It is an unfortunate thing that the most vulnerable people in this world who need help the most are often the ones most targeted by less than ethical people. Whether they target the elderly or children or people who want to help vulnerable individuals, there are always those who want to take advantage of the weakest. Add to that the fact that innocent do-gooders often rush into a situation without doing research. This is true, sometimes, of those who want to adopt a child.

Fraud is the illegal transaction between at least two parties, either knowingly or unknowingly, for financial gain. Adoption fraud is the crime of either 1) stealing people’s money without delivering a child or 2) facilitating an “adoption” of a child under the pretense that the child is an orphan, who is not an orphan.

There are many examples of those who were duped into adoption fraud. But perhaps the most infamous case was in reference to the adoption scam following the Haiti earthquake that devastated the island in 2010. Forty-seven children were adopted out by a less than reputable adoption vendor in Port-au-Prince. As it turns out, those children were not orphans and the individuals that “found” them were child traffickers.


So, you ask, “Who would do such a thing? Who would commit adoption fraud? Who would represent themselves as an advocate for children, and then turn around misuse, abuse, and steal from others?” Obviously, it happens all of the time! Between child pornography, child sex trafficking, and human trafficking, the exploitation of children is big business! According to the Huffington post, child pornography takes in an estimated revenue of $3 billion! According to the Family Research Council, there are 45 million images of child pornography online! ** Adoption fraud is also a big business.

If you are seeking to adopt a baby, beware, there are scammers out there who would take advantage of your generosity. Do your homework. Do your research. Make sure the entire transaction is legitimate. Consider this:

Human Trafficking. If someone approaches you and wants to complete an adoption, but says, “Let’s keep this off the books,” that should send off red flags in your head. What used to be called “black market babies,” is now called human trafficking. Consider the fact that the child you seek to adopt may be a victim of a human trafficker. Human trafficking is defined as trading human beings for financial gain. That child who is “free for adoption” may have been kidnapped. The child who you seek to adopt may have been the child of a victim of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is selling women or children for the purposes of sex. These individuals may have been forced into prostitution. These women may have been trying to leave an abusive situation just to enter another abusive situation. The children traded in sex trafficking may have been runaways; many of these children are former foster children. As a matter of fact, 65 percent of all children trafficked in America have a history of foster care, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Keeping an adoption “off the books” is not an option. We need to keep our kids safe.

Financial Gain

Traffickers. If there is money to be made, bad people will find a way to take advantage of the system. They take advantage of people who are hasty, gullible, and uneducated.

Scammers. There may not be a child at the end of the adoption transaction at all! Perhaps the scammer seduces unwary people in the hopes of gaining access to their credit card or bank information. You could find yourself waiting at the airport for a child who never comes. That can be the most heartbreaking situation of all!

Adoptive parents. Desperate, infertile couples may go to any lengths to adopt. And in their haste, may be willing to bend the rules. But the ends never justify the means.

So, what can be done to avoid trauma to an already traumatized child? What can you do to avoid adoption fraud?


– DO use a reputable, certified Adoption Agency. There are adoption agencies that have been around for decades and have a track record of success. Get recommendations from others who have adopted. Do your research and determine what type of accreditation the agency has.

– DO your homework! Be an educated consumer. Don’t search for your adoptive child at Joe’s Adoption Shack (just kidding)! You get what you pay for. If you want to facilitate a legal, ethical adoption, then you need to check your sources. Stay away from personal ads in a paper or less-than-reputable websites saying, “Will you adopt my baby?” or from a website linked to trafficking. Be patient. Educate yourself. Don’t take shortcuts. Search for a reputable adoption agency. Or search for a child using a reputable adoption website that has photolistings. If you want to foster-to-adopt, get licensed through a state agency and speak with the social worker about the child you wish to be matched with.

– DO use an attorney. There’s no way around it. You will need an attorney to make your adoption legal. Regardless of the type of adoption you choose, you will need a lawyer. He will take you through the adoption process, walk you through the paperwork, and represent you in court. When you search for an attorney, search for one experienced in adoptions. Private adoptions may cost a lot, but it may be well worth it. Get references for attorneys from others. Search the state bar to access their status and review any complaints. You will know your adoption is legal when there are legal documents filed, court dates set, and when you appear before a judge who signs the final order of adoption. In the end, a good attorney may save you a lot of headaches in the future. Get one.

