The worst nightmare for most prospective parents is the birth mother with whom they are matched electing to parent, leaving their waiting nursery and arms empty. While such a scenario is heartbreaking, at least it is considered a possibility. Adoption fraud, on the other hand, hits couples eager to adopt like a bolt from the blue. Who would believe that someone could be so low as to take advantage of a couple and victimize them when they are the most emotionally vulnerable?
Pursuing an adoption is already an emotional roller coaster for prospective adoptive couples who invest large amounts of money in an effort to grow their family through adoption. When an adoption falls through, an emotional and financial toll is taken. The emotional impact is even worse when the failure is due to a stork scam. Not only is the couple left without a baby, but they are also left feeling betrayed and used by their fellow man.
Stork scams, unfortunately, have occurred for years. Archives of news stories on the FBI’s website mention a scam in Philadelphia in the 1990s where a woman defrauded 44 sets of prospective adoptive parents out of $215,000. The FBI also investigated a Florida adoption fraud case in 2001 where a woman had contacted over a dozen victims, via the internet, claiming she knew pregnant women about to give birth who wanted to make a placement. The woman collected money from the victims purportedly to help these expectant mothers before the prospective adoptive parents figured out they were being scammed.
Today stork scams still make the news. In mid-January, following an FBI investigation, federal wire fraud charges were brought against a Michigan woman who had handled unlicensed adoptions in Michigan and ran a similar business in Florida. The defendant is reported to have collected large sums of money from couples who were matched with birth mothers who did not exist, who were matched with women who were not pregnant, or who were matched with birth mothers who had also been matched with another couple or couples. The claimed actions had a far-reaching effect; authorities indicate 80 families in 26 different states may have been impacted.
While news of stork scams is scary and disheartening, the occurrence of adoption fraud does not mean that couples should give up on their dream of adopting a child. They merely need to pursue their goal with their eyes wide open and in a prudent, businesslike manner. Loving a baby is about emotions; maneuvering through the adoption process requires one’s brains to be used.
One takeaway from the pending Michigan case is that working with a licensed adoption professional is essential. A licensed professional will already have undergone governmental scrutiny as to qualifications before the license is issued. While a license is certainly no guarantee that nothing will ever be done wrong, at least the adoptive couple is working with someone who has already passed muster to obtain licensure. Moreover, that professional is working with the knowledge that a license will be revoked if the legal line is not towed. No such recourse exists when the couple is working with an unlicensed individual or entity.
Couples should not merely take the government’s word, i.e., issuance of a license to conduct business, that an adoption professional knows what he is doing. Check out the adoption professional’s experience and credentials. Adoption is a specialized area of the law. Determine how long the professional has done this kind of work. Does the professional belong to any organizations indicating expertise in the area such as the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys? Can the adoption professional provide references who can be contacted directly to obtain feedback on the quality of the professional’s work and the client’s satisfaction with the handling of their case? Do homework to assure that you are confident in the adoption professional with whom you will be working.
Some stork scams are only going to work if good men do nothing. Neither the adoptive parents nor an adoption professional should take the birth mother’s word for the fact that she is pregnant. Proof positive of the condition should be required before any couple moves forward or pays any money, and that proof should come from a reliable source. A copy of a medical report stating birth mother is pregnant handed to the adoption professional by the birth mother is not sufficient. Reports can be altered and faked. A birth mother should sign a medical release so that the adoption professional can obtain pregnancy test results directly from a medical professional.
Pregnancy test results should also be scrutinized. Being handed a stick with the plus sign by the birth mother is not good enough. The only plus sign acceptable is one that appears on a test provided by the adoption professional with the test conducted under the supervision of the adoption professional, i.e., don’t give the kit to the birth mother to take home and bring back the next day. A quick search on the Internet shows that (fake) pregnancy test kits guaranteeing a positive test are available to be purchased online at a relatively nominal cost. Even real pregnancy test kits can be manipulated by using urine from a pregnant friend.
Requiring a supervised test can save adoptive couples from stork scams as I have witnessed personally in my adoption practice. A birth mother claiming to be pregnant and requesting financial help came into my office to talk about making a placement. She was a large girl and could have been pregnant, but she also could have simply been overweight. We advised her that we could not provide assistance without proof of pregnancy. She responded that she had a positive pregnancy test report, but she did not have a copy with her. We told her not to worry because we had a pregnancy test kit in the office bathroom. She could take that test, give us the positive result, and we could move forward. At that point, the girl told us that she needed to go to the convenience store on the corner to get a snack because she was starving, but she would be right back. We never saw her again. Adoption scam averted. Better yet, no prospective adoptive couple was placed in harm’s way because no match was made prior to us obtaining the test results.
Part of the reason this scam was averted was the face-to-face meeting with the birth mother. Red flags should wave when dealing with birth mothers over the internet or who put off an in-person meeting. There is no way to verify with whom you are working unless you meet with a birth mother face to face. Adoption professionals who immediately send out profiles on prospective adoptive couples to a birth mother the same day they receive the initial phone call from her and without having met with her are setting these couples up for possible disaster. Prospective adoptive couples should ask their adoption professional how long they have worked with the birth mother and what contact (face to face? phone? internet?) has occurred. Proceed at your own risk if there has been no direct interaction.
Stork scams are usually driven by financial concerns. Therefore, it behooves adoptive couples to learn about the birth mother’s circumstances. Does she have a criminal history? If so, for what offense(s)? Someone with a history of fraud should raise concerns since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If a birth mother is a drug user, there is always a possibility that an adoptive placement is being pursued to obtain financial assistance, i.e., money that could be diverted to feed a drug habit. Birth mothers have been known to promise a baby to more than one couple at a time to bring in money to buy drugs. These actions are illegal, and the birth mother can go to jail if convicted; however, knowing she is behind bars will not make the ache in the adoptive couple’s heart from a failed match go away. Prevention, not retribution, is the best course.
The vast majority of adoption professionals are just that—professionals. They are not out to scam prospective adoptive couples and to trample their dreams. The same can be said for birth mothers. Most are merely woman facing an unplanned pregnancy striving to make the best decision for their child. But stork scams can and do happen. Prospective adoptive couples need to treat an adoptive match like a business decision, i.e., use their heads and not be carried away by their emotions. Specifically, they should:
1. Only work with a licensed adoption professional;
2. Do homework to confirm the adoption professional’s credential and expertise;
3. Not proceed unless and until confirmation of a positive pregnancy test has been obtained either directly from a medical professional or by a test provided by and conducted under the supervision of the adoption professional;
4. Make sure that their adoption professional has a personal interaction with the birth mother; and
5. Carefully consider the birth mother’s history (prior criminal record involving fraud?) and circumstances (a drug habit that requires money to sustain?).
Stork scams make adoption a scary process. By taking some sensible, proactive steps during the adoption process, prospective adoptive couples can protect themselves and their dream of parenting a bundle of joy. Avoid sad and seedy; aim for smiles and success!
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