When you think of an adoption scam, being swindled out of money or goods often comes to mind. However, there is another form of scamming that is just as deceptive but far less tangible. It’s called emotional or psychological scamming. And, it’s unfortunately fairly common during the adoption process.
Emotional scammers target their victims with one goal in mind: getting attention. They don’t want your money or gifts. Some enjoy inflicting pain and causing distress. Others are desperate for emotional support. They may be mentally ill and/or extremely lonely, and they will do whatever it takes to hang on to you. These types of scammers know that adoption is a very emotional process — full of hopes, dreams, fears, loss and insecurity. They have no problem using these feelings to get to you. Emotional scammers will prey on hopeful adoptive parents like you because they know you’re vulnerable and likely to be receptive to their ploys.
How does emotional scamming work? It’s much like a traditional adoption scam. Someone will contact you pretending to be an expectant mom. She will share an often sad or complicated story and say she is looking for someone to be the parents of her unborn child. You will feel sympathy toward her and long to do whatever you can to help her with her situation. Naturally, you’ll also feel some excitement because you believe this may be the opportunity you have been hoping and praying for. Conversations with this person will seem heartfelt, engaging and believable. You will come to trust her, and you’ll expend a great deal of time and emotion on a situation that isn’t even real. In the end, the scammer will likely lie and tell you the fictitious baby died, or you will come to realize that they aren’t legit. Either way, you’ll suffer the loss of the baby you thought you were going to adopt. This is a devastating experience much like a failed adoption. Those who go through it are sad, angry, disappointed and confused.
Unfortunately, many couples are unable to get the closure they deserve. Unlike with a financial adoption scam, no one will go to jail. Although heart breaking, there will be no restitution for your pain. You may wonder how someone could be so cruel and why they would use your desire to become a parent for their own personal gain. There are no easy answers. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to take time to grieve (it’s a loss just like any other). Most importantly, remember not to give up. Many women who contact you will be legitimately pregnant and considering adoption. They are out there too.
So how can you avoid falling victim to these emotionally unbalanced attention seekers? The key is to be on the lookout. Here are some other warning signs to watch for:
• Refusing to Work with an Adoption Professional – Unlike most expectant moms considering adoption, scammers are often reluctant to contact your adoption agency or attorney. They may make excuses as to why they can’t or will keep putting it off. Some will actually contact your agency, but never meet with them or provide proof of pregnancy.
• Not Meeting with You in Person – Nearly all scammers communicate with prospective adoptive parents through the internet, email and via phone calls. If the expectant mom doesn’t show any interest in getting together with you in person, that should raise a red flag. Most women who contemplate placing a baby for adoption will want to at least meet with the couple they are considering.
• Conflicting Information – The potential birth mom tells you one thing and later changes her story. If the facts don’t add up, either someone is hiding something or their story isn’t real.
• Excessive Drama – Scammers often present themselves as always being in some sort of crisis and will concoct emergencies to get more of your time and attention. Examples include: being in the hospital, having a fight with her boyfriend, saying her family abandoned her, claiming she was in an accident, etc. The scammer we dealt with called me crying at 6 a.m. and claimed she was in the hospital with a diabetes emergency.
• Convoluted Storytelling – If her story seems overly complicated and/or hard to understand or follow, you may be dealing with a scammer. Most legitimate pregnant women who contact you regarding adoption will be straightforward and forthcoming about their situation.
If you are in contact with someone who exhibits these behaviors, please proceed with caution. Also, be sure to let your adoption worker know of any potential situations you are considering. They can help provide guidance and will know what else to look for.
In the meantime, don’t become overly suspicious of every situation. Rather, approach each adoption connection as potential opportunity and then gather all the information necessary so that you and your agency can make a fair assessment. Successful adoptions happen every day, and with perseverance, good communication and attentiveness, it can happen for you too.
For more information on avoiding adoption scams, check out the following:
• Avoiding Adoption Scams – Newsletter from the National Council for Adoption
You can also read about an elaborate emotional adoption scam in this story from Elle Magazine:
• I Was Planning to Adopt Her Baby But The Birth Mother Had a Different Idea