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Avoiding Adoption Scams

Adoption Advocate No. 36

Editor’s Note: NCFA is committed to protecting the best interests of and advocating for all members of the adoption triad: birthparents, adoptive parents, and children. While it is possible for birthparents to be defrauded, the author and NCFA agreed to focus this article specifically on prospective adoptive parents. Future Advocates will continue to focus on the protection and best interests of birthparents and children, as well.

Most adoptions go well.

The adoptive family has good intentions and works with adoption professionals who help address everyone’s needs and legal rights. However, the fact remains that adoption fraud does indeed exist. Creating a legally binding family through adoption isn’t always easy, and the existence of adoption fraud can make the process even more challenging.

When it comes to adoption fraud, the biggest factor working against prospective adoptive families is their strong, “I’ll do whatever it takes” desire to adopt. Even when adoptive parents realize that something is amiss in a particular situation, their deep desire to adopt can sometimes override their instincts and logic and allow them to emotionally rationalize what is happening.

While adoption fraud can certainly exist in international adoption, this Adoption Advocate focuses on domestic adoptions and the ways in which potential adoptive parents can recognize and avoid fraud.

An adoption scam occurs when an adoption professional, potential birth family, or prospective adoptive parent intentionally deceives 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.
An adoption professional purposefully withholds medical information from an adoptive family to push an adoption through that the family would not otherwise pursue.

A woman pretends to be pregnant and leads a prospective adoptive family to believe that she is considering making an adoption plan with them.
A prospective adoptive family promises an open adoption to an expectant mother so that she will make an adoption plan with them and then cuts off all contact after the adoption is finalized.
While multiple types of adoption fraud unfortunately can and do occur, the remainder of this article focuses on fraud perpetrated against prospective adoptive parents.

According to [former] NCFA president Chuck Johnson, who spent 17 years working with hundreds of birthparents and adoptive families as the director of an adoption agency, “Many adoptive families that experience fraud recognize the seriousness of the warning signs only in hindsight. These families later acknowledge that they just didn’t pay attention to the red flags or hoped that, by ignoring them, things would somehow work out. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get out of a bad situation or take steps to learn more if you cannot identify the red flags early on.”

Warning Signs of Fraud by Adoption Professionals

  • They are not responsive to calls or emails.
  • They pressure families inappropriately.
  • They don’t take the necessary steps to learn about the expectant mother and biological father, thereby taking unnecessary risks due to lack of knowledge that the adoptive family must ultimately bear.
  • They find the adoptive family online and present them with just the “perfect” opportunity.

There are also warning signs related to birthmothers who may be attempting to commit adoption fraud:
They immediately tell a prospective adoptive family how wonderful the family is without asking many questions or getting to know them at all.
They always seem like they are in the middle of multiple crises, and they try to pull the prospective adoptive family into their drama.

Dig Deeper
Digging deeper isn’t just about technology, however. Many low-tech methods may sound obvious when you read them here, yet some prospective adoptive parents spend thousands of dollars and make major life decisions without doing the proper due diligence.

Prospective adoptive families should interview the professionals with whom they are considering working and meet them in person. It’s important to explore their values when it comes to adoption, as well as their expertise and ability to provide the required support for everyone involved. The decision to work with a particular adoption professional is too important to make without completing this basic step.

Families should also contact a state’s bar association to research an attorney and contact a state’s licensing specialist to research an agency. It’s important to know whether others have made formal complaints against a particular professional.

The Internet and technology in general can also play an important role in further researching potential adoption professionals and expectant parents. Here are just a few examples of what prospective adoptive families can do:

  1. Publicly share non-identifying information about potential birth families (or identifying information on a one-to-one basis) to check whether the birth families are working with others or match the characteristics of prior scammers.
  2. Search for geotag data (latitude and longitude information) on digital picture files that potential birthparents send or identify a potential birthparent’s general location from her Internet Protocol (IP) address to corroborate other statements that she has made.

There are many ways to substantially reduce the chances of being defrauded. Here is one of the most important tips:
Acquire REAL proof of pregnancy.

  • Stories about doctor appointments and how the baby is growing are not proof of pregnancy.
  • An ultrasound image with the correct name and date on it is also not proof.
  • Even “looking pregnant” is not proof.

Prospective adoptive parents should seek written documentation from a doctor, and then follow up with the doctor's office to ensure its legitimacy.


Finally, although it is important to be educated on this subject, prospective adoptive families should not lose sight of the fact 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.


  1. For more information about what expenses potential adoptive parents can legally cover, please see information from the Child Welfare Information Gateway at: