Avoiding Adoption Fraud and Scams

How to detect and stay away from adoption fraud and scams.

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Beware, Be Smart, Do the Research

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And the world of adoption – for both placing and adopting parents – is no exception.

It’s understandable that, in the emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding adoption, we may throw caution to the wind when presented with “no hassle” options. The prospect of moving ahead more quickly, less expensively, with less bureaucracy, or any number of “advantages” may be hard to resist.

However, frauds and scams do exist.

While the majority of agencies, organizations, and individuals do observe the law and follow ethical practices, not all do, and the consequences are often played out dramatically in the courts and the press.

Read, talk, listen, and ask questions. No matter how much you want to go for the easy solution, check it out as thoroughly as possible before making any commitment. Your emotions and finances may take a beating if you’re not careful, but you will recover. A child caught up in a messy situation may not.

What is Adoption Fraud?

Generally presumed to mean any form of intentional misrepresentation or illegal act, adoption fraud can include (but is not limited to)

  • An adoption agency or facilitator that charges exorbitant fees, and is not properly staffed;
  • An agency or facilitator that accepts money for services never rendered;
  • Agency misrepresentation of a child’s emotional and physical history, or background. This is generally referred to as “wrongful adoption;”
  • An expectant or biological parent accepting money for expenses from more than one prospective adoptive parent, with or without any intention of completing the adoption process.

Checking out the Agency

State Licensing Specialist. Every U.S. state has a licensing specialist who can make information available to you concerning the license status, complaints, and legal actions taken or being taken against any agency licensed by the state.

Better Business Bureau. The BBB offers guidelines specific to adoption and can be a source of information about the business license, legal actions, and principals’ names.

Precautionary Steps to Take

Trust your instincts. You are the best judge of when something doesn’t sound “quite right.” Your best information will come from face-to-face meetings where you can hear and see how your questions are being answered. While your initial contact with an agency, other adoption professional, and/or placing parent may be over the Internet or by phone, as early as possible you will want to meet the people who are going to play such an important part in your future, or be in touch with a trusted advisor who can be your eyes and ears.

Ask the hard questions. Remember that an agency or adoption professional is working for you. Whether you are a placing or adopting parent, you are the client, and you have every right to ask every question you can think of before signing anything or making any commitment. And if you don’t like the answers, find someone else.

Know the law. You don’t need to be a lawyer, but you should be aware that adoption law varies from state to state, province to province, and country to country. Does your state allow adoption arrangements by facilitators? Does your state limit the payment of expenses for placing parents? Is there a Putative Father Registry or other procedure to make sure the father’s rights are respected? Is there a time during which placing parents can change their minds after signing relinquishment papers? Does the country you’re considering have age restrictions for adopting parents? Are there any ongoing delays or suspensions? These are only a few of the questions you may want to explore.

Listen to Experience. Those who have been through the process, whether placing or adopting, have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Support groups can be found locally in your community and on the Internet, and many have shared their experiences in stories and articles.

When Something Goes Wrong

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a scam or caught up in someone else’s fraudulent activity.

  1. Consult your attorney. If you don’t have one, find one. This should be your first step, not last.
  2. Report what you believe to be fraudulent, illegal, or unethical practices on the part of an agency or facilitator to
    • Your state adoption licensing specialist
    • Better Business Bureau
    • Joint Council on International Children’s Services (for international adoptions)
    • National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC)
    • Attorney General in the state concerned
    • Your elected officials (that’s what they’re there for)
  3. For fraudulent practices over the Internet, contact the Internet Fraud Complaint Center.

Looking for a place to start? Our forum for adopting parents is a good place to start learning how to identify and avoid scams.

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