Adoption scams can be a devastating experience for hopeful adoptive parents. Fortunately, by educating yourself on adoption scams, you can help to minimize them. Today, we talk to attorney Anthony Zurica of Zurica Law. A practicing lawyer since 2006, Zurica has been handling adoptions in New York for the past three years. Find out what he has to say about adoption scams and what you can do to protect yourself.
Q) Please explain what an adoption scam is.
An adoption scam is when someone involved with an adoption intentionally misrepresents themselves or the facts for their own personal gain. This person can be the expectant mother, prospective birth family, adoptive family or an agency. Normally, this involves some sort of financial gain by the perpetrator.
Q) What are the different types of adoption scams?
There are many, many different types of adoption scams. The main types of scams are perpetrated by expectant birth mothers/birth families, adoptive families and adoptive professionals. Each type has many subsets of different kinds of scams used. Here is a short list of examples:
• Expectant Mother — The most common type of scam is when an expectant mother tries to reach out to as many prospective adoptive families as possible to secure finances from them with no intention of making an adoption plan for her baby.
• Adoptive Family — An adoptive family agrees to some level of openness with the birth mother, but reneges on these promises.
• Adoption Professional — An adoption professional charges a large sum for services, and they either do not have the experience/capability or flat out do not provide the stated services.
Q) Approximately how many adoption scams do you see each year?
I see a handful of adoption scams per year, but in general I try to educate all of my clients before it reaches the point where they can be “scammed.”
Q) What are some red flags that may indicate someone is scamming you?
There are many red flags, but here are a few of the most blatant ones:
• A very simple red flag is if the expectant mother does not/cannot provide proof of pregnancy.
• You get a general feeling or an impression after speaking with the expectant mother that she is someone of questionable or dishonest character. (I always tell my client to go with their gut. If they think something is amiss, let’s look at it further.)
• Being overly concerned with finances and having an extreme sense of urgency. Most birth mothers in my experience like to get to know the prospective adoptive families. Every case is different, of course, but in general, the expectant mother should show some level of interest in who you are as a person/couple.
• An expectant mother also should be willing to work with an attorney or agency. If they refuse, it could be because they assume they can take advantage of someone with no representation.
Q) What can potential adoptive parents do to help prevent scams?
The most important thing potential adoptive parents can do is work with reputable attorneys and agencies. Learn as much as you can about the adoption professional you want to work with. The more reputable the attorney or agency is, the more the adoption community as a whole will benefit by preventing less forthright professionals from getting work.
Q) If someone believes they are the victim of a scam, what should they do?
If you suspect fraud, your first call should be to your adoption attorney or agency to look into the matter. It can then be elevated to bringing in law enforcement. However, if something is outright criminal in nature, do not hesitate to call law enforcement first.
Q) What advice would you give to waiting parents to help them avoid adoption scams?
As I mentioned, trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, most likely it is, and you need to look into it further. Also, two other important things you can do to avoid fraud are to require some type of proof of pregnancy and always discuss finances with your adoption professional and use them as a go between for any monetary interactions.
Q) Are all scams punishable by law? Why or why not?
Each state has its own adoption laws, but in general adoption fraud is not outlined in the law. Instead, the perpetrator is usually charged with something such as theft by deception, which is a felony. Some types of adoption scams will rise to this level; however, some scams would not be punishable by law. For example, if a prospective adoptive family promises a certain level of openness and doesn’t follow through with the birth mother, they may not be punished by the law, depending on the paperwork signed. Also, this is all governed by state law, and each state has a different set of laws that are followed.
Q) Are there any books or websites you would recommend for people to educate themselves on adoption scams?
There are way too many to mention, but here are a couple of good ones:
• My Adoption Advisor has a great online course on adoption scams.
• I also cannot recommend enough a forum like Adoptive Families Circle, where you can discuss and research these issues with people that have seen and done it all.
Q) Anything else you’d like to add?
The reality of your adoption journey is that it is guaranteed to be emotional — that’s just a fact — but you need to surround yourself with family, friends and professionals that will help you make smart choices. Research and diligence are your number one friends throughout this whole process.
For more information, please visit www.nycadoptionlawyer.com or follow @nycadoptionlaw on Twitter.