Feb 4, 2013 11:59 PM by Tony Spehar -

Health risks and possible theft create danger in buying baby formula online

Would you buy formula for your baby online? With many struggling to afford the basics of life many parents are turning to online sites like Craigslist to feed their children.

The Colorado Springs Craigslist site is full of advertisements from private sellers offering discounts on formula. Every parent knows feeding a baby can be expensive.

"My child, if I were to estimate everything we spend on her a month, is probably $1,800," explained mother Kelsie Freeman.

Freeman is forced to rely on formula to feed her daughter Aubry-Jean, Freeman has epilepsy and cannot breast-feed. She says her daughter is the best thing that's ever happened to her, but the baby costs a lot.

"A can of formula every two-days when Aubry-Jean was born" she explained. "A can of formula is $25, so every two-days really that's a lot."

The cost of buying food for their baby has driven many parents to extremes like buying formula online. The temptation is great; on Craigslist formula can be bought for less than have the price that it can be bought in stores.

But, the problems associated with buying formula online are numerous. El Paso County Public Health Director Jill Laws has many concerns.

"There's a reason there's certain safety guidelines and safety aspects," Law explained.

While the prices in stores may be higher than the prices online, stores usually follow the strict protocols called for in storing baby formula. For instance, formula should never be store below 34-degrees or above 94-degrees to avoid chemical changes.

"Retailers are very aware of these kind of practices as well as if a product has expired it's pulled off the shelf," Jill Law described. "Or if a lot number has been recalled it would be pulled of the shelf."

Expired or recalled formula is pulled of the shelves for good reason; babies are very vulnerable to any changes in formula caused by expiration or improper storage.

"You could see nausea or vomiting or the infant wasn't just tolerating the product well," Law described. "Obviously that is their primary, outside of breast feeding, an infant's primary method of feeding would either be breast-feeding or formula."

Then there's another reason why parents shouldn't buy formula online, there's a chance it could be stolen. Online sites, like Craigslist, have been known to be a haven for thieves trying to sell stolen merchandise as the Lt. Jeff Kramer with El Paso County Sheriff's Department has seen.

"Their length of possession of the stolen item is pretty abbreviated because they're able to move it quickly," Lt. Kramer explained.

As the economy continues to struggle locally and nationwide organized theft rings have switched from stealing and selling high-dollar items like electronics, to taking things people need like baby formula or laundry detergent that some may struggle to afford. When browsing online advertisements, it's important to question the seller.

"Does the person who's selling the property item, the tangible item or property, things of that nature, are they in fact the rightful owner?" Kramer said. "Do they have the rights to actually sell the property? Or is it in fact stolen?"

Those in the El Paso County Prosecutor's Office agree that everyday items, like baby formula or laundry detergent, are becoming lucrative for thieves.

"Steal it and resell it for 75 or 80-percent of the retail value," explained Robyn Cafasso, a Deputy Prosecutor specializing in retail crime. "People are willing to buy it and you'll make money."

Organized retail theft rings have become such a big problem that in the past two-weeks Southern Colorado has formed its own branch of the Colorado Organized Retail Theft Alliance (COORCA). COORCA allows law enforcement across areas of the state to share information about suspects and charge them when they commit multiple thefts, giving a greater "return on investment" in prosecuting crimes like shoplifting that can often only be misdemeanors.

Aside from giving information about the dangers of buying baby formula online, the El Paso County Public Health Department would also like parents to know about a program called Women, Infants and Children (WIC) that offers assistance to parents in paying for formula for their baby. Currently, over 15,000 people are enrolled in WIC.



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