Adoption fraud is also known as "wrongful adoption" or "adoption scams." It refers to any form of intentional misrepresentation or illegal act during the adoption process. The act must be for personal or financial gain.
Fraudulent adoption cases or scams can come from:
- Adoption agencies
- Birth parents
- Adoptive parents
This article provides a general overview of adoption fraud.
Types of Common Adoption Scams
Typically, in adoption scam cases, the adoptive parents claim wrongdoing by agencies. They claim the agency failed to provide them with the adopted child's full background information.
The adoptive parents will claim they were deprived of the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to adopt.
In other cases, adoptive parents are scammed by online birth mothers. The mothers may promise the adoption of their babies to more than one family.
The birth mother may ask for financial support, travel or medical expenses, or other costs in these cases.
Sometimes, the person misrepresents their pregnancy altogether and is not pregnant.
Why Do People Commit Adoption Fraud?
It can be hard to understand why someone would target future parents hoping to adopt. Unfortunately, adoption fraud is just like other scams that look for an "easy" target.
Hopeful future parents looking to adopt are typically emotional and vulnerable. They may already feel stressed about the long and costly adoption process.
Being willing to adopt also signals financial security, as most adoptions in the U.S. cost $20,000-40,000.
The person running the scam is typically looking for:
- Credit cards
- Money transfers
- Products for the future child
- Products for their own care or convenience
- Payment of bills
- Free travel
- Free transportation
- Payment of services
- Payment of medical appointments or needs
Adoption Fraud State Laws
Most states do not have laws aimed at punishing adoption fraud. Instead, these states punish it as a felony charge of theft by deception. This crime is punishable by fines or jail time (up to 20 years in prison in some states).
Other states make it a misdemeanor. One example is Indiana -- the state has an adoption deception statute.
These laws make it a misdemeanor for a birth mother to:
- Accept adoption-related expenses from more than one prospective adoptive parent or agency
- Accept money when they have no intention of giving up their child
Under these laws, prospective adoptive families may sue the birth mother. The amount you can sue for is generally several times the amount of expenses paid.
You can browse through a collection of adoption laws by state.
Real Adoption Scam Examples
Generally, adoption scammers target unsuspecting adoptive parents through deception. There are many types of adoption scam cases recorded.
Examples of adoption scams might include:
- An adoption agency charging excessive fees for the adoption process
- An adoption agency accepting money for adoption services that were never given
- A placing agency failing to give adoptive families known information about a child's physical, emotional, or developmental health (such as a child with disabilities)
- An adoption facilitator withholding critical background information about the adoptee's birth family
- A pregnant person or biological father promising multiple families their unborn child while accepting money, with or without the intention to complete the adoption
- A non-pregnant person posing as a biological mother while collecting money, such as living expenses or medical expenses
- A person trying to sell a baby online for money, regardless of whether they are the child's biological parents
Adoption Fraud Red Flags
Paying attention to warning signs of adoption fraud is a good idea for anyone seeking to adopt a child. But a "red flag" or potential warning sign doesn't always mean adoption fraud occurs.
The following red flags should trigger further research and inquiry. Hopefully, this research can be done before any money has passed hands or emotions are involved.
Below are lists of common warning signs to look out for during the adoption process.
Potential Adoption Agency or Facilitator Red Flags
Adoption providers and fake agencies have common scams they might try on potential adopters.
You should be wary of words or actions such as:
- Pressuring you to sign documents you don't fully understand
- Not returning your phone calls or emails
- No response despite multiple attempts to contact them
- Not making decisions in the best interests of the child
- Making guarantees about the adoption process
- Emphasizing the willingness of a potential birth mother to agree to the adoption
- Emphasizing how quickly and easily the adoption placement of the child will be
- Making representations on behalf of the child's parents without consulting them first
- Referring to the child as "yours" (hoping to create an emotional connection) before the adoption is legally finalized
- Making unsolicited contact with you to sign you up as a prospective adoptive parent or birth mother
Potential Birth Parent Red Flags
Birth parents, or people posing as birth parents, can try to scam you out of your personal information or money.
Follow these tips to avoid some common red flags from parents:
- Does not show you proof of pregnancy (even when asked to do so)
- Does not return your calls or respond to emails
- Does not give you a phone number to reach them
- Saying that they'll be in touch with you without providing their contact information
- Does not give you information about the child's birth
- Rushing to the topic of you paying for their expenses
- Refusing to meet with an adoption agency, adoption attorney, or other adoption professionals
- Refusing to create an adoption plan
What You Can Do To Avoid Adoption Scams
Use the tips below to avoid public or private adoption scams:
- Learn about the common patterns of adoption scams
- Join forums and online groups that discuss tips for preventing adoption scams
- Always use a trusted professional to assist with the process
- Research the agency or individual online to see what kind of information comes up
- Keep in mind "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is"
- Ask many questions
- Know your legal rights in domestic adoptions or international adoption cases by speaking to an adoption attorney
- Talk to others (family members, friends, community members) who have adopted a child to learn what you might expect
What To Do If You Believe You Are a Victim of an Adoption Scam
Adoption fraud is a serious matter that takes an emotional and financial toll on its victims.
If you suspect fraudulent adoption activity, you may wish to report the potential violation to the following:
- Your local police department
- The FBI
- The state attorney general office
- National Fraud Information Center
Have You Been Defrauded During an Adoption Process? Talk to a Lawyer Today.
If you or someone you love has been affected by adoption fraud, you should speak with a family law attorney. This is especially important if the exchange of money has already occurred.
Contact an experienced family law attorney near you for some peace of mind.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
- An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
- An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
- For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency
Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.
Don't Forget About Estate Planning
Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.