Adoption fraud doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Here’s what to look out for, and experts’ best advice on how to protect yourself.
Scrolling through adoption sites at her computer one spring night in 2006, Dawn DeLorenzo came upon a photo of baby No. 879: an orphan in Kazakhstan named Alexander. The 33-year-old special-ed teacher from New Jersey couldn’t get his picture out of her mind: “We felt drawn to Alexander immediately,” she recalls. “He had the biggest, most beautiful, bright brown eyes that sparkled.” Dawn lost no time in e-mailing the adoption agency to find out more about this adorable 7-month-old baby.
She and her husband Joe were giddy when the director of the adoption agency e-mailed back the next day stating they could have Alexander in their arms within a few short months, even though the couple’s adoption home study wasn’t even completed. All the director needed, he said, was an overnighted check for $8,850, and he could “hold” Alexander and begin the adoption process.
Warning bells should have gone off. But they didn’t. “I was clueless,” Dawn concedes. “We had just started to look into adoption after a year of infertility treatments. We knew lots of families who’d adopted, and I had never heard of an adoption scam.”
The DeLorenzos sent the money, but instead of bringing them closer to the child they desperately wanted, they were beginning a heartbreaking journey of fraud and deception.
The Size of the Problem
The good news is this: Adoption experts believe that only a small percentage of the estimated 135,000 adoptions that take place each year in the United States are fraudulent. “Adoption scams are the exception,” says Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America (Basic Books, 2000) and executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York City. But, he adds, “bad things can happen.” A recent study by the institute concluded that the high cost associated with infant adoptions—typically $20,000 to $35,000—combined with the deep yearning of couples who want to be parents, poor regulation of the adoption industry, and the rise of the Web have created something of a perfect storm for this kind of scam. Since it opened in May 2000, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has logged over 600 complaints of adoption fraud.
The single best way to keep from falling for a fraudulent adoption is to recognize the warning signs, experts say. Here are three of the most common scams, along with the red flags for each and good advice on how to keep your wallet—and your heart—safe.
Scam #1: “Trust me, I’ll get you that baby.”
Probably the most common adoption scam is the one where you run into an agency or an adoption facilitator who isn’t what they say they are. It could be that the “agency” is nothing more than a website with pictures of children on it. Or maybe the facilitator doesn’t really know the rules and political dynamics in a foreign country and is winging it—at your expense. (Since facilitators aren’t regulated or licensed, they’re likelier to be riskier than an agency.) This type of scam can be especially hard to suss out, since sometimes even a licensed agency gets overwhelmed, leading staff to skirt the law and take unethical shortcuts in the U.S. or abroad.