Adoption fraud, also known as “wrongful adoption” refers to “any form of intentional misrepresentation or illegal act by someone during the process for the purpose of personal or financial gain,” according to FindLaw. Adoption fraud can take place through various scams by the prospective adoptive parents, adoption agency, or birth parents. In my current company, Trustify, which connects clients to licensed, affordable private investigators, and my past tenures as the Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the Program Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, I have seen a plethora of creative and devious ways individuals prey on vulnerable parties in adoption.
A prospective birth mother (or mother and father) may promise their unborn child to multiple or one prospective adoptive families without any intent of placing the child. In doing so, they accept money, medical coverage and gifts from the prospective adoptive parents.
The “birth mother” may also not actually be pregnant at all. She may be posing as a pregnant woman to collect money, housing, travel expenses, without any child to place.
These scams can be easily mitigated by a private investigator. Private investigators can be utilized by the adoptive family, adoption attorney, or even at times by the adoption agency to look into the birth mother’s communications on the dark web, with friends, colleagues, and family or via social media. If she has a registry for her baby, or friends and family are throwing her a baby shower with items for her and not the adoptive family, these are red flags and easily discoverable by an investigative professional, saving you time, money, and heartache.
Prospective Adoptive Parents
Adoptive parents are often not associated with adoption fraud. Although it happens less often, it is still a fear for birth families and agencies. Prospective adoptive parents may promise a certain level of openness in the adoption, yet stop communicating after the placement. They may also take advantage of loved ones and acquaintances by raising money through crowd-sharing platforms for adoption expenses without any adoption plan.
The scariest adoption scams are those which traffick children and call it adoption. Thankfully the United States ratified the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption in 2008. This international agreement militates against unsafe and illegal adoptions. Birth parents, adoptive families, and children have safeguards preventing abuse and trafficking in regards to intercountry adoption. However, there are still agencies and facilitators who work illegally circumventing these laws. Children can NEVER be sold online or in-person for money. Working with an accredited adoption agency or adoption attorney can help militate against this risk of adopting a child that actually has a forever family in their country of origin. If you have been contacted by someone or come across a posting for a child being sold for adoption, contact the authorities.
Adoption Agencies and Facilitators
The Hague Convention militated against unscrupulous agencies completing illegal, unethical adoptions. However, adoption scams still exist, especially in non-accredited agencies. Adoption Agencies and Facilitators may pose as qualified professionals who have access to children other agencies may not be able to place. If it seems to good to be true, it often is. If a country closed to intercountry adoptions or the U.S. Department of State has placed a temporary or permanent ban on a country placing children in the U.S. then NO agency can place a child from that respective country. If they claim they can, they are operating illegally. Further, if an agency is able to place large numbers of children from a certain country where adoptions are difficult, then that should also be a red flag.
Another egregious scam is an adoption agency that requires adopting parents to pay exorbitant fees with no intention or ability to place a child for adoption in their family. Many of these agencies have since been shut down, but new ones do open every year.
Birth Parent Rights
It is important to state that it is OK to explore adoption options with an agency or adoptive family and change your mind as a birth parent. This is ethical and legal. It is also legal and ethical for a birth mother to make an informed adoption plan and change her mind after the birth of the baby. This is her right and not a scam. Researching adoption laws or speaking with an adoption attorney can help you understand the process and everyone’s rights. The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a wonderful resource.
In conclusion, adoption scams happen every day, but you can protect yourself from fraud. Do your homework, ask for references, call the better business bureau on an agency, and check Department of State records. Organizations like Trustify also do Trust and Safety checks on individuals to get the deepest dive on whether they are someone with whom you want to adopt. They can tell you about their social media presence, dark web activity, information on the people with whom they live, and essentially any background information you wish to find.
Although most of the time, adoption fraud and scams are far from the norm, they do exist. Meeting with adoptive parents, birth parents, and agencies can help you make the best, most informed decisions.