But the idea didn’t really hit home until we were a few months in our journey, after we had sent out our adoption profile in the hopes of connecting with an expectant mother looking at adoption for her baby.
That’s when we found ourselves in a place we never imagined we’d be: at the receiving end of a private domestic adoption scam.
“I have some good news for you,” our facilitator announced one day, setting in motion a chain of events that would become one of the darkest chapters in our adoption journey.
She said she had just gotten off the phone with, in her words, “the nicest birthmother” and that this “birthmother” wanted to meet us.
“Call her up, she’s waiting for you,” she said.
This was in 1998, before the days of texting, Skype, social media or any of the other tech tools we take for granted today. Because “Darcy” — that was the name we were given, along with a brief description of her — lived at the other end of the country, the only way we had to get in touch with her was by phone. And so for the next few months, we called her California number once and sometimes twice a week.
Everything went smoothly — until it didn’t.
One moment we were making plans with her about the future. The next moment, we realized that she had no adoption plan and she wasn’t pregnant.
We were devastated. But our experience with “Darcy” taught us some important lessons — and a good thing, too. Because, as we were about to discover, her fraud was just the tip of the iceberg. There were many, many more to come.
Here are 15 things I learned about private domestic adoption scams. Hopefully they will prevent you from making the same mistakes we made.
1. Adoption scams happen
When we started our outreach efforts, adoption scams weren’t on our radar. We were so focused on becoming parents that we didn’t think about anything else. Besides, why would anyone want to pull the wool over us and pretend to be pregnant? As we learned the hard way, not only do private domestic adoptions frauds happen but…
2. They happen a lot more often than you think
How often? Nobody knows for sure because they’re too hard to track. And besides, many adopting parents are too embarrassed to admit they’d been duped. But just because you don’t hear about them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just visit any adoptive parents forum and you’ll find plenty of stories. For victims of private domestic adoption scams, even one is too many.
3. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
I know, I know, we should have known better. And to be sure, there were lots of red flags along the way. But rather that sound the alarm, we ignored them. Why? The only answer I can offer is we were so anxious to become parents that we turned off our thinking caps and let our emotions get the better of us. I know it’s no excuse, but baby lust will do that to you.
4. Even adoption professionals make mistakes
One of the reasons we dove into our relationship with “Darcy” was because the referral came directly from one of our adoption professionals. We assumed that she knew was she was going, that she had more experience about these things than we did, and most importantly, that she had done her due diligence. And by that I mean she had met with and/or screened “Darcy” before putting her in touch with us. Only later did we discover she hadn’t — that all interactions with “Darcy” consisted of one short, cursory phone conversation.
5. Trust but verify
This comes out of the previous point. Just because your adoption professional gives you a lead doesn’t mean it’s legit. You still need to check it out, and make sure it’s the real deal. For something as important and complicated as private domestic adoption, you can’t rely on someone else’s judgement. You need to do your own research and determine for yourself whether it’s the right fit for you.
6. It’s not always about money
You would think that most private domestic adoption frauds would be about money. But that’s not always the case. In fact, in many instances like ours, money has nothing to do with it – which is why, in part, we hung on for as long as we did. One question we kept asking ourselves as things started to go south was: If “Darcy” doesn’t want money, what does she want? Turns out, for some people, getting attention is an equally powerful motivator.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
We were so grateful to have someone choose us, so grateful that we had survived “Darcy’s” initial grilling, that it never occurred to us to ask any questions of our own. We didn’t want to rock the boat. We were worried that she might not stick it out with us — that we would be left empty-handed and have to start all over again. Had we taken a more aggressive approach, we might have gotten to the bottom of her scheme a lot earlier and saved ourselves a lot of time and headaches.
8. Pay attention to the warning signs
As I mentioned, we didn’t, even though they were right there, staring at us in the face. What changed things for us was our decision to start taking notes. Even gift fraud artists slip up every now and then, and “Darcy” was no exception. Once we started to jot things down, we began to notice inconsistencies and gaps in her story, details that didn’t check out, facts that didn’t add up. Had we made a record of them earlier, there’s no question that her scam wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it did.
9. Go with your gut
When we were introduced to “Darcy” we were naive about private domestic adoption and adoption networking in general. But after talking to her for a few weeks, we had a sense that something wasn’t quite right. When we brought our concerns to our faciilitator, she brushed them off, saying relationships took time and that all the questions we had would work themselves out once we and “our birthmother” got to know each other better. Once again, we should have listened more to our inner voice and less to the other voices.
10. Hope will get you only so far
The longer our relationshp with “Darcy” went on, the more emotionally involved we became. Eventually, we got to point where the only thing that kept us going was our hope that somehow, some way, things would magically fall into place. But hope can only get you so far. And building a family entirely on it can be dangerous. And sure enough, eventually it caught up to us.
11. There are a lot of lonely people in the world
“What kind of person would do that?” is a question that a lot of people ask when they initially hear about a private domestic adoption scams. The answer: all kinds. As we found out the hard way, there is no shortage of people who are willing, ready and able to prey on you at your most vulnerable moment. It doesn’t take much, either. All they need is an opportunity and the right tools such as an email address or a phone number.
12. Scams don’t just happen online
True, most private domestic adoption scams take place online, where the anonymity of the web and lack of screening mechanisms make it a perfect breeding ground for fraud artists. But ours happened offline, right under the noses of our adoption professionals. The truth is, adoption schemes can happen anywhere, any day, any time and to anyone. If you think you’re immune from them, you could be in for a big surprise.
13. Enjoy your pity party while it lasts, but don’t forget to move on
After you find you’ve been in the clutches of a private domestic adoption scam, take the time to grieve. Even though there may be no child involved, it’s still a loss. It’s hard to come out of the experience unscathed. In our case, we spent days walking in a daze, replaying in our minds what had happened and asking ourselves how could we have been so stupid to let our guard down and let ourselves be duped in that way. Yes, we should have known better. Yes, it was unfair. But unfortunately, it’s part of the process. And if spend too much dwelling on the problem you’ll never find a solution and go on to become a parent.
14. Good things can come out from bad experiences
When we finally realized what was happening with “Darcy,” we were shocked. Then we went through a period where we felt foolish and didn’t want to tell anyone or even get out of bed. We were so caught up with our pain that we didn’t stop to consider whether anything good could come out of our experience or that there was anything to learn from it. But it taught us plenty. Not only did we learn a lot about ourselves and human nature, it also strengthened our resolve to become parents and allowed us to emerge stronger, wiser, more grateful and more determined.
15. It’s not the end of the world
Hard as it may be to realize at the time, a private domestic adoption scam isn’t the end of your adoption journey. It’s part of it. At best, it’s just a minor setback. It all depends on how much weight you attach to it and whether you let the experience define who you are. The thing is, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a huge learning curve to adoption, so be prepared to make mistakes. Learn from them, and know that there are always new opportunities. As long as you’re ready to embrace them. For instance, shortly after this scam occurred, we found a situation that was right for us and eventually went on to have two successful adoptions.
We never thought we would be the victim of a private domestic adoption scam — in fact, we didn’t know they existed at all — until one day it happened to us. And while the experience was tough going at the time, it turned out to be a great learning experience and made our two adoptions even sweeter.
Have you been on the receiving end of a private domestic adoption scam? What tips do you have and what did you learn from your experience?