Adoption Scams: Be Aware, Not Paranoid
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Adoption fraud refers to any form of intentional misrepresentation or an illegal act in the area of adoption. Prospective birth families, pre-adoptive families, and adoption professionals are each capable of adoption fraud:
- A prospective birth mother may promise her unborn child to multiple pre-adoptive families and accept money from each family while having no intention to make an adoption plan for her child.
- A pre-adoptive family may promise a certain level of openness and not follow through on their commitment.
- An adoption agency may require pre-adoptive families to pay exorbitant fees and then not provide the services promised.
Each of these has occurred and although adoption deceit and fraud are not the norm, they do happen. The purpose of this article is to help pre-adoptive families avoid being defrauded by prospective birth families.
It is important to state up front that it is perfectly legal and ethical for someone to explore the idea of adoption with an adoption professional or with a pre-adoptive family and then decide against adoption. It is also legal and ethical for a woman to make an honest adoption plan with a family and then change her mind before birth or even after placement if still within the legal risk period. Even though these situations may be difficult for prospective adoptive families, they are not examples of deceit or fraud.
When it comes to avoiding true fraud, we believe the advice given by Kelly Kiser-Mostrom, author of the book The Cruelest Con, is both simple and right on: educate yourself, know who you are working with, and thoroughly research your options and the laws. Although she was defrauded by a facilitator and the book was published in 2005 (and a lot has changed since then), her advice still holds true.
Educate yourself about common tactics that scammers use, how to research prospective birth families, and ways to protect yourself from being defrauded. We listed just a few things you should consider below, but you will find even more helpful ideas in the Informational Resources section.
- Search for the prospective birth family’s name using Google. Look for information on Facebook, MySpace, and other social media platforms, too.
- If a prospective birth family shares their phone number, do a reverse lookup to get the name and address associated with the number. Keep in mind that the caller may be using a friend or relative’s phone or may not be living in the same city that the phone number is linked to. Regardless, getting this information can help you verify facts that the caller shares with you.
- If someone electronically sends you a picture, right-click on the image to get the file name and then do an Internet image search on the name. Some scammers will take images from the Internet (including ultrasound images) and use them as their own.
- Join forums and Facebook pages where prospective adoptive families share their experience with scammers. Not only will you learn about additional scam tactics, but you will also hear about scams that are active. Since scammers can attempt to defraud multiple prospective adoptive families at the same time, being aware of active scams is important.
- Protect your privacy and do not share confidential or identifying information. This includes your last name, where you work, your home or regular mobile phone number (they can do a reverse lookup on your number just as easily as you can do one using their number), and your home address.
- Never give prospective birth families money. Either pay a provider directly (landlord, doctor, electric company, etc.) or better yet, ask your adoption attorney or agency to process payments to providers on your behalf. Make sure you get bills and receipts of payment.
Remember, some expectant parents make adoption plans when red flags are waving all over the place and other adoptions fall through when no one noticed one red flag at all. The point, however, is to emotionally and financially protect yourself by being aware and by managing your expectations.
Know Who You Are Working With
If a prospective adoptive parent tells you that she is pregnant, sends you a picture of herself so you can see that she is pregnant, and sends you an ultrasound image of the baby (even with her name and a recent date on the image), that is not enough proof.
- Try to meet prospective birth families face-to-face to best judge their honesty and intentions.
- Ask expectant parents who contact you to meet or speak with your attorney or social worker. Someone who is truly interested in learning about adoption and making an adoption plan should be open to doing this.
- Obtain proof of pregnancy. If someone says they will do this and always has a reason why they have not done so yet, they may not be pregnant.
Research Your Options and the Laws
Adoption laws vary by state and even the same law can be interpreted by the courts differently in different states. It is incredibly important to work with an attorney in your home state and ensure that you and the expectant parents have access to an attorney in the expectant parents’ state. Remember that you and the expectant parents should not share the same attorney. A great source for finding an experienced adoption attorney is the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.
Prior to speaking with an attorney, consider researching adoption laws yourself. Doing so should not take the place of talking to an experienced attorney, of course, but understanding the relevant laws just a little bit will allow you to ask an attorney more specific questions and will help you better understand the attorney’s answers.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a great place to learn about adoption law because the website makes it easy to select a specific state and particular aspect of adoption law. Some important areas to understand include: Consent to Adoption, Regulation of Private Domestic Adoption Expenses, and Rights of Presumed (Putative) Fathers.
At the end of our adoption outreach workshops we offer some advice to the group that I think is important to share here. We encourage families to enjoy the good fortune that will come their way, but we also suggest that they manage their expectations.
Until you have a placement, it’s just a match. Until you have a match, it’s just a lead. You cannot have a placement without the match and you cannot have a match without a lead so you should definitely celebrate each step, but it is also true that not every lead will result in a placement.
Finally, if you take only one thing from this article, then let it be this: Whether you are pursuing a private adoption or working with an agency while also doing your own networking and advertising, the best way to manage the risk of being defrauded by a prospective birth family is to work closely with an experienced adoption professional. They are less emotionally involved and they have the experience to identify red flags and help you manage the risks.
Creating a Family is a non-profit organization that provides information about infertility and adoption. In July 2010 they did a radio show called Avoiding Domestic Adoption Scams. The guests included an adoption attorney and an adoptive mother and victim of an adoption scam. The adoptive mother shared some great advice, much of which is in an article she wrote titled Adoption Scammers: What You Can Do to Avoid Falling Prey.
ACBAdoptions.com provides some good tips on their adoption scams page regarding birth mother, adoptive parent, and adoption professional scams.
CBS News did a piece on adoption scams called How to Spot an Adoption Scam. It was done almost 5 years ago, but the advice is still good: research the birth mother, be careful with money, and look for red flags.
There is an adoption scam group on Yahoo! Groups that is moderated by ABCAdoptions.com. Members of the groups share information about potential and real scammers. You can learn from others and use this group to research potential birth families who contact you.
There is a Facebook group called Avoiding Adoption Scams that people use to share emails and photos and other identifying information of scammers.
There is a forum on Adoption Voices called How to Avoid Being Scammed that contains people’s experiences with scams.