Home News Stories 2006 August Adoption Scams Bilk Victims, Break Hearts

Adoption Scams Bilk Victims, Break Hearts

Empty Promises, Empty Cradles
Adoption Scams Bilk Victims, Break Hearts

08/28/06

Woman looking downThe couples all had their hearts set on adopting a child. They were eventually introduced to an Indiana woman who agreed to provide a healthy baby from Russia…for a price. They started to get excited when they saw a picture of their promised child for the first time. Then, they anxiously waited for the day when they could finally meet the new member of their family.

Only that day never came. They had been scammed.

At least six couples in the Midwest were victimized by this adoption fraud scheme. And there are plenty more rip-offs like this one around the country: cases where birth mothers promised their unborn children to more than one couple or who weren’t even pregnant…where couples did business with phony domestic adoption agencies or facilitators…or where the international adoptions weren’t sanctioned by the home country or even involved kidnapped children.

“It’s really awful. These con artists feed on their victims’ hopes and then they get crushed,” says Special Agent Patrick B. Sullivan, who worked an adoption fraud case out of Florida in 2001. In fact, the FBI often calls on its Office for Victims Assistance to help the victims.

In the Florida case, a woman contacted over a dozen victims through an Internet site for people wanting to adopt. She claimed she knew women about to give birth, then asked for either small administrative fees or for money to help the birth mother with expenses. “She milked them along, raking in the money, until they figured out they were being taken,” Sullivan said.

In the Indiana case, Victoria Farahan approached the director of a new local adoption ministry and said she could provide healthy newborns from Hospital 31 in Moscow. She provided pictures of the babies—which turned out to be pictures of her own children. She also sent the victims e-mails during her “trips” to Russia. “Farahan was very good at sprinkling in little bits of truth,” said Special Agent Steven T. Secor, who led the investigation. “She was very convincing. And she was dealing with couples that wanted babies and were willing to overlook some things.” She eventually duped six couples out of a total of $97,500. On July 17, Farahan pled guilty to two counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud.

The monetary losses are just the beginning of the toll the scams take. Filled with hope, victims often decorate nurseries, renovate their homes, or buy bigger houses. Some plan for maternity leave or even quit their jobs.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Special Agent Darin L. Werkmeister, who led an investigation of a woman in Philadelphia who defrauded at least 44 sets of prospective parents out of $215,000 in the ‘90s. “People will eventually recover from the financial loss. But the emotional trauma was much worse. For some victims, it’s like losing a child.”

So how can families seeking to adopt protect themselves?

  • Do your homework. Most states require agencies and facilitators to be licensed.
  • Don’t rely solely on the Internet for research. Meet the agency or facilitator in person. Ask for documentation and references.
  • Be skeptical if agencies or individuals say they have shortcuts.
  • Hire your own social worker to interview the birthmother.
  • For international adoptions, check with the U.S. Department of State for tips and more information.

Links: Common fraud schemes | The Consumer Sentinel fraud site