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Protect Yourself From Adoption Scams

By Patricia Irwin Johnston, author of Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families

Adoption scams are real, and can be quite cruel. Protect yourself from adoption scams with these professional tips.

Adoption scams are a bit different from adoption frauds, and they seem to fall into two categories: emotional and financial. In some cases the two are combined.

Emotional scams are run primarily by people who are emotionally unbalanced. Most often they pose as expectant parents considering an adoption plan. They are seeking attention and sympathy, and look for it among the most vulnerable. They visit the websites on which hopeful adopters post their profiles, and then make contact, inventing a story about an untimely pregnancy and a difficult life. Would-be parents are especially at risk for being taken advantage of by an emotional scammer because they have often waited so long to become parents that they are feeling desperate-willing to do anything to adopt. Hopeful adopters spend hours taking collect telephone calls and offer almost unlimited emotional support to these needy people. An adopter-to-be can be strung along for many weeks or even months because she doesn't want to believe that anyone would be so cruel as to pull off a con like this.

Many of these emotional scammers have several families on the string at the same time, allowing their scenarios to play out with each until their "pregnancy" should have come to birth. At this time many of these women can successfully convince would-be adopters that the baby has died, causing yet another devastating loss to a family who wants nothing more than to parent a baby.

You may have viewed a Dr. Phil Show segment on adoption scamming in which a Wisconsin woman took advantage both emotionally and financially of at least three would-be adopters who stumbled on one another. They suspected that there were perhaps dozens more.

She had used several names for herself, but virtually the same story about being pregnant and unable to raise a child. She spent hours on the telephone getting sympathy and support for her sad story. Eventually she agreed to meet one mother-to-be in Chicago, but failed to show up. At about the same time she told another would-be parent that she was in labor and on the way to the hospital. The parent bought a plane ticket, only to be called while waiting for a connection in an airport to be told that the baby had died.

Emotional scammers also seek attention from churches and charities working to prevent abortions. Volunteers may spend hours on the telephone with them, "convincing" them not to end the pregnancy, but to parent. The charity offers baby items, short-term financial assistance and more to mentally unbalanced people who have refined a highly successful emotional game.
Financial scammers have grown more and more bold. They include "facilitators" who collect deposits and "birthparent expenses" that go straight to their own pockets, as well as Internet offers to place children through independent adoptions from fake orphanages and charities in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. People adept at reading headers and other Internet codes can tell whether these emails originate in the country they claim to represent, and most do not. Still, the proliferating numbers of offers such as these which are being made to families running profiles on the Internet only proves how successful they can be to the scammers.

Foreign financial scammers are incredibly bold. They troll the Internet picking up email addresses which are adoption related. I get emails several times a week from people claiming to be missionaries, most often in African nations, who are working in villages ruined by war or famine. They seek my help "as a good Christian" in finding homes for dozens of babies and toddlers needing to be rescued from fighting, poverty, or malnourishment.

When followed up, these scammers direct that money orders or bank transfers be wired (often to a third country) in care of a fictitious church or orphanage. When the money arrives, the email contact stops, cell phone contact (usually to temporary disposable numbers) ends.

Now, careful, logical thinking would tell most people to think twice about all of these kinds of contacts. But people seeking children are in crisis, and they want-even need-to believe that their quest is possible and probable. They are vulnerable to being defrauded or scammed when logic fails them and they follow their hearts.

The best protection against scam artists is to work only through reputable adoption professionals, who have been trained to recognize potential fraud and can, because they have less emotion invested than you, be more objective and critical of suspicious contacts. However, know as well that even agencies and attorneys can be and have been scammed by unscrupulous people! If you decide to distribute your profiles to be posted in public places, to buy newspaper advertising, or to post an online profile on one of the dozen or so sites that would be happy to sell you space, your risk of being taken advantage of will be cut if your contact information is directed to the office of your chosen adoption professional. If you can't bring yourself to take this simple step, preferring to direct contacts to yourself, keep these things in mind.

  • Expect that a woman who is really pregnant and is seriously considering adoption should be willing to provide you, your agency, or your attorney with medical proof of a pregnancy and contact information for a confirming physician.
  • Be wary of anyone who is unwilling to meet you face to face.
  • Be concerned about an expectant parent who refuses to accept medical attention or counseling you are prepared to pay for.
  • Ask careful questions of an expectant mother working with a professional service provider far from her own home turf.
  • Scammers frequently do this to avoid having to "meet" anyone.
  • Beware of people who are contacting you on behalf of someone else who is pregnant. If after one or two phone conversations you still are not put in contact with the "friend," suspect that this person may not exist.
  • Never send money!

Pat Johnston is a well regarded publisher, prolific author, and adoption advocate. This article is excerpted from her book, Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families, a thoughtful guide to adopting and adoption. Chapter 11 "Finding Your Path and a Guide" (Perspectives Press, 2008)
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