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Looking To Adopt? Here’s How To Spot A Scammer

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Adoption scams are nothing new, but over the past decade, experts say the amount of scammers has skyrocketed.  That’s because social media has opened up a whole new world for couples looking to adopt. But it’s also opening them up to fraud.

Michael and Kristen Johnson know all about that.

“We stick out wherever we go,” laughed Kristen.

A little over 10 years ago, the Johnsons made the decision to adopt, and they’ve been adopting ever since.

“It was easy.  It was either no children or adoption,” said Kristen. “Five kids later, I am so grateful that we couldn’t have kids because this is the perfect family and I love my children more than anything.”

The Johnsons are like hundreds of other Utahns.  They opt for “private” adoptions because going through an agency is pricey, $35,000 to $50,000 on average.

Private adoptions are much cheaper (the Johnsons paid about $4,000 to adopt one of their children) but they don’t offer the same protections as an adoption agency because couples have to find their own birth mother.

So like many families, the Johnsons market themselves online through Facebook, Instagram, and a personal blog.

“Social media is so much more effective at spreading the word that hey, we’re a family, this is who we are and we’re looking for an addition,” said Michael.

But you know who else it opens them up to? Scammers. Lots and lots of scammers.

“If you’re pursuing a private adoptions, you will be contacted by a scammer,” said social worker Lauren Andrews, with Utah Adoption Specialists.

Andrews tells her clients that over 50% of the birth moms who contact them are most likely scammers.

“By having their information out there so publicly, that’s where these scammers are finding them,” Andrews said.

Andrews says there’s two types, the financial scammer and the emotional scammer.

Plain and simple, financial scammers want your money.  They might not even be pregnant but if they are, you’re likely not the only one they’re talking to.

“They might be speaking to several couples who are all willing to help them financially,” said Andrews. “They accept financial assistance from multiple couples and that’s considered fraud.”

The Johnsons admit they’ve fallen for it, giving one woman money for groceries, bills, medical expenses and more.

“She was taking pictures of lobster dinners and eating out,” said Michael. “Things that we never do.”

They lost over $6,000 dollars and the idea of a new addition to their family.

“It’s always really hard,” said Kristen. “When you make plans for a baby that never comes.”

The second type, the emotional scammer, is harder to understand.  They don’t want your money, they just want your attention and your time.

“I don’t get it.  I can’t wrap my brain around it,” said Michael. “Kristen spent at least 10 to 12 hours on the phone with her.”

“There’s women who do this repeatedly and are consistently seeking new couples to victimize,” said Andrews.

The Johnsons say in total, they’ve encountered at least 20, maybe 30 scammers.  Now they want to help others spot them.

Here are some red flags to watch out for:

If the birth mom…

  • Asks for money up front
  • Makes up a lot of excuses
  • Won’t do a proof of pregnancy through an OBGYN
  • Tells fantastical stories

“The story will be too good to be true or on the verge of being unbelievable,” warns Andrews. “Cancer, or they’re having triplets, or they’re being evicted tomorrow, or they’re in preterm labor.  It’s always a high drama situation.”

And if none of those red flags fit, there’s usually a sure way to tell whether your birth mom is a fraud.  If she’s going to give you her child she will want to get to know you by asking you questions, looking at photos and learning about your family.  If she doesn’t do that, she’s probably a fake.

“They won’t be like, hey I want you to adopt my baby, without getting to know you at all,” said Kristen.

If you do encounter a scammer, adoption specialists say the best thing to do is to cut off contact.  There are also Facebook pages you can report them on to warn others.

One more thing, when KSL interviewed the Johnsons they were a family of seven but now they are a family of eight with the adoption of child #6.  Congratulations Johnson family!

KSL 5 TV Live