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Common Adoption Scams

Learn about common adoption scams and how to avoid them.

In this article, you will find:

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Common Adoption Scams

What kinds of bad things do scammers do to people who want to adopt? You want specifics? Okay. I warn you about major scams to avoid in the following sections.

Money Manipulators

Beware of any agency that asks for a lot of money up front, even though there is no birthmother or child matched to you. (By “a lot,” I mean $25,000 or more). Instead, if you decide to sign up with an agency, you should pay an application fee and a home study fee (which together may cost several thousand dollars but should not run into five figures.) Often, fraudulent agencies who receive big bucks up front will spend your money, rather than putting it in an escrow account. They'll use any excuse to ask for more money—“birthmother funds” or special fees or anything else they can think of.

Adoption Alert

Experienced agencies that handle international or U.S. adoptions may tell you that the total fees, including travel, range from about $20,000-$30,000 and sometimes a few thousand more. Be wary if an inexperienced agency asks for a lot more. Anyone who asks you for more than $50,000 should be immediately suspect.

Adoption Alert

One adoption applicant I know cried bitterly when her very high-priced adoption agency went under. She and her husband had given them their life savings. The agency had repeatedly asked for more money—once, supposedly, to help the birthmother—and had implied that if she gave money faster, they would find a child for her faster. But the agency didn't find her a child. They went out of business instead.

Moral: Don't pay more than several thousand dollars up front to cover the cost of your application and home study unless the agency can tell you the details about a specific pregnant woman or a specific child. Also, make sure you have a contract in writing. A contract doesn't ensure you won't get ripped off, but it does spell out the terms and conditions of your agreement and what you should be able to expect. Be sure to also check with your state licensing authorities to find out whether the agency is in good standing and whether any complaints have been made against them.

International adopters are especially vulnerable to financial scams. I've heard of agencies charging up to $40,000 (not including airfare!) or more to place children from Russian orphanages. The child is already born, no prenatal care or hospital costs need to be paid, no birthmother needs support money, and the child is living in a state institution. There's no reason why the agency should be charging so much money! Of course, people adopting a baby from the United States have been cheated, too, paying huge sums of money to unscrupulous individuals.

Moral: It's best to deal with only reputable adoption agencies that have been in business for at least three or four years and that have a track record. In general, newer is not better, especially when it comes to international adoption agencies. Even if you're adopting a child from a country that has only recently begun to allow international adoptions, stick with well-established and experienced international adoption agencies. They are best equipped to anticipate potential problems.

Another scam I've witnessed (infrequently) goes like this: The adoption arranger gets an application fee and home study fee from Family Number One. They later offer Family Number One a child, but warn them it will be a very expensive adoption. Family Number One says they want to think about it for a few days, and the arranger agrees. However, in the meantime, the double-dealing arranger finds Family Number Two, who is willing to pay the very high fees right away. The arranger tells Family Number Two that they can have the child, even before Family Number One has had a chance to give their answer. The arranger makes up a story to pacify Family Number One if they have decided they want to adopt the child, but he also keeps their fee.

This arranger may do the same thing over and over to some families, never giving them a child and driving them crazy. Sometimes the emotional abuse caused by the unethical behavior can be even worse than the financial abuse.

Moral: If an arranger tells you that an adoption is going to cost “more than usual,” find out why. If it's high medical bills because the birthmother or child was ill, or for some other rational reason, that may be okay. Ask to see the bills. If the reasons for the high fees don't make sense, don't agree.

Guilt Trips

Guilt is a very effective way to scam people. “If you don't adopt this poor little sick infant,” some adoption arrangers might say, “she'll have to go to foster care!” Or, if she's a newborn child from another country who needs a family, she'll go to the orphanage! She might die! It may sound heartless, but it's not your responsibility to save all the world's sick orphans. You simply cannot. If you don't want to adopt a child with medical problems, you don't have to.

Adoption Alert

Be skeptical if an international adoption arranger assures you that a foreign child is completely healthy; these people are rarely doctors, and by giving you a medical opinion, they are setting themselves up for a possible lawsuit if you adopt the child and later find out that the child is ill.

By the same token, adoption arrangers cannot and should not guarantee lifelong physical and psychiatric health for every child they place. Instead, they should provide you with all the medical and psychiatric information they have. Then you should ask a physician to evaluate it and also to advise you about the information provided, especially if it doesn't seem to be reliable.

In addition, don't let an agency guilt you into adopting an older child if you really want a baby or toddler, especially if the older child has been in foster care or an orphanage for years. Some families have adopted children who were as old as 11 or 12 from an orphanage, assuming that their love will conquer all and that their newly adopted child will be just like the 11-year-old child who lives next door, who has always had a stable and happy life. They are shocked when the older child they adopt has a lot of emotional problems. Adoption is a wonderful way to create families, and many older children from the United States and other countries urgently need families. But go into adoption with your eyes wide open.

Scammers who work these angles know that most prospective adoptive parents are very soft-hearted. (Look at the huge surge of Americans who adopted Romanian children back in 1990 and 1991, after the news media documented the horrible conditions in Romanian orphanages.) Compassion is good but should always be tempered with old-fashioned common sense.

The guilt tactic can be combined with the expensive-adoption tactic. For example, the agency might tell you that this poor little sick child incurred horrendous medical bills and ask you to pay for them.

First of all, you should demand medical information for any child you are thinking about adopting. If the child is indeed sick, make sure the agency can document any and all medical expenses that the child has incurred. Does a doctor in another country really need the equivalent of $2,500 to do a physical examination?

In yet another version of the international adoption scam, inadequate or no medical information is provided, and the agency refuses to try to obtain additional information, saying they can't (which usually means they won't). Although they may not be able to provide information about prenatal conditions and what kind of shape the child was in at birth, they should be able to provide a health status of the child since he or she arrived in the orphanage. If you are thinking about adopting a four-year-old child, and all you are given is a paragraph or two, this isn't enough information. Ask for more.

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