The Anonymity of Cyberspace Can Encourage Adoption Fraud

by Laura Christianson

You’ve seen the ads in the classified section of your local newspaper:

“Fun-loving, financially secure, happily married couple in our early 30s, eager to adopt a baby.”

Prospective adoptive parents let their intentions be known in cyberspace, as well, via personal websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and online adoption registry services. Pregnant women (or couples) who are considering placing their child for adoption can view adoptive parent profiles online and contact the families.

That’s just what happened to Deana and Rick Watson, who posted their profile at an online registry for would-be adoptive parents. When three prospective birth mothers contacted them in one day, the Watsons communicated with each via e-mail before talking to them on the phone or deciding to meet in person.

“Once you speak with a birth parent on the phone, things become real, says Deana. “E-mail allows both parties to keep some distance.”

It gives biological parents the chance to become acquainted with several couples before they choose a family to adopt their child. Should the birth parents choose another couple, the break is less painful – for everyone involved.

Common Sense In Matters of the Heart

Although the vast majority of adoptions progress smoothly, wise parents should use caution throughout the process – especially in cyberspace, where anonymity may encourage adoption fraud. Women, hungry for money or attention, pose as birth mothers and promise their phantom baby to multiple families.

Becca and Rick Blank thought they were “matched” with a birth mom, “until she laid huge guilt trips on us, trying to get money from us.”

Another woman asked at least two families if she could live with them during the last months of her pregnancy. Yet another claimed to be pregnant but was unwilling to release medical information or her attorney’s name.

One would-be adoptive mom realized she was being conned when she discussed her situation with an online friend and discovered they were both conversing with the identical “birth mother.”

She recommends:

“Be cautious. Make sure it’s real. There will be signs if it’s not. Take your time and get to know each other by having an e-mail relationship. Plan to meet in person after several months. By then she will be showing and you will know that she is really pregnant.”

Red Flags That Could Indicate Adoption Fraud

Adoptive parents who connect with a prospective birth mother should be aware of the following red flags that could indicate possible adoption fraud.

Beware of pregnant women who…

…ask about money
…are transient or living in motels
…refuse medical care
…won’t provide a return phone number or address
…refuse to allow the adoptive parent at least limited access to her medical information (as it pertains to the pregnancy). This may indicate she’s taking drugs and is afraid of submitting to urinanalysis tests.

Joan Ward, a Seattle-based adoption social worker, says, “It is so important for adoptive parents to work with top-notch and highly experienced social workers and adoption attorneys.”

When Joan becomes aware of a scam, she usually contacts the major adoption attorneys in Seattle, alerting them to the situation. “I always ask my clients to call me when they’ve had contact with a potential birth mother,” she says.

If the birth parent lives out of state, Joan recommends hiring an adoption attorney or social worker in the birth mother’s hometown to assess the situation. “I am often hired by out-of-state adoptive parents to evaluate potential birth parent situations in Seattle,” she says. “It’s sad to say but I have found potential birth mothers who aren’t pregnant or birth mothers who are promising their baby to several adoptive families.”

Joan also cautions people to be aware of mentally ill birth mothers, including those with personality disorders.

“Birth mothers with psychological disorders are not at all uncommon, and their disorder may not be immediately apparent to the untrained eye, or to the prospective adoptive parent desperate to have a child.”

Proceed With Caution – Especially When Using the Internet to Research Adoption

Caution is a must for people who plan to adopt, whether they adopt independently or use the services of an agency or facilitator.

One family got burned by an agency they located on the Internet. The agency, which touts that they place over 200 infants per year, collected payments from the couple, who languished for two years on the waiting list. When the couple complained about the lack of action, the agency bowed out of working with them, but refused to return their money.

Would-be parents must check references – and not just the references an agency supplies. Adoption blogs and  e-mail discussion groups are great places to gather firsthand information from people who have worked with particular agencies.

Prospective parents should become versed in the adoption laws of their own state, as well as the state or country from which they plan to adopt. If they suspect fraud or unethical practices by an agency or facilitator, they should contact their state licensing specialist.

The state’s Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org/), the Attorney General, or the Social Services headquarters have information about complaints, investigation or litigation against agencies.

When you’re hoping to adopt, it’s tempting to let your heart run ahead of your head. Don’t let that happen. Be as “innocent as a dove,” certainly. But also be as “shrewd as a snake” (Matthew 10:16).

Christi December 29, 2010 at 4:56 PM

When we started networking online in hopes of finding a domestic adoption situation, we were contacted by quite a few questionable individuals. I think a really useful tool for anyone who has an adoption website up is to have some sort of tracker. We used Sitemeter, and almost every single time I received an email that seemed questionable, sure enough I would check our stats, and almost always see that someone from Cameroon was on my site that same day. I would also check the few adoption scam message boards online, which were a great resource. It’s so unfortunate that people look to exploit the weaknesses of others. I became so concerned and cautious that I may well have passed up a few legitimate adoption situations. But the internet can also be an amazing tool. The adoption website that we put up online was directly responsible for our adoption of a healthy newborn baby girl from a local couple. We were beyond blessed with an amazing open adoption from a wonderful couple, all because of the internet. So it works, but it’s certainly not without risk.
Christi´s last blog post ..We love Disneyland I mean really really love Disneyland

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