– DO make sure your paperwork is in order. Your “Spidey Senses” should go off if you hear someone say, “I know a guy who can get your adoption done without any paperwork.” First of all, your senses should go off whenever any conversation starts off with, “I know a guy,” but especially with adoption! You need to submit paperwork in order to be approved by federal, state, and local governments. This applies especially in countries abroad if you are adopting internationally. A competent adoption agency or attorney can walk you through all the necessary paperwork including background checks, a home study, and court documents. Your attorney will also work on termination of parental rights with the birth parents and also help you to file a new birth certificate for the child. If you have not received an order of adoption signed by a judge at the end of your adoption journey, you may not have participated in a legal adoption. You CANNOT complete a legal adoption without paperwork. There’s no way around it.

– DON’T give any money directly to a “birth mother.” How do you know she’s the birth mother? What is the birth mom’s motivation? What is her situation? She could be a human trafficker. She could be the victim of human trafficking. Or she could just be a desperate young lady looking for money. Any legal adoption needs to be facilitated through the courts. An attorney can help the mom to legally relinquish her rights.

– DO ensure that your “orphans” are truly orphans. The problem with the 2010 Haiti debacle following the earthquake was that those children were not orphans. Those children’s parents were duped into relinquishing them. Then they were passed off as orphans. Well-meaning Americans were then obtained and arrested in Haiti for human trafficking.

– DO wait till the dust settles before adopting a child after a natural disaster. Another problem with the 2010 Haiti adoption debacle was that Americans were not patient. When a third world country has a natural disaster, its infrastructure is so damaged that it may take weeks, months, or years to get a government back up and running. In their haste, the Americans did not research the “adoption agency” that rounded up these “orphans.” Determining who is an orphan and who is not will take time. Be patient.

– DON’T ever pay cash for an adoption. If a person from an adoption agency wants to complete the transaction “under the table,” stop the transaction! There always needs to be a paper trail of EVERY transaction in the adoption process, whether financial, legal, or otherwise.

– DO make sure the “parents” are the real parents. Can the “parents” produce a birth certificate? How do you know that they are not human traffickers?

– DO make sure parental rights have been severed. You cannot adopt a child unless the birth parents’ rights have been severed or voluntarily relinquished. If the parents have not gone through the court process to have their rights taken away, then it is nothing less than human trafficking.


Avoiding adoption fraud is not only a matter of the do’s and don’ts. Not only should you use common sense and gut feelings when facilitating an adoption. But also, it is also a matter of checking your internal motivations. Check your heart. Ask yourself the following questions:

Why do I need to rush? Anything that is worth doing, is worth waiting for. An international adoption could take upwards of two to three years between the paperwork, requirements, and the match with a child. A foster care adoption could take about that long, if not longer, for a healthy infant. However, the time frame could be shorter if you were to consider adopting a sibling group, an older teen, or a child with special needs. “Worth the wait” is the mantra every prospective adoptive parent should “adopt.”

– Is money an issue? There are two ends of the spectrum: people who don’t have money and want a “free adoption” and the people who say, “Money is no object.” Both ends can be a concern. On the one hand, if you want to adopt but don’t have the resources, it could tempt you to be drawn into non-traditional paths. On the other hand, if you are flush with cash, you may feel like you have the power to drive the process in order to get what you want. That is also dangerous.

Here are the facts: An international adoption costs upwards of $40,000-$60,000, depending on the adoption agency and the country you wish to adopt from. It is expensive. Private domestic adoption is upwards of $20,000. Foster care adoption costs virtually nothing! But whatever path you choose, it should be legal, ethical, and documented.

– Is the pain of my infertility driving me to make decisions I would not normally make? Sometimes infertile couples get desperate. Infertility is painful. The images of one miscarriage after another are forever emblazoned on your mind. The questions from family and friends can be excruciating. This trauma could drive you to do desperate things. Adoption seems like “Plan B.” Keep this in mind, you are not only building your family, but you are also helping a child and a mom in a crisis pregnancy.

– Do I truly want to serve this child? Adopting a child is not a status symbol. It takes patience. It takes humility. It takes an understanding that these kids have come from hard places. Whether it is abuse, neglect, poverty, or the death of a parent, these children have seen or experienced things that would chill the spine of most grown adults. Put the child’s interests before your own interests and you will never go wrong!

Unfortunately, we live in a world where those who should be protected are taken advantage of. Yes, there are bad people looking to exploit the weakest among us. But, please don’t let that deter you from doing the right thing. Children still need to be adopted here in the U.S. and around the world. Use this phrase as an appropriate metric: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…”

Visit’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.