Pricey baby formula hot item for thieves across U.S.

SALT LAKE CITY -- The recent arrests in Utah of three people accused of stealing thousands of dollars' worth of baby formula is the latest example of a problem that officials say is vexing stores and police nationwide as thieves systematically swipe the mixture from shelves and resell it to unsuspecting parents.

See Full Article

Baby formula is a major expense for many new parents, with small canisters starting around $20 and special or prescription blends costing two or three times that.

It's also widely used. More than a third of infants receive formula in addition to breastmilk in their first six months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Often, babies who are weaned of breastmilk will continue to drink formula into their toddler years.

The high price and broad demand make it an enticing target for thieves, who typically sell the stolen formula at flea markets or list it on websites like Craigslist and eBay.

In late December, police in Logan, about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City, confiscated 422 cans of stolen formula worth $8,000 to $10,000. It came from stores in Logan and three other northern Utah cities, and officers are looking for ties to similar recent thefts in Idaho cities about 150 miles away, Police Capt. Curtis Hooley said.

In Pleasanton, California, thefts of large amounts of formula are reported at least once a month, with thieves frequently hitting multiple stores around the San Francisco Bay Area, according to police Lt. Kurt Schlehuber.

He doesn't think the culprits are parents trying to feed their kids.

"There are people that are making money off of selling the stuff," Schlehuber said.

In April, Pleasanton police arrested two people suspected of stealing dozens of containers of the product.

Officers happened to see the pair running from the store with shopping baskets full of formula. But arrests can be rare when police often have only an anonymous face captured by a surveillance camera, Schlehuber said.

Around the country, law enforcement agencies in recent years have reported heists ranging from thousands to several million dollars' worth of baby formula.

In 2009, Florida authorities arrested 21 people accused in an elaborate theft ring that officials say pilfered more than $2 million in formula annually.

Investigators working on that sting -- called "Operation Hot Milk" -- said thieves were paid between $100 and $300 a day and used multiple lookouts while filling bags with formula. They hit 15 or more stores a day and later repackaged the formula and sold it in other states, authorities said.

The Infant Nutrition Council of America, an association of baby formula manufacturers, does not keep statistics on the thefts but said it's a continuing problem nationwide.

"We're not talking about petty shoplifting," said Jennifer Hatcher, a senior vice-president for government and public affairs at the Food Marketing Institute, which represents supermarket chains, small grocery stores, pharmacies and other food retailers.

Large thefts can be a particularly costly problem for many such stores, which are required to keep a minimum amount of formula on their shelves to accept customers spending money dispersed through the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC.

Hatcher said the industry has been working to combat the thefts for about 15 years.

For parents, stolen formula can be a safety concern.

They can't be sure that what they're buying has been stored at proper temperatures or isn't past its expiration date. Some sophisticated theft rings even print counterfeit formula labels to make a cow's-milk-based product appear to be a more expensive soy or rice formula designed for children with milk allergies, Hatcher said.

Mardi Mountford, the nutrition council's executive director, recommends that formula be bought only from a trustworthy retailer, either in-store or online.

New mother Erica Otten of Tabernacle, New Jersey, said she understands a parent's temptation to try and save on the expensive product by shopping for a discounted version online.

Her 5-month-old daughter has a protein allergy requiring a specific formula that costs $32 for a 1-pound can that lasts four days at most. Still, Otten sticks to the major retailers.

"It sounds scary because you're feeding it to your infant," she said. "I inspect everything like crazy -- the expiration date, the fact that it's sealed."

To help with the cost, Otten signed up to receive regular coupons from formula manufacturers while pregnant. She now swaps the coupons she doesn't need with other mothers around the country.

Some retailers take extra steps to combat thefts, keeping their baby formula under lock and key. Others stamp their store names and locations on containers to alert consumers or police if the stolen product turns up for sale somewhere else, Hatcher said.

When large amounts of formula are stolen, lot numbers are provided to websites like eBay that can monitor sale listings for the products.

