How to Avoid Adoption Scams
It’s not common, but adoption fraud can and does occur. In this article, we’ll be focusing on how hopeful adoptive parents can protect themselves from an adoption scam by being educated about the warning signs and taking the necessary steps to mitigate risks.
Note: Expectant parents can also fall victim to scams perpetrated by unlicensed parties. Expectant parents can help protect themselves with information about how to properly screen professionals. We recommend starting with this article.
Let’s start with the basics. What is an adoption scam?
An adoption scam occurs when a prospective adoptive parent is intentionally deceived by another party for personal gain. The personal gain may be financial, but it may also be related to getting attention or experiencing a sense of power.
To be clear, it is not a scam or fraudulent behavior when an expectant parent willingly changes her mind about an adoption plan, she had previously made in good faith. It is her right to change her mind all the way up to the point of signing the documents consenting to the adoption, and also within the state's allowed timeframe for revoking such consent. That is not a scam, and it is not the subject of this article.
A true scam scenario is one in which a woman pretends to be pregnant and leads a prospective adoptive family to believe that she is considering making an adoption plan with them, or she is pregnant but intentionally deceives the prospective parent about her intent to place the baby for adoption. While this is the type of situation that most people are familiar with, it is not the only type of fraudulent adoption activity.
Hopeful adoptive parents can also be the target of individuals who claim to provide adoption services when in fact they are not licensed and cannot provide legal and ethical matching or other social services that are part of an adoption case. Quite often these individuals will attempt to make contact with hopeful adoptive parents through social media networks and other online forums, usually for purposes of financial gain.
In both situations, pre-adoptive parents can mitigate their risk of becoming a victim of an adoption scam by following these four guidelines:
1.Do your homework to ensure you are working with licensed, reputable professionals.
Prospective adoptive parents make themselves much more vulnerable to fraud when they connect with expectant mothers independently and create an adoption plan outside the services of licensed professionals. Working with an agency does not eliminate all risks of fraud or scams, but it is your best first line of protection against it.
Expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents should each receive comprehensive counseling services, including, whenever possible, separate legal counsel to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
There are a number of ways to properly vet an agency, but your first step should be to verify their licensure with the state in which you reside and review records of any complaints that are outstanding against them. Typically, you can locate a list of licensed agencies by contacting your state’s department of health and human services. You’ll want to emphasize that you are looking for the list of licensed adoption agencies, not just child placing agencies as that can often include those who may only be licensed to place children in a foster home.
Warning Sign: If you’ve been contacted by an individual that claims to be with an agency in an effort to get you to sign on as a client, be sure to call the agency independently and verify that the person is in fact an employee. Agencies are not typically the ones reaching out to hopeful adoptive parents. It usually works the other way around.
For more helpful tips and guidance, read our guide for How to Choose an Adoption Professional – Adoption Advocate No. 140
2. Recognize the Red Flags
These are some of the most common warning signs that should alert you to potential fraud or a scam:
- The individual refuses to meet with professionals for pregnancy counseling, legal representation, medical resources, social services, etc.
She may have valid reasons for being hesitant, but she can be provided with these services in a free and confidential way, where she is provided meaningful opportunities to make her own decisions that she believes are best for her and her child. It is imperative that there is an appropriate opportunity to verify her pregnancy status, provide prenatal care resources, and gain an understanding of potential paternal involvement in the case. Everyone involved in an adoption – especially the child – needs to have the protection and support of professional involvement.
- The individual is asking you to send them money directly or pay their bills.
It is important to work with adoption professionals who know the laws in your state about financial reimbursements to expectant parents and birth parents. We cannot emphasize this enough - money, other than for qualified adoption-related expenses, should never be provided to an expectant parent in exchange for placing her child for adoption. It may be well-meaning on the part of adoptive parents, but it nonetheless opens the door to a number of potential legal and ethical issues and has been consistent with many scam scenarios.
- The individual asks you not to tell your agency about them.
- You feel pressured to comply with all requests or risk the adoption not happening.
- The facilitator is promising a fast adoption.
Many prospective families wait at least one year and often longer to be matched for an adoption. Adoptive placements that take less than a year are possible, but when the promise of a quick match is made, it may be a red flag and the prospective adoptive parents should be sure they have an adoption professional assisting them. When a situation sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
3. Speak Up
Commit yourself to being ethical, transparent, and understanding to all the parties in adoption, whether you are the parent placing a child for adoption, the family adopting, or the agency or attorney assisting in the placement of the child. It is in everyone’s best interest to hold each other accountable; if something about your adoption journey doesn’t feel right, be your own advocate and speak up.
4. Don’t lose sight of the big picture, even when emotions are high.
As wait times continue to increase for prospective adoptive families, it’s easy to let emotions get in the way of good judgment. But we cannot forget – adoption works best when the parent considering adoption for her/his child is counseled and supported by licensed professionals, in a way that allows for a fully informed decision to place a child for adoption. Prospective adoptive parents should be thoroughly evaluated and prepared by licensed, trained professionals, to become adoptive parents. And, the adults who are making important decisions about a child’s future should always consider what is best for the child. Failure to achieve this goal devalues the integrity of the adoption process and dehumanizes the individuals involved in the adoption process, both before and after the adoption takes place.
Finally, although it is important to be educated on this subject, prospective adoptive families should keep in mind that there are many more expectant parents genuinely exploring adoption as an option and many more ethical adoption professionals trying to help than there are people preying on hopeful adoptive parents. Be aware, but not paranoid.
If you believe that you have been the victim of adoption fraud or scam, please contact the FBI. Adoption fraud information is available on their website at https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/adoption-fraud