Most adoption agencies and prospective birth parents are honest, caring people. But if you are a prospective adoptive parent, beware: Danger does lurk in the shadows. There are always people looking to take advantage of someone else's hopes and needs. Thus, scam artists are born.
Scam artists in the adoption field are not new. However, the Internet's ability to create long-distance connections between people can contribute to childless couples becoming targets of sophisticated scam artists. These scammers take advantage of what may have been a heartbreaking decision for many couples - to forgo having a child of their own, and adopt a child from a stranger - for their own gain.
How the Scam Works
Typically, scams by fraudulent birth parents take three forms:
- The "birth parent" that is not actually pregnant
- The birth parent who promises her child to more than one couple
- The birth parent who is pregnant, but does not really intend to give up her child
These scams can be difficult to spot. You may fall victim by thinking emotionally instead of rationally.
You're most at risk for being scammed if you are trying to find a birth mother without the help of an adoption facilitator or attorney. Fraudulent birth mothers will often answer private newspaper ads placed by couples wishing to adopt. They may also locate prospective parents on an Internet site that specializes in connecting you with birth mothers seeking to give up their child for adoption.
The scam artist then begins to take financial advantage of you. The scammer asks you for living expenses or for assistance with what may be one of many financial crises. She may ask for significant money up front, or for a place to live until the child is born. Generally, you want to give her whatever is needed to ensure that the she is happy, and therefore willing to give up her child to you.
By the time you realize that you've been scammed, the birth mother is gone, and you have lost not only your potential child, but thousands of dollars as well.
You Can Protect Yourself
You can protect yourself from scam artists. Most importantly, you can look for one of the many red flags of fraudulent birth parents:
- They ask for "crisis" money, or ask often for funds
- They promise the child to you at your first meeting
- They refuse to speak to a therapist, adoption facilitator or attorney
- They refuse to sign a medical release or to otherwise provide medical evidence of pregnancy
- They don't provide accurate contact or personal information1
In addition, you should do thorough background checks of potential birth mothers. You should request medical evidence of pregnancy, and ask to be involved with medical decisions. You may insist that a birth mother undergo counseling or therapy to lessen the chance of a birth mother changing her mind, or to identify a scam artist. And you should be familiar with the adoption laws of your state, as well as that of the birth mother's state.
Most important of all, you should contact a reputable adoption facilitator or attorney. These professionals can help investigate potential birth parents, and help to spot frauds. It is inevitable that occasionally a birth parent will change her mind about giving up a child. But a professional can help ensure that a couple is not bilked of thousands of dollars by a scam artist who never intended to give up his or her child, or promised the same child to more than one couple.
Education is power. You can protect yourself through thorough investigation, education and professional assistance with your adoption.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I realize it's a balance in adopting a child and protecting myself against possible scams - how do you balance all concerns for sensitivity, security and ethics in helping a client with an adoption?
- What expenses can I be expected to pay for a potential birth mother, and how are such needs met? Should I handle that directly, or can you manage those issues?
- What remedies are available if I'm the victim of an adoption scam? Criminal charges? Are scam artists ever sued personally for damages?