Adoption Scams, Continued
Part Two: What to expect when you’re expecting to adopt.
Posted Mar 10, 2020
Ninety-five percent of birth moms just want loving parents to raise their child. They aren't looking for large amounts of money or attention; in fact, scamming someone at such a sensitive time is the last thing on their mind.
They're in just as much of a vulnerable position as adoptive parents—maybe more. People just have to be aware of the red flags. Gabby Watson has all of them.
The Tricks of the Adoption Hoax
It's common for adoptive couples and birth mothers to post profiles and communicate online. In fact, many couples have their first interactions with potential birth mothers over text or via video chat. For the well-intentioned, this can be a successful way to ease into a relationship during what is a sensitive and uncertain time. For the scammer, it's a gold mine.
Gabby Watson, for example, created numerous fake online profiles, mining the Facebook pages of friends of her high school friends for photos of expecting couples, ultrasounds, and newborn infants. She reached out to hundreds of prospective parents, often on forums such as America Adopts. Then the dance would begin, with Gabby—or one of her alter egos—engaging in a months-long charade during which she would consume as much time and attention of the prospective parents as possible for as long as she could. Sooner or later, of course, a prospective couple would either realize something wasn't right, or the birth date would come without a baby.
The Red Flags of Adoption Fraud
So how can you avoid falling victim to an adoption scam? The number-one safeguard is to work with a licensed and Hague-accredited adoption agency or a verified attorney. Before you hire them, check their license with their credentialing board. Do they have any complaints against them? What are the reviews? It's fine to get a referral from a friend or a member of an online community; just view this as the first step in the due diligence process.
Why not sidestep the third party as much as possible and do an independent adoption? You can, but consider the risks. Even if you've found a birth mom through informal channels, what might seem like an unnecessary expense is well worth it in terms of the experience and objectivity they bring to the table.
First of all, someone who has a wealth of experience with the adoption process is likely to spot potential issues long before you do. In addition, most prospective parents are sensitive to the birth mom's situation, which can make them reluctant to ask the tough but necessary questions that would alert them to a problem early on. What prospective parent wants to ask for proof of pregnancy or probe for conflicting details? And most birth moms are more than willing to talk to an agency or individual who can help them navigate through complicated legal and financial issues.
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Understand the normal adoption process so you can spot irregularities. The wait time for both a domestic and international adoption can be several months to two years, depending on a number of factors—how flexible the adoptive parents are, whether the adoption will be open or closed, government adoption rules, etc. Be leery of any agency, attorney, or facilitator who guarantees you a placement in a set period of time, or who dismisses your concerns about an unknown or resistant birth father. And be wary of a birth mom who immediately selects you to parent her child at the first contact or without knowing much about you. Choosing parents for her child is a monumental decision for most birth moms, and most women take their time.
- Meet with the birth mom in person as soon as possible, so you can assess her for yourself. Nearly all scammers communicate with prospective adoptive parents through the internet, email, and via phone calls. If the expectant mom doesn't show any interest in getting together with you in person, that should raise a red flag. Most women who contemplate placing a baby for adoption will want to at least meet with the couple they are considering.
- Do your homework so you and other prospective parents can support each other. Google the prospective birth parent's name. Search for "adoption scam" and see if any familiar names pop up. Do a reverse lookup if a prospective birth parent shares their phone number. If someone electronically sends you a picture, right-click on the image to get the file name and then do an Internet image search on the name. See what you can find out on Facebook and other social media platforms, too. Join forums and Facebook pages where adopting parents share their experiences with scammers.
- Trust your gut, and find out what it's telling you. Your adoption coordinator seems more interested in payment than the adoption process. Your adoption attorney has never attempted to confirm that your birth mother is actually pregnant or gotten her to sign a HIPAA waiver so the attorney and/or you can speak to her medical provider. The potential birth mom tells you a convoluted or inconsistent story, or as you get to know her, she is always in some sort of crisis—a car accident, a medical emergency, a family drama. Yes, the adoption process can be stressful, but it should make sense. If the facts don't add up, either someone is hiding something, not doing their job, or their story isn't real.
The Bottom Line About Adoption Scams
When I was writing this article, I worried about adding to the litany of "adoption horror stories" that are so easy to find. Would I scare someone who was considering adoption away? I hope not. What I hope is that it will encourage adoptive parents to trust but verify and send the message to scammers that we're smarter than you think.
These sad stories are true, but they are not representative. Successful, joyful, loving, happy adoptions—the ones we often don't hear about—happen every day. Yes, it requires patience and perseverance and an odd mixture of courage, realism, and faith. The process takes time, but the love is instant.
I am a mother of four. Some of my kids are adopted. I forget which ones.
If you're interested in more forensic psychology articles and information, check out my website at http://www.drjonijohnston.com.