For those considering adoption, you are strongly urged to do your homework to become familiar with the warning signs to watch out for. But first, what is illegal adoption?
Illegal adoption is the selling of a child for profit, including falsifying official documents, claiming adoptability, often times without both biological parent’s approval. Financial gain is the prime motivator of this corruption, often times through child trafficking.
Offenders of illegal adoption can range from adoption agencies, adoption facilitators, birth mothers, and even prospective adoptive parents.
We will cover the following topics in this article:
- What is Adoption Fraud?
- Birth Mother Adoption Scams
- Adoption Agency and Facilitator Fraud
- How to Avoid Adoption Fraud
- Consequences of Illegal Adoption
We will cover the most common types of illegal adoption scenarios and what you will want to watch out for on your adoption journey.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your antennae up, yet at the same time do not be fearful.
Not all adoption liaisons have malicious intentions, and most want nothing more than to help connect you with a child. If you let paranoia set in, you set yourself up for an unpleasant adoption experience.
We will cover the different types of fraudulent adoptions that can happen through any type of adoption partnership, and we will teach you the red flags you will want to watch out for.
Related Article: Discover more about adoption than you thought you already knew by visiting What is Adoption? Full Resource.
What is Adoption Fraud?
Adoption fraud exists, and it needs to stop. So what is adoption fraud?
Adoption fraud is the intentional act to deceive someone during the adoption process for financial and personal gain. Offenders of adoption fraud, otherwise known as illegal adoption, can range from adoption agencies, adoption facilitators, birth mothers, and even prospective adoptive parents.
In most incidences involving adoption fraud, we hear of cases where prospective adoptive parents unknowingly are taken advantage of in a variety of ways.
There are a few terms that are associated with adoption fraud, such as illegal adoption and wrongful adoption.
Regardless of what we call it, the adoption process which involves a scam to intentionally weasel hard-earned money from sometimes desperate adoptive families is a crime.
It is important to remember that although adoption fraud happens in the Unites States, illegal adoption attempts are happening all over the world.
Many hopeful, prospective adoptive parents are willing to travel across borders to adopt a child with the promise that their journey will be fruitful, and they will build a loving family.
What can hide on the other side of a country’s border, however, can be full of deception and lies.
Related Article: Open adoption is the most common type of adoption today. Visit What is an Open Adoption? Advantages of Open Adoption to become familiar with what open adoption means and how it differs from the closed adoptions of yesterday.
Little do the excited adoptive parents know, the children they may see in the orphanages overseas may have a story to tell that goes far beyond the need for a new home.
Human trafficking involving children is real, and the stories would absolutely break your heart. That is not to imply that there are not good orphanages in other countries void of wrong doings.
Just be very careful and do your research before considering international adoption.
Examples of Fraudulent and Illegal Adoption through Adoption Agencies:
- Agencies not divulging the child’s background information in its entirety so that the prospective adoptive parents can make a fully-informed decision to either proceed with the adoption or to hold out for a better match.
- An adoption agency overcharging for the adoption process, collecting funds for services that were never performed.
Related Article: Although open adoption is the most common form of adoption today, it does not come without some drawbacks to consider. Pros and Cons of Open Adoption: Things to Consider covers a multitude of things you will want to go over to prepare yourself for the ins and outs of open adoption.
Birth Mother Adoption Scams
Birth mother adoption scams do happen, and it is important to be aware of some of the red flags. Examples of birth mother adoption scams:
- Promising her baby to more than one family for added financial gain.
- Woman pretending to be pregnant, then asking for money.
- Woman pretending to be a mother trying to sell a baby online.
There are woman who take advantage of a family’s desire to adopt a child by defrauding the wishful adoptive parents by requesting money for living expenses, travel, and medical expenses with no intentions of placing her child up for adoption.
Let’s take a closer look at birth mother adoption fraud.
- Does the birthmother avoid showing you proof of her pregnancy?
If so, one would begin to wonder why. Is she hiding something that she does not want you to know? Is she truly pregnant?
Naturally, any prospective adoptive parent would want the comfort of being provided the assurance that there is indeed a pregnancy involving a real baby.
A birthmother who is sincere would not have a problem providing you the reassurance you very much deserve.
