are eager to support caregivers and help where we can. While our first inclination may be to buy formula and donate it, this action creates a greater supply problem as it leaves less formula on the shelves for caregivers to purchase when they need it. Instead, if you notice available formula stock, call up an infant caregiver directly and ask them if they would like you to pick it up for them. Another thing you can do for your community is to crowdsource formula supply by taking note of the formula available in your local stores and sharing it with caregiver support groups online. When you notice scams or price gouging in an emergency, report it to CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  

References and Trusted Resources: 

VT Department of Health: Infant Formula Shortage – Find Help page 

White House – Biden Administration StatementsMay 22, 2022 Fact Sheet 1, May 22, 2022 Fact Sheet 2, May 18, 2022 Fact Sheet, May 12, 2022 Fact Sheet  

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) 

Puppy Love

By Crystal Baldwin 

Nothing quite beats puppy snuggles to lift spirits and brighten moods. Though I speak now mostly from personal experience as the owner of a sweet cuddly chihuahua, Bobby, my sweeping generalization is based in fact. Loving on animals induces the cuddle chemical, oxytocin, giving the body a calming feel-good rush. Who couldn’t use a bit of pick-me-up right now?  

Lap dog Bobby snuggling

I know I’ve been cuddling with my dog more. I feel lucky to have him and to have purchased him as a purebred puppy for the discount price of $225 from a legitimate breeder in Kentucky when I lived there. $225 was a steal for my companion. In retrospect, I would have paid much more for him and the joy he has brought my life. And realistically, I know many Vermonters do. They spend hours searching for the perfect pet to expand their family and when found, spare no expense to bring them home. 

Sadly, scammers know this. They’ve devised skilled, deceitful plans to connect you with fake puppy companions, take your money, and give you nothing in return—except, perhaps, a broken heart. These scammers are mostly lurking in indiscreet corners of the internet, posting poached photos of someone else’s pets, claiming they are for sale and that they’ll ship them to you. Sometimes they’ll claim you can get the pet for the unbelievable price I paid, $225 or less. Sometimes they claim the pet is free but you must pay shipment fees or for medical complications that arose. Drawn by the plethora of adorable photos and the anticipation to snuggle your cutie, you send the money. The website looks legitimate and with all those photos, you never consider that this pup-for-sale is part of an intricately woven tale of fiction.    

Puppy Love image warns: Don't get scammed by Puppy Love. Find out more about online pet listing scams on the CAP blog:

What are you to do then? News sources have reported more people are purchasing furry friends during the pandemic. While we’re tethered to our homes, online buying seems to make the most sense.  What we’ve seen at the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) through scam reports, however, is that when consumers purchase from online puppy sellers sight unseen, even from supposed Vermont businesses, folks are sending money and not getting a pet as promised.   

The simplest way to avoid online puppy scams is to commit to “pet the pet” before turning over any money. If you don’t have the lovable furry friend in hand: 

  • Don’t wire transfer money 
  • Don’t give the seller gift card information  
  • Don’t send a peer-to-peer payment (Venmo, PayPal Friends/Family, Zelle) 
  • Don’t mail cash, money orders, or/checks 
  • Don’t give out automatic debit information of your bank account or read off a check number 
  • Don’t provide a credit or debit card number 
  • Don’t give the seller remote access to your computer 
  • Don’t secure the pet purchase by providing copies of your license or Social Security card. 

I wish I had a better solution for you. I wish there was a magical website that connected each person to their pet family member. I wish I knew of a place in Vermont, or New England for that matter, where a person could buy a purebred puppy for as little as $225, like I did—believe me, I consider myself lucky. I am sad to say that I don’t. Absent this magical website, the best thing you can do is connect with people in your network and ask where they got their dogs. If your friends are like my friends, you will likely be referred to the Humane Society (Addison County Humane SocietyCentral Vermont Humane SocietyHumane Society of Chittenden CountyFranklin County Humane SocietyRutland County Humane SocietySpringfield Humane SocietyWindham County Humane Society). 

Want to learn more about scams and scam prevention? 

For more information about common scams and scams on the rise, we encourage you to utilize the following resources:  

CAP Connection: Consumer Assistance Program Blog  

Common Scams in Vermont  

Federal Trade Commission Scam Alerts  

If you would like to help stop scams, consider being a CAP Cares Ally, by getting scam alerts and notices from our office and committing to sharing scam information with those in your community.  

Get alerts from our office:  

To receive scam alerts about scams on the rise in Vermont by phone call, text, or email, use the following link to sign up for Scam Alerts: Need assistance signing up? Call the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424. We can help you sign up and we can assist if you have questions, concerns, or need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam.