After losing Alexander, the DeLorenzos went through two more failed adoptions with the same agency, both in the spring of 2007, during which Dawn spent 57 days in Kazakhstan trying to bring home another little boy, named Stanislav, and, later, a boy named Andrey. In August they were told by the Kazakhstan embassy that their agency’s director was barred from further adoptions in that country—and also that California authorities had complaints against him going back to 2004, when he’d worked for another agency before starting his own.
If she had it to do over again, Dawn wouldn’t have started by surfing the Web, searching for a child that felt right for her and her husband. “First, you should research the agency that you’re going to use and learn everything you can,” she says. “Because anybody with a phone and a computer can say they arrange adoptions.” Before you contact any agency, either hire an experienced adoption attorney to do a background and credit check on agencies you’re interested in, and the people behind them, or check them yourself through your state’s department of children and families.
“You want to understand the credentials of the agency’s staff,” advises Amy Hickman, an adoption attorney in Boynton Beach, Florida. “Are they licensed social workers? What’s the status of the agency’s license in your state?” When choosing an attorney, find out if she’s a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (www.adoptionattorneys.org), Hickman adds.
If an agency agrees to send you names of satisfied clients, don’t let your guard down. In one case an agency director was sending glowing references by e-mail himself, pretending to be former clients. “A really good scammer always has a few successful adoptions to give the appearance of honesty,” says Kelly Kiser-Mostrom, author of The Cruelest Con: The Guide to a S.a.F.E. Adoption Journey (iUniverse, 2005) and co-founder of www.adoptionscams.net. “Education is the key to a happy adoption,” she adds. “Join support groups, talk to other adoptive parents, understand your state laws. You should look locally for adoption professionals and meet with them in person.” A good place to start is with your local chapter of RESOLVE (www.resolve.org), a national infertility association.
Another, related scam is the agency or facilitator who promises you and several other couples the same baby. In 2006, a Minnesota couple experienced this kind of fraud first-hand: Seven months after signing a contract to adopt newborn twin boys and sending $22,700, they learned that the twins had been matched with another adoptive family through a different agency. Their facilitator—a woman who’d adopted a child herself from Guatemala and decided she knew enough to arrange international adoptions for others—knew that, but still refused to return the couple’s money or arrange a successful adoption for them. “Maybe she had good intentions when she first started,” says attorney Joni M. Fixel of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who’s representing the Minnesota couple in a lawsuit. “But inexperience, corruption, and greed took over.
Defending against this type of scam is tough, Fixel says, but if the child you hope to adopt has already been born, “one way to protect yourself would be to join online support groups and post the picture of the child or start a blog with the picture clearly posted.” That way, others who were promised the same baby might spot the photo and help stop the fraud.
Scam #2: “The birth mother says she’s changed her mind.”
Late on a Friday evening in 2006, Glenn and Jane got the news they’d been waiting five years to hear: The director of the Arkansas adoption agency they’d been working with called to say that a birth mother had selected them as parents for her soon-to-be-born son. He asked the couple to overnight $19,000 so arrangements could be finalized the next day. “They pressured us to wire the money right away,” Glenn recalls. “But on Monday, they told us the birth mother had changed her mind.” Glenn and Jane never got their money back. Two years later, they doubt there ever was a pregnant girl who picked the Long Island, New York, couple to be the parents for her baby.
A birth mother who decides not to proceed with an adoption is probably the most common reason adoptions go awry, but this in itself is not fraud: In every state and throughout the world, a woman has a legal right to change her mind before final papers are signed releasing custody of her child. What makes this situation so difficult is that it’s usually nearly impossible to determine if a woman ever intended to go through with the adoption. But there are two scenarios when a scam is clearly in play: If the woman, the adoption agency, and/or a facilitator promised the baby to, and took money from, more than one couple; or if the woman was never pregnant.