Domestic Adoption Scams: Why December Is the Cruelest Month

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Adoption scams are coming to town.

Actually, they’re already here. In the last few weeks, two domestic scam stories have made national headlines. And who knows how many others are out there that haven’t made it on the news.

Finding yourself on the receiving end of an domestic adoption scam is not a pleasant experience. But having it happen now — as your thoughts turn to the new year and the possibility of a new baby joining your family — is demoralizing. And, more to the point, just plain cruel.

Which is why you need to be more vigilant this month than ever. Don’t let the holiday cheer and messages about peace and love and hope lull you into a false sense of security. Yes, now is the time of the year to believe. But be careful about what you believe in. I don’t want to be a downer, but as these two scam stories show, there’s a danger in believing in something that’s nothing more than a hope and a dream.

As a novelist, Jennifer Gilmore knows a thing or two about fiction. But her first-person account of her meeting with a “birth mother” she calls “J” is probably stranger than any story she could put to paper.

Domestic adoption match is hard

As Jennifer tells it, finding a match through domestic adoption was a lot harder than she and her husband imagined. Although they had a few close calls, nothing panned out. The expectant parents they got in touch with ended up either raising their babies themselves or choosing adoptive parents who lived closer to them.

Her meeting with J at a mall is the first time she’s met a “birth mother” (her words) in person. At J’s request, Jennifer arrives on her own while her husband kills time wandering around. (If you’re counting red flags, this could be #1. Although it’s not uncommon for a prospective birth parent to want to deal exclusively with the waiting adoptive mother, it could be a warning sign if she insists on it too much. Not all domestic adoption scams involve money. Many are about control).

Jennifer is optimistic, even though her agency still hasn’t received the paperwork from J’s doctor confirming her pregnancy. (Red flag #2. Always get a confirmation of pregnancy before you meet with a prospective birth mother. And try to get your adoption professional to tag along for support and as a reality check).

Jennifer confesses that all she knows about J is what J has told her by email (Red flag #3. Speak to a prospective birth mother by phone before meeting her. The more concrete information you have, the easier it will be to make an informed decision. If you don’t get what you need, there probably a reason: it doesn’t exist. Fact is, most adoption scams unravel long before the face-to-face meeting stage).

Pretending to be a birth mother

When J shows finally shows up , Jennifer notices that she doesn’t look pregnant. But she can’t tell because J is a big woman (Red flag? Perhaps. But you’d be surprised how common this scenario is). When J talks about the baby and doesn’t look at her stomach, the way Jennifer expects a pregnant woman would do, she starts to have doubts.

Jennifer inquires what made her decide on open adoption (“I remember not to say ‘What made you decide to give up your child?’”) When J responds that she’s six months away from giving birth, Jennifer’s realizes “she will not give us a child. She is not pregnant enough to feel what this will mean.”

On her way home, she acknowledges that she will never really learn why J “pretended to be a birth mother.” When her adoption professional tells her this was likely an emotional scam, Jennifer can only wonder: “What did she gain?”

That’s probably the same question Cindi and Dana Howland asked themselves after they were allegedly bilked nearly $27,000 when their adoption agency connected them with a woman named Angela. According to the Howlands, what originally excited them about being matched with Angela was not only was “she a birth mother but a birth mother of twins.” (Twins? Huge red flag. It doesn’t get bigger or redder than that.)

But their excitement soon turned to concern when, according to their lawsuit, Angela refused to see the agency’s doctor, canceled every doctor’s appointment and changed her phone number. When the Howlands expressed their doubts, their agency shrugged them off even though “it had never confirmed Angela’s identity, obtained her medical records, subjected her to pregnancy test, or in any way confirmed Angela’s supposed pregnancy before presenting her as a ‘birth mother’ to plaintiffs.”

Promising adoption situations

Eventually, the truth comes out. But by then Angela is long gone — and so is the Howlands’ money.

So, what are the takeaway lessons? First, be aware about how vulnerable you are. Second, be aware that there are people who are ready to exploit your longing for a child and take advantage of your vulnerability. Third, don’t give them a chance to do it.

No matter how promising an adoption situation may appear, don’t jump in before you’re ready. Get your adopting professionals involved as quickly as possible. If they’re experienced and competent, they should be able to spot the warning signs early on. Unlike you, they’ve been through this before and aren’t emotionally invested in the outcome. And lastly, trust your instincts. If a situation seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Have you ever fallen victim to a domestic adoption scam? What advice do you have? Share your comments below and be sure to check out the hopeful adoptive parent resources on our website, including tips on how to spot an open adoption scam.

(Photo credit: Lulu Hoeller)