- Has the birthmother suddenly stopped returning your calls or responding to emails?
When an illegal adoption attempt is made and the apparent birthmother has been receiving money for her expenses, there would naturally come a time when she disappears or tells you she has changed her mind about giving her baby up for adoption.
A sudden halt in communication is definitely a red flag.
- Does the birthmother refrain from providing you her contact information and instead says she will be in touch?
When someone is attempting to commit fraud, they most certainly would not want you to have a means of reaching out to them.
For them, the less capable you are of tracking them down, the easier it is for them to hide from you and the law when they eventually disappear.
- Does it seem like the birthmother is very quick to get to the subject of you assisting with their finances?
Needless to say, this is likely due to the monetary aspect of the interactions being her main focus. When financial compensation appears to be the motivating factor, one needs to ask themselves if this is an adoption that will actually happen.
It is more normal for a birthmother to be concerned with other things like getting to know more about the prospective family she may be placing her newborn baby with.
- Is there a refusal from the birthmother to meet with a lawyer, a counselor, or an adoption agency?
It would be fair to question what the birthmother may be hiding, or if she is not sincere about following through with an adoption.
Any birthmother who is truly wishing to consider finding a good home for her baby and knows it will not cost her any money would happily visit any adoption representative with you.
Related Article: Like with anything in life there are pros and cons. Even something as special as adoption can have its drawbacks one would want to consider. Advantages and Disadvantages of Adoption: Pros & Cons takes a detailed look into how adoption affects not only the adoptive parents, but also the adopted child and the birth parents.
As FindLaw.com explains, online scams by birth mothers who ensure adoption of their baby to more than one hopeful family in return for financial support, travel expenses, and other pregnancy-related costs.
In reality, these birth mothers have no intention of giving up their baby for adoption.
Sadly, there are women who will pretend to be pregnant while at the same time asking for money for her day-to-day living expenses and other financial expenses for her fake pregnancy.
Many birth mothers pretend to be pregnant when they are not, with full intentions of committing fraud.
If you are randomly approached by a birth mother claiming she wishes to put her baby up for adoption, make sure you get proof that she is indeed pregnant.
If you are working with an agency, they would have already wanted proof of pregnancy prior to introducing you to her.
Related Article: If you are considering adoption and have biological children, you may be wondering how to tell your biological children about the adopted child. Explaining Adoption to Your Biological Child: Crucial Tips
Unfortunately, one cannot be assured of a pregnancy just because the birth mother looks pregnant.
Even ultrasound images can be modified to give the impression of a pregnancy that does not exist. The best proof of pregnancy is from a medical provider.
Keep in mind that just because a birth mother asks for financial assistance, it does not automatically imply that she is likely trying to scam you.
Pregnancy is a very vulnerable time in a woman’s life, and situations do come up that require a financial cost. There can be birth mothers that are in a very low-income household and are simply trying to survive day-to-day.
Make sure that any monetary assistance that you provide to the birth mother is provided through the adoption agency.
Never give the birth mother money directly. Each state has its own laws on how much financial compensation a birth mother is allowed. Adoption agencies keep track of these expenses for court-filing purposes.
The court in the state in which you are adopting will review these expenses prior to finalizing your adoption.
Related Article: Let’s face it, adoption is expensive even when working with a reputable adoption liaison that is not trying to take advantage. The Cheapest Way to Adopt a Child: This Makes Sense is an article I enjoyed writing that covers a wonderful way to adopt a child through the foster care system that costs next to nothing.
Adoption Agencies and Facilitator Fraud
Let’s go over some important warning signs to watch out for that may trigger you to think twice before proceeding in a particular adoption direction.
You are not encouraged to distrust the entire adoption process, but we do want you to have your eyes wide open to avoid any unfortunate situations that could harm you financially and or emotionally.
- Do you feel pressured or “sold to” when it comes to signing any documents that are not fully understandable?
A reputable adoption liaison will encourage you to take your time so that you fully understand what you are signing.
They will even encourage you to have the documents reviewed by a lawyer for your own piece of mind. Adoptions involve a considerable amount of money spent, so an adoption representative will want you to feel as comfortable during your adoption process as possible.
Never sign documents that you feel rushed into. I have personally made the mistake of signing forms that I did not fully read as I felt rushed to sign them, which in turn effected the rest of my life.
Related Article: International Adoption Pros and Cons: What You Need to Know offers an in-depth look into the advantages and disadvantages of international adoption.
- Is your line of communication between you and your adoption agency or representative consistent and reliable?
Or, do you not receive return phone calls or emails regardless of how many times you have reached out? When it seems your contact has dropped off the face of the earth, you have a problem.
- Is your adoption representative painting a rosy picture of how quickly and simply the adoption process will be?
As much as we want to envision a fairytale adoption that will happen with no glitches and everyone lives happily ever after, the truth is that adoption is full of unexpected circumstances that can happen at the drop of the hat.
Be leery of any adoption agency that you feel is trying to sell you a pie-in-the-sky picture of how your adoption process will be.
A legitimate agency or representative will properly educate you and want to prepare you for the expected ups and downs that are so common during the adoption process.
- Is the child you wish to adopt being presented in such language such as “yours”, giving you a sense that the child belongs to you before the adoption is legally finalized?
Anyone who sincerely wishes to help you would never try to set you up when they know unexpected pitfalls can and do happen during the adoption process.
- Did someone from an adoption agency or an adoption representative reach out to you first to offer you their services?
Be very skeptical of unsolicited contact from anyone claiming to swoop in to make your dreams come true.
Typically, prospective adoptive parents are the ones reaching out for services and are never approached.
How to Avoid Adoption Fraud and Illegal Adoption
Avoiding adoption fraud and an illegal adoption begins with becoming familiar with what to watch out for. Learn more about common scams that are used to mislead hopeful adoptive parents.
There are online adoption support groups where other adoptive parents share their stories offering suggestions on how to avoid mistakes they might have made.
Facebook, a popular social media resource, has adoption support groups you may want to check into.
There are things you can do to help protect yourself from being taken advantage of. We STRONGLY encourage you to do the following with every adoption agency you consider using.
Follow these steps to protect yourself:
- Contact the State Licensing Specialist in the state where the adoption agency is located. Is the agency in good standing? Do they have any complaints against them? How long have they held their adoption agency license?
- Contact the State’s Attorney General’s Office located in the state capitol. Ask if any legal action has ever been taken against the agency, if there is any pending litigation against the agency, or if they have an established complaint file.
- Request three references with names and phone numbers of clients who have adopted through the agency within the last three years.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau closest to the adoption agency. Ask them if they take complaints against adoption agencies.
If they do not, contact the State, City, or County Protection Office where the adoption agency is located for complaint inquiries.
Information provided courtesy of Child Welfare Information Gateway
If you feel you have been a victim of an illegal adoption or adoption fraud, I would encourage you to report the suspected fraudulent activity to your local police department.
You could also reach out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and let them know what your experience has been.
The United States Department of Justice is another good resource to check into.
There are those out there who will try to take advantage of others who are naive and have not done their research. As with everything in life, we need to proceed with our eyes wide open. Be diligent and chances are your adoption experience will be void of any ill intentions.
Consequences of Illegal Adoption
Many states do not have laws that specifically address illegal and fraudulent adoptions.
The punishment is said to be a charge of theft by deception, which means fines and up to 20 years in prison, depending on the state.
Theft by deception is defined as when someone takes someone else’s property under false pretenses.
Although theft by deception does not seem as serious as other crimes such and murder or robbery, it is a very serious crime.
“The former owner of a child placement agency in Houston has been ordered to prison following her convictions on multiple counts in an adoption fraud scheme, enounced the U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI.”
Read the full story at The United States Attorney’s Office – Southern District of Texas.
Here is another interesting story of adoption fraud, Arizona official who ran fraud scheme for adoption sentenced to six years in prison, courtesy of CNN.
When you see the photo of this Arizona official who was incarcerated for the adoption scheme, it might shock you. He certainly looks professional enough.
Just another example of why we need to do our research before trusting an adoption agency, as appearances can be incredibly deceiving.
Greedy fraudsters might feel that their schemes are worth organizing due to the money they can make, but the law will eventually catch up with them.