I don’t really consider myself someone who is easily duped. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s not only because I’m pretty suspicious and skeptical of nearly everything. But I feel I’m quite connected with my gut, pretty discerning and have fairly sound judgment. But because my whole life has revolved around infant feeding I clearly can falter. And this is what happened while I was in Europe this past summer. Even though I could nearly sense something was up I didn’t have the umph (or WiFi) in order to stop it.
It all started when I lost my wallet on the west coast of Ireland. I went to the insanely beautiful Cliffs of Moher on a city tour, and took the additional excursion that requires getting on a small boat and sailing to the middle of the ocean we were at. I remember paying for my ticket, boarding the boat, engaging in lengthy chit chat about white male domination and banning white men in order to drastically reduce global violence, with a woman from Spain and having a great time. The tour bus that hauled us the four hours to the location again hauled us another four hours back into Dublin, and when I got to the city I went to pay for something but couldn’t find my wallet when I dug around in my bag looking for it. I panicked and freaked out. To skip forward — my wallet was found & mailed back to me but because of my schedule of moving around I didn’t get it until a couple weeks later when I was 2 countries removed, Scotland and then England.
So, my little sister wired me money.
I usually never, ever, ever have cash on me. And on the rare occasions that I do (even though I’ve bought plenty of things for folks who’ve approached me like sandwiches, bus tickets, etc.) it’s nearly always exclusively reserved for Black women who ask for it. But I had cash on me that day. And I was approached by a non-Black woman.
I was in Manchester — in England walking though a shopping mall-ish type of place when a young, mid-20ish Muslim woman who, as she was passing asked if I had any extra change. I reached into my bag and pulled out £1 and as I was handing it over to her, she said ‘wait.. don’t give me money, buy milk for my baby instead.’ That made my ears perk and gained more of my attention. I don’t really remember what was said in the next few minutes or exactly what transpired, but I do know that I had a feeling something fishy was going on (maybe it was just my overall suspicious nature or something else) BUT since my entire world revolves around infant feeding, I could not imagine not getting milk for this woman for her — what I was trying to imagine was a hungry baby who needed it. I didn’t have access to the internet and a few minutes to spare so I could look it up, but it did cross my mind to google something along the lines of ‘buy baby milk for people on street who ask.’ So, as we walked to the small drugstore that was not too far, I noticed she was visibly pregnant — I’d say around 5-6 months. I asked her about her pregnancy and if she thought about breastfeeding the baby she has now who needs milk. She kind of grinned as if she struggled to come up with something to tell me, but as we were entered the store and looked for and found the baby formula she went to reach for the milk but her hand stuttered, going toward one and then placing her hand on another picking up the second choice. If I would have blinked I would have missed it because it was subtle and happened that fast. Immediately thinking back that showed me that wasn’t something she was used to. That purchasing formula wasn’t really her gig, but that she had to make a decision real quick. We both walked to the cash register, and I paid £10.99 with my bank card, which is about 14 USD and kept the receipt. She put the formula in her bag and when we left the store as I was walking one way and she the other I saw her walk towards another woman as she lifted the formula from her bag, showing this person.
I looked the info up and found out that it, like I felt, was a scam. And not only that, but it’s quite common in many places around the world, being approached and the person — adult or child — asking for money but mentioning a hungry baby and requesting milk instead. Here’s just one other account but there are many of them: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-cuba/cuba/the-baby-milk-scam. What ends up happening is the milk is returned to the store and the scammer keeps the cash or trades it for other goods, gaining much more of a profit than had they just received spare change. You gotta give it to them, though. It’s pretty good.
I’m not bitter. Besides it being ironic and — either pathetic or sad, it’s kind of funny when I think about it, that a staunch breastfeeding advocate would be scammed into buying powdered infant formula for a random woman. I also learned something new, it didn’t take too much of my money. I also get to share this info so others can avoid it and tell folks they’re hip to the game but I’d be interested in knowing more of the origins of this scam.
I also wanna know.. has the baby milk scam ever happened to anyone you know — I mean, besides me?