To chip away at the black market demand, federal officials have started requiring grocery stores and retailers that participate in the WIC program to buy formula only from approved wholesalers.

"Each one of these tactics, it seems to have helped alleviate some of the ability for them to resell this product quickly," Hatcher said. "That doesn't mean it's still not an incredibly attractive product to try to steal."



Advertisements

Latest Economic News

  • Syngenta settles U.S. farmer lawsuits in China corn trade case

    Economic CTV News
    MINNEAPOLIS -- Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta has agreed to settle tens of thousands of U.S. lawsuits by farmers over the company's rollout of a genetically engineered corn seed variety before China approved it for imports. Source
  • London's Heathrow world's most connected airport, Toronto's Pearson is 5th: Report

    Economic CTV News
    London's Heathrow has emerged the most connected airport, and Toronto's Pearson placed fifth, in a list that ranks the busiest megahubs around the world. Compiled by air travel intelligence company OAG, the international megahubs index ranks airports by calculating the total number of possible connections between inbound and outbound international flights within a six-hour window. Source
  • Apple stock rebounds after news of possible iPhone X supply cuts

    Economic CBC News
    Apple's stock has rebounded after taking a hit following reports that it was telling parts suppliers to slow down delivery of iPhone X components. The tech company's stock fell 1.3 per cent in early trading Monday, but has since rebounded by about the same amount on Tuesday following news from Digitimes on Monday that Apple is telling its suppliers it only needs about 40 per cent of the parts and components it had initially asked them for. Source
  • A path to possible wealth; getting a little Shady

    Economic CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Tired of living a life in which you are not making bank on royalties from the 43rd Grammy Awards Best Rap Solo Performance, "The Real Slim Shady?" The world may turn for you come October. Source
  • Brent oil price hits 2-year high as OPEC and Turkey talk down supply

    Economic CBC News
    The price of the European benchmark oil blend rose to its highest level since the summer of 2015, amid signs that the worldwide glut of supply may start to dissipate. Brent crude oil briefly went as high as US $59.49 a barrel after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to cut off a pipeline that takes 600,000 barrels per day of oil from Iraq through Kurdish territory into a Turkish port. Source
  • Toronto real estate board raises concerns about possible vacancy tax

    Economic CTV News
    TORONTO - The Toronto Real Estate Board is urging the city to exercise caution regarding a possible vacant home tax. The board says it's worried there is not enough data or evidence to support the idea that a vacancy tax would increase the supply of rental housing. Source
  • Equifax CEO suddenly retires as data breach fallout continues

    Economic CBC News
    Equifax CEO Richard Smith is retiring less than three weeks after the company admitted to a cybersecurity breach that had exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans. The Atlanta-based company's board made the announcement before markets opened on Tuesday that the 57-year-old Smith is retiring from both positions after 12 years leading the company. Source
  • Equifax CEO suddenly ousted as data breach fallout continues

    Economic CBC News
    Equifax CEO Richard Smith is retiring less than three weeks after the company admitted to a cybersecurity breach that had exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans. The Atlanta-based company's board made the announcement before markets opened on Tuesday that the 57-year-old Smith is retiring from both positions after 12 years leading the company. Source
  • Equifax CEO suddenly out as data breach fallout continues

    Economic CBC News
    Equifax CEO Richard Smith is retiring less than three weeks after the company admitted to a cybersecurity breach that had exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans. The Atlanta-based company's board made the announcement before markets opened on Tuesday that the 57-year-old Smith is retiring from both positions after 12 years leading the company. Source
  • Bombardier faces prospect of bad news for its aerospace and railway businesses

    Economic CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Bombardier seems headed towards a double barrel of bad news Tuesday with the potential to affect its commercial aircraft and railway businesses. The first hit is coming from Europe, where multiple media reports say the French government has approved the merger of Alstom with German railway manufacturer Siemens. Source