Knowing how to protect yourself from adoption scams is essential– whether you’re placing, adopting or working in adoption.

Ask the average American about adoption scams and they’ll say it’s about somebody promising to place a baby for adoption but then backing out.

Wrong! An honest change of heart is not an adoption scam. (Not any more than someone going through with an adoption plan they’ve had second thoughts about.)

Here’s the thing: scammers may or may not follow through with an adoption. Sometimes they don’t, sometimes they do. Regardless of the outcome, adoption scams are about somebody initiating a plan intended to personally benefit them via deceptive means.

Feeling confused? Read on. There’s good advice below on how to protect yourself from adoption scams. (Take note: there are many different types of adoption scams.)

Know Your Adoption Professional

Nobody is perfect, of course, but you DO need to find an adoption professional who is ethical. And licensed. And nonprofit.

In Ohio, an adoption facilitator named Tara Lee just pleaded guilty to adoption fraud. She’d had people paying her tens of thousands for her “services” for years. And she did “help” some people adopt/place. But she also made up fake placement opportunities. She offered real babies to multiple couples simultaneously. And she reportedly solicited actual birthmoms to pose as pretend ones.

That’s an adoption scam folks could’ve likely protected themselves from, if only they’d worked with an ethical, licensed nonprofit adoption agency instead. (Lesson learned?)

Insist on Transparency

Adoptees tragically become victims of adoption scams when they get placed with people who hide the truth of their adoption stories from them. Or when they grow up with parents who deny them access to their birthfamilies. (Or when their adoptive parents who fail to tell them they were ever adopted, at all.)

Years ago, the late adoption attorney Stanley Michaelman was representing a single Jewish movie star who wanted to adopt a white newborn. He concocted a plan with a Texas adoption attorney who was working with a religious, pregnant coed. Her only demand was that she wanted her baby raised by a church-going Christian couple. So what did the lawyer/s do? They concocted a fake profile for a nonexistent Christian couple, and matched this mama with these imaginary people. After the birth, the baby went home with the single non-Christian actress, and the birthmom was conned into thinking her wishes had been honored.

She had been talked out of choosing an open adoption early on, of course. But had she insisted on the transparency of a fully open adoption, she and her baby might have been spared becoming victims of this (legal adoption) scam.

Follow the Money

Agencies can get scammed, too, by clients who seek assistance under fraudulent circumstances or who submit false information. Most licensed agencies are savvy enough to require proof-of-pregnancy documentation prior to matching or providing financial assistance. However, pregnant tests and sonograms can be faked (and even bought online these days.)

And it isn’t just potentially-placing parents that seek financial gain at other’s expense, either. Abrazo once learned that one of its adoptive couples with ample savings in escrow had solicited an adoption grant after placement. They’d falsely claimed they lacked the funds to finalize their adoption. (Ultimately, our agency did report the truth to the grant organization. Being a nonprofit like Abrazo, they were very grateful for our candor– even if our clients were not.)

Since then, Abrazo has become very careful to caution clients about ethical issues in adoption fundraising. Abrazo is known for being an agency that’s conservative in its payment of maternity expenses. It may cost us some placement possibilities, sometimes. Yet it ensures we do not induce women to place by making adoption too lucrative to resist, and it also helps conserve our clients’ limited savings.

Document Agreements in Writing</2>

Honest birthparents sometimes get conned by adopting couples who promise to bring the adoptee back for regular visits, then don’t do so after placement. This scam is devastating to anyone who has entrusted her child to someone, but it harms adoptees, also.

Abrazo asks all its birthparents and adoptive parent to document their open adoption agreements in writing, and everybody gets a copy. (Despite the fact that Texas law doesn’t recognize open adoption as being contractually enforceable.)

Texas could easily protect birthparents and adoptees from such cons, if only legislators would implement legally-enforceable post-placement contact agreement laws here. Thus far, however, the Texas Legislature has failed to do so– against all good reason.

Pace Your Expectations

Adopting parents always run the risk of being scammed in the adoption process, by con artists committing either financial or emotional scams.

Having an experienced adoption agency to assist can help screen out some risks, but not all of them. Any adoption professional will tell you “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Claims of twins without medical verification (like promises that “I won’t keep the baby, no matter what”) are usually red flags– as are immediate requests for excessive financial support.

Still, not all adoption scams are financial cons; some are emotional scammers. Like those who promise open adoption with no intentions of following through, those who initiate placement planning with no intent of placing can wreak lasting harm of devastating proportions.

Know the Risks

Last year, Abrazo was contacted by a young woman (let’s call her Naylene.) A teenager, she told us she was in her second trimester, and needed to come in right away. At our office, she proceeded to tell us her baby was conceived via an involuntary and incestuous relationship with a family member. Given the nature of her claims, we did not allow her to proceed with any matching activities at that time. Rather, we immediately contacted CPS, then because she’d claimed her baby’s father worked in law enforcement, we called the sheriff, as well.

As it turned out, CPS refused to get involved. But the sheriff was well-acquainted with this young woman. He assured us her pregnancy claims, like her incest story, were likely false, and sent an investigator to visit her. We dutifully requested her prenatal care records, only to learn the doctor had never heard of her. When we asked her why, she claimed she had just given birth; when we told her the hospital where she claimed to have delivered had no record of her, she blocked our calls.

Learn from Others

That wasn’t the end of it, though. “Naylene” has subsequently resurfaced, and called over a dozen adoptive couples and agencies nationwide. She is now claiming to be having twins. She’s still telling her graphic conception story. But now she’s also using the names Emily, Jennifer, Renesme or Gaby. (And now, she says, the due date is December… again.)

She’s not asking for money, far as we know. Yet she cannot possibly provide babies to all she has planned placements with. “Naylene” is clearly not well, and she’s trying to fill some broken places deep inside, a need to be needed, but this isn’t the way. As in any adoption scams, ultimately nobody’s best interests will be fulfilled.

Because here’s the underlying truth: any adoption worth doing is worth doing the right way and for the right reasons. And if it’s not right, the ends can’t justify the means. Keeping this truth in mind is the very best way we know to protect yourself from adoption scams.

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