Scammers out there are always looking for an easy buck. The easiest targets for these con artists are often those in desperate situations who are quick to trust in the good intentions of strangers. High on the list of the most disgusting of scams are those pulled on prospective parents who are looking to expand their families through adoption.
The Edward B. Donaldson Adoption Institute reported that more adoptions take place annually than is commonly perceived or reported. The institute estimates that there are over 135,000 adoptions annually, and of those 14,000 to 15,000 are babies who are being given up voluntarily in the United States. Additionally, of the non-stepparent adoptions each year at least 26% come from abroad.
Couples looking to adopt can either work directly with a pregnant mother looking to give up her baby, or hire out the services of a facilitator or adoption agency. Both of these avenues of adoption are fraught with scam artists looking to take advantage of those who are attempting to open both their homes and their hearts.
PHONY AGENCIES AND FACILITATORS
The FBI reported six Mid-West couples looking to adopt a child were all put in touch with an Indiana woman, Victoria Farahan, who claimed she could provide healthy Russian newborn babies from Hospital 31 in Moscow. Farahan had approached the director of a local adoption ministry who had connected the woman to the willing couples.
Farahan sent the couples emails from her “trips” to Moscow. She even went so far as to provide pictures of the babies the couples were waiting to arrive any day. She collected almost $100,000 from the six pairs of potential parents. The babies never arrived, the pictures were actually of Farahan’s own children, and she had not even travelled to Russia. Victoria Farahan was found guilty of two counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud.
These couples lost more than money, they invested love and hope into a dream that was never going to come true. And they aren’t alone in this loss.
Law.com recently wrote of Kevin Cohen, a New York attorney who is suspected of running a Ponzi-like scheme on couples from New York to Texas. Cohen claims to have run an agency called Adoption Annex who he claims has many satisfied clients. However, a Long Island couple accused Cohen of keeping $60,000 in fees they paid him for a baby he never delivered.
Fifteen other couples from New York, Georgia, Ohio and Connecticut have recently contacted prosecutors with similar tales of Cohen using his own past as an adopted child to motivate him to promise children he took money for, but never actually provided.
Numerous couples who did not receive the children were refunded partial funds from the proceeds of newer couples he had promised babies, which prompted the Nassau County District Attorney to liken Cohen’s adoption operation to a Ponzi scheme.
Cohen is currently being held on $500,000 bail as a grand jury waits to indict while considering additional charges as prosecutors track down other possible victims.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation offers these pointers when dealing with an adoption agency or facilitator:
BACKGROUND CHECK – Most states require agencies and facilitators to be licensed. Check with the state the company does business in and make sure they are legitimate.
MEET UP – Don’t rely on the internet or State agency alone for your research. Meet with the agency or facilitator in person and ask for documentation and references.
NOTHING COMES EASY – Don’t trust agencies or facilitators who claim to have shortcuts. Treat this news with skepticism.
TAKE ACTION – Hire your own social worker to meet with and interview the birth mother. Make sure she actually exists and is willing to part with her child.
ADOPTING ABROAD – If adopting internationally, check with the US Department of State for more information and tips. Don’t rely on the word of a facilitator or agency.
BIRTH MOM SCAMS
Michael Crowley of Reader’s Digest recently reported about a young New York couple who were unable to have their own child. Eager to start a family, they posted an internet adoption listing and waited hopefully for some good news. They were quickly contacted by Belinda Ramirez of Corpus Christie, Texas. Ramirez told them she was looking to provide a good home for the unborn child she was unable to keep. They began frequent communications with the birthmother, receiving regular updates about her pregnancy and even listening over to phone to what they were told was the baby’s heartbeat recorded on a fetal monitor.
Ramirez began asking the young couple for money, claiming she was having trouble making the rent and paying the bills. They provided it without question, sending thousands of the dollars over the next few months. When it was getting close to the time of birth, they drove from New York down to Texas. Arriving in Corpus Christie, they found Ramirez had stopped answering her phone and would not return the messages they left her.
After three weeks of getting the runaround from Ramirez, the couple drove back to New York, without the baby they expected and emotionally distraught.
Eventually, they learned Ramirez was a con artist who had been stringing along up to ten couples with the same scam. She had never actually been pregnant, but had received money from all the couples for rent and bills. She had even scammed her way into receiving several Wal-Mart gift cards she claimed were for pre-natal vitamins and maternity clothing. Ramirez was eventually convicted of mail and wire fraud and sentenced to 24 months in prison without parole.
Being individuals, this class of scam artists is not as easy to research and confirm as third-party agencies. Here are some signs, according to Preciouskids.org., to look for that might indicate you are getting scammed when adopting directly from the birth mother:
CASH UPFRONT – The birth mom wants money. Not all bogus birth moms are money hungry though, some actually do it solely for the attention. If you are considering forwarding funds to the birth mother, be sure to do so through an attorney, agent or registered facilitator.
BEATING AROUND THE BUSH– The birth mother is beset by a crisis after the adoption is agreed upon. She suddenly can’t make her rent, or hints around the fact that she is having trouble feeding herself, but never directly asks for the money.
BABY DELIVERY – The birth mom shouldn’t want to bring the baby directly to adoptive parents. Most legit moms expect the adopters to come to them. Often, this is a ruse to get plane tickets when can be cashed in later for cash.
NOT FORTHCOMING – The birth mom is not at an identifiable address or telephone number. She only wants to call you. She might not want to meet with your attorney or agency and is vague about the details, or clams up when pressed to hard. She won’t provide pregnancy or other identifying information.
TALL TALES – The birth mother’s story is constantly changing. She doesn’t know who the birth father is and won’t let you contact anyone else concerning your pregnancy. Often with these scammers, the babies are either twins or a girl! Sometimes when pressed too hard, after not providing any requested information, the birth mother will claim a sudden miscarriage or hospitalization.
Adopting a child is a draining process, both emotionally and financially. Don’t let the overwhelming process lead you to try an easy way out that might sound too good to be true. Do your homework, and don’t spend your money on unverifiable promises and the hope of family to be. This moment of weakness can be the perfect opportunity for a craven scam artist to dash your dreams and take your hard-earned money.
If looking to adopt abroad, check with the Department of State for further information:
If you think you have been the victim of an adoption scam artist, contact the FBI’s Office for Victims Assistance: