Arizona Pregnancy Help

Adoption Scams; Part 1: Birth Mothers

domestic adoption

Ron Reigns:

Welcome, and thank you for joining us on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption with Kelly Rourke-Scarry, and me, Ron Reigns, where we delve into adoption issues from every angle of the adoption triad.

Speaker 2:

Do what’s best for your kid and yourself because if you can’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of that kid, and that’s not fair.

Speaker 3:

And I know my daughter would be well taken care of with them.

Speaker 4:

Don’t have an abortion; give this child a chance.

Speaker 5:

All I could think about was needing to save my son.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

My name is Kelly Rourke-Scarry; I’m the Executive Director, President, and Co-Founder of Building Arizona Families Adoption Agency, the Donna K. Evans Foundation, and creator of the You Before Me Campaign. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Family Studies and Human Development, and a Master’s Degree in Education, with an emphasis on School Counseling. I was adopted at three days, born to a teen birth mother, raised in a closed domestic adoption, and reunited with my birth mother in 2007. I have worked in the adoption field for over 15 years.

Ron Reigns:

And I’m Ron Reigns. I’ve worked in radio since 1999; I was the co-host of two successful morning shows in Prescott, Arizona. Now I work for my wife, an adoption attorney, and I can combine these two great passions and share them on this podcast.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Okay, so today, we’re going to begin our two-part series on adoption, fraudulent activity, and scams, which are an unfortunate part of the adoption world. We will talk about domestic adoption scams in  Arizona and scams around adoption in Arizona.  Adoption fraud is any form of intentional misrepresentation, or an illegal act, in the area of adoption. Prospective birth parents, adopting parents, and adoption professionals, are all capable of adoption fraud. Today we’re going to focus on part one, birth mothers, and how they can scam an agency, a domestic adoption attorney, or an adoption entity. So, Ron, have you watched the news in the last 15 years and seen these stories posted about these families that have just had this incredible heartache and what they’ve gone through when they have been a victim of an adoption scam?

Ron Reigns:

I have not seen it so much on the news. We see it from time to time with the firm and also through Building Arizona Families, but I haven’t seen it on the news.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Right, and when you say that, I want to tell people that adoption scams are everywhere. Do agencies get scammed? Yes. Do attorneys get scammed? Yes. Do adoption professionals get scammed? Yes. There are very good scammers out there, so what we’re going to do today is talk about the scams that we see, what we, as an agency, and what other attorneys and professionals can do to minimize the risk of being scammed and open to fraud. And we can also let the adoptive families know what recourse they can take, what they can do to be preventative, and what they can do on the reactive side if it does happen to them.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

And going into this, I want everybody to know that because an agency gets scammed, an attorney is being scammed, or an adoption professional, that doesn’t mean something wrong with that entity. It means that there is a good scammer out there, and what you want to do is you want to minimize the possibility of being scammed, so there are precautions that we take.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So let’s first go into just the types of domestic adoption scams. So, with a birth mother or an expectant mother, the most common type is when a birth mother is looking for financial resources and may or may not be pregnant. Still, she’s looking to receive those resources without the intent of placing a baby for adoption. That is what we see when we’re talking about birth mothers. So digging deeper, we want to look at why birth mothers scam, what types of scams we have seen, witnessed, and what we do as an agency to protect our agency and our adoptive families from being scammed. And then, as I said before, what could adoptive families do with a proactive approach and a reactive approach?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Scamming is a natural part of the domestic adoption world, and it is also scary for adoption agencies. What some adoptive families don’t realize is that whether it is an adoption attorney, or an adoption agency, when we are scammed, we lose financially right along with the adoptive family, just like an attorney or another adoption professional would. Heartache is very different for a family than it would be for a professional. However, case workers are very vested in what they’re doing. In the adoption world, your work becomes your mission; it becomes your life and focus. And so when you’re scammed, we get hurt too, but that’s not to take away or diminish the feelings the adoptive family has.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Some birth mothers may be scamming because they live on the streets and are desperate for financial assistance. They may have had a friend that went through an agency, and they saw all the resources they received and the financial help they got, and they want to receive those same benefits. Maybe they’ve done a domestic adoption in the past, and they know what benefits they can receive and what financial assistance they can receive. By putting themselves in that position to receive those benefits again, they feel like they’re putting themselves in a better place. And maybe they have a drug habit, and they’re just trying to fund their drug habit. So again, the majority of what we see as an agency could now be very different from somebody doing a private adoption by themselves, and they are working with their own birth mother. This, again, we’re talking about working with an entity rather than a family working solely with a birth mom because that’s a whole different can of worms.

Ron Reigns:

When you talk about somebody seeing a friend who’s gone through the domestic adoption process, do you see the scamming come in waves?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

I do.

Ron Reigns:

For instance, one friend realizes, “Hey, I can get this money without having any intention whatsoever,” and then she tells two friends, and then she tells two friends kind of thing?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So, it is common for us to receive referrals from friends of our clients who are interested in placing their baby up for domestic adoption.

And I have to say, let’s say we have birth mother A come into the program, and she’s in the program, and birth mother B comes into the program and says, “Oh, I learned about you guys from birth mother A, and she told me how amazing you are, and I want to be in the program too.” And then time goes on, and birth mother A does not have a place, and it looks like she is scammed; we start to worry about birth mother B because then you begin to wonder, “Okay, is she going to follow suit?” So do you see it in groups? Yes.

Ron Reigns:

Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

And we, in reaching out to the other agencies and talking with attorneys, see the same thing. They do come in clusters. That’s what I call them, just clusters of scammers, and we’ll go months and months and months and not see anything that is something that you can say, “Okay, that’s fraudulent.” I mean, sometimes you wonder if birth mothers do change their minds. And again, if they choose to parent, we can celebrate that, if they’re able to, but when you have every indicator, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit of what those indicators are when you have those, that’s when you think that it’s more fraudulent rather than her just changing her mind.

Ron Reigns:

According to the Arizona State Statute, the court may approve any monies paid to a parent of a child placed for adoption, or another person, for the benefit of the parent or the adopted child for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the adoption. These expenses may include medical, and hospital care costs, examinations for the mother and the child, counseling fees, legal fees, agency fees, living expenses, and any other costs the court finds reasonable and necessary. Under Statute 8-28, the Violation Classification, a person who knowingly violates any provision of this article is guilty of a Class VI felony.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Okay, so understanding the Arizona State Statutes and what you just read, Ron is the groundwork for what agencies, attorneys, and adoption professionals have to work off of in the State of Arizona. Again, these are Arizona State Statutes. So, we must ensure that we are adhering to these; these are also the basis or the groundwork of what a family can use if they are scammed. Because to go after somebody else or press charges, you have to be able to cite a law that has been broken. That is one.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

We often ask, “What kind of scams have you seen or witnessed?” What the most common ones are, we’ll have a woman come into the office, and we have them take a pregnancy test when she comes in. And she’ll say, “I can’t pee right now, so let’s go ahead and get started.” And for all of the listeners that have been pregnant, most pregnant women can pee any time; I mean-

Ron Reigns:

They are just kind of on-demand; they’re ready to go.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Yeah.

Ron Reigns:

Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

We’re good.

Ron Reigns:

They got a lot of pressure going on down there, okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So we’ll often give them water and time, but they try to avoid taking that pregnancy test. We had one woman that took a straw wrapper and tried to make, she took the window out of the little test screen, and it was a McDonald’s wrapper that had the blue line down it, and she tried to fit it in, so it made the negative into a positive. The graphic design probably wasn’t in her future.

Ron Reigns:

Right.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So it-

Ron Reigns:

But she was creative. I give her points for that.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Oh, some of the scams are very creative. So that was another one. Bringing in an altered ultrasound, say that, five times real fast.

Ron Reigns:

Altered ultrasound is tough.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Unfortunately, you can purchase these, and with Photoshop, again, I don’t want to give out too much information because I don’t want people to learn how to do this.

Ron Reigns:

Not trying to give out ideas, right?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Right. So altered ultrasounds are one that we’ve seen—altered medical records. We had one girl take a pregnancy test out of the bathroom trash can that had been positive.

Ron Reigns:

From a previous mother.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Right, and say that that was hers. So now, we have all of them disposed of in a trash can up at the front to monitor them.

Ron Reigns:

Right. Live and learn. That’s a good point there. Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

We’ve had women who have an unfortunate miscarriage or choose to have an abortion, and they continue to receive the funding as if they’re still pregnant. They pretend to be vested in their domestic adoption plan when their plan is either to parent or to work with child protective services. We’ve had women who have had the baby and will put a pillow underneath their shirt and pretend like they’re still pregnant. And so, as we encounter these, we learn from them.

Ron Reigns:

Right.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

And we have taken lots of precautions, so what is the saying? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Ron Reigns:

Right.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So, these happen once, and then we learn from them and like to share that knowledge. But again, there’s only so much I can say in this podcast because I don’t want to give away some of the procedures and strategies we use to protect our adoptive families in the agency.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So, because the motivation is usually for money, birth mothers are not as focused on following the protocols of the domestic adoption plan and the program guidelines. So, we started to get concerned when she started avoiding appointments, after appointments, and after appointments. And then maybe she signed a medical release at the intake but then retracted it.

Ron Reigns:

Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

During her pregnancy, we couldn’t receive her medical records. She says she’ll make a phone call or a meeting with the adoptive family and then avoid it. That’s another one. She may change her story about the pregnancy and her situation. She may say, “Oh yes, I have no idea who the birth father is.” Or here’s another one we’ve had, where she says, “Yes, the birth father, his name is John, and I don’t know his last name. Yes, I’ve been living with him for five years, and I have three other children by him, but I don’t know his last name.”

Ron Reigns:

You don’t know his last name, right? “We don’t like to get too personal.”

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So she may be working with more than one agency or domestic adoption entity. Unfortunately, there is no registry, per se, that when an agency is working with a birth mother, you can go and register that this birth mother is working with this agency. That’s not allowed in the State of Arizona. So there’s no central registry to do a database or fact check, like an attorney does when they get a client; they can make sure they haven’t worked with them or somebody related to them in the past. We can’t do that.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

The birth mother does not want to deal with the attorney or the agency, and she tries to the sidebar and work directly with the adoptive family, telling the adoptive family that the agency, she’s not happy with them, or the attorney’s not following through. She wants to work privately with them. So these are all concerns. I’m not going to say that these are red flags that lead us to be concerned about being scammed or fraudulent activity, but that doesn’t mean that they are. A birth mother not going to a doctor’s appointment is not the sole indicator of fraud; that happens all the time. But if you’re starting to see some of these other patterns in conjunction with that, that’s where you have a concern.

Ron Reigns:

Right. When they start piling up. One or two, you’re like, okay, it’s just kind of raising the red flag-

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

When you look further, but when you start getting more and more, that’s where you get concerned. So, as an agency, what we do, and again, I’m solely speaking for Building Arizona Families, is we have a series of caseworkers and people within our agency that meet with a birth mother and an independent adoption counselor. I also, as a director, meet with every birth mother during her pregnancy, usually when she comes into the program, during each trimester, and before she delivers, which is the goal. Now with COVID, that’s changed a little bit because of social distancing and so forth, but that’s the standard protocol. And in doing that, I have probably met and worked with over a thousand birth mothers. So, I have some experience; I’m speaking tongue in cheek in working with them and dissecting where they’re going with their plan.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Additionally, our Director of Operations had me trained by somebody who works with people to detect their ability to lie and if they’re lying to you. And so I underwent this training where he would put up a video at the end, and I would have to point to him all the signs of the person lying in that video, like what they were doing. Because, again, you want to ensure that their behavior matches what they’re saying, matching their story previously. So I underwent a whole bunch of things as an additional safety net to screen the moms as they were coming in.

Ron Reigns:

Right. And again, now, would this be something? It would just be another thing to raise a red flag; is that correct? It wouldn’t be like-

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Well, it depends.

Ron Reigns:

Okay, this gal is lying to me. I can tell.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Yeah, if there was an issue that we were worried about. She’s brought in, and I’m sitting down, and I’m talking with her. I have exited moms from our program because I felt their desire was not to do adoption, their plan was not solid, and they would not be a good match for an adoptive family; it was too high of a risk. And there have been some periods where quite a few have been exited after I’ve talked with them because I didn’t feel like it was a reasonable risk for an adoptive family. And so it’s not solely because I took a course trying to determine whether somebody is being deceitful or not. Still, it’s because, again, we want to make sure that to the best of their ability, at this moment, they have an adoption plan; this is indeed what they want to do and is in their best interest.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So every birth mother who comes into our office for an adoption intake has to take a pregnancy test. But before we match her with a family, we have her get a medical ultrasound with an estimated due date because we want to ensure that there is a viable pregnancy, that she is pregnant, and that there is a baby in there. And that way, if for some reason, she was able to pass a test, whether she had pregnancy urine from somebody else that wasn’t visible to us, that she took, we’re able to catch her that way before a family gets involved.

Ron Reigns:

Right.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So we are sure that that precaution is taken. And unfortunately, we’ve caught

some that way. Yeah.

Ron Reigns:

Wow.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So that is really-

Ron Reigns:

When it comes to that, it makes me, well, I guess you don’t want to give away too many of your industry secrets. Let’s go back to the one who had taken the test from the garbage can from a previous birth mother. How did you catch her?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

She had a tough time peeing, and I think she was supposed to have been four months pregnant at that point. And so she brought the test back, and she kept going back, and she couldn’t pee, and she couldn’t pee, and then she was miraculously able to pee at that time and brought the test up. And then they showed us the test, and she left afterward because she was already in the program. But because she hadn’t seen a doctor in the last six weeks, we had her do another test, and the case worker there with me said, “Hang on a second. I just had a thought.” And I guess it was gut instinct, women’s intuition, and she went with gloves on through the trash can and said, “Oh, that wasn’t her pregnancy test.”

Ron Reigns:

That was so and so’s; who was in 10 minutes before or whatever.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Correct.

Ron Reigns:

Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

And so, at that point, we notified her that we needed her to go to the doctor to do an ultrasound. She had to do it within the next 24 hours because we weren’t going to continue to financially help support her and give her the resources she needed if we didn’t have actual confirmation of her pregnancy. And she chose not to go to the doctor within those 24 hours, so she was let go from our program.

Ron Reigns:

Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

So there are ways to check some of this, but really, a pregnancy test is a good start, but an ultrasound, seeing a baby with a heartbeat, is really what we need to see. And we will either have a case worker there or a medical records clerk who will call the doctors and get confirmation and have it sent to our office. So we’re gathering, this isn’t just, “Oh, I went to an ultrasound, and yeah, the baby looks great.” We have medical records and confirmation as well.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

But I want to point out that for birth mothers, it’s okay for them to explore domestic adoption options without even starting an adoption. They’re allowed to talk to more than one agency or attorney. This is ethical and legal, and it’s something that I have no issue with whatsoever. They need to make sure they find the right fit. So, suppose they are going to different attorneys or domestic adoption agencies and trying to gather information about that entity. In that case, I think that’s fine, and that does not mean somebody is scamming or being fraudulent.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

The other thing is-

Ron Reigns:

And it’s encouraged because you want the best thing for everybody.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Right.

Ron Reigns:

Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

The other thing is that a birth mother has a right to change her mind. That doesn’t mean that she’s scamming.

Ron Reigns:

Right.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

Sometimes a birth mother will have every intent to place her baby for adoption, and when she sees her baby, and there’s that connection, she cannot go through with it. And that happens, and that’s the tricky part about adoption. But again, that doesn’t mean that it’s fraudulent or scamming; that just means that she changed her mind. This is an emotional, heart-wrenching decision. And as much as we want to prepare a birth mother for this moment of placing her child for domestic adoption, there are still those moms that cannot make that final yes. They can’t say that final yes.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:

If a family is scammed, they speak with their agency. They decide, “Yes, I am the victim of fraudulent domestic adoption activity and I do want to do something about it,” they can decide to file a police report and call the Attorney General’s office on the birth mother. I know that as an agency, if an adoptive family wants to press charges against a birth mother, and we agree that there’s some concern and possible fraudulent activity, we assist the family in providing whatever documentation their attorney decides is needed. We will cooperate a hundred percent with law enforcement to prosecute somebody who has knowingly, willingly deceived a family in our agency. But again, there’s that decision, as an agency and as a family, was this her changing her mind? Or was this her intent the whole time? And that’s what’s hard sometimes to determine.

Ron Reigns:

Thank you for joining us on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption. Suppose you’re listening to and dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and want more information about international and domestic adoption. In that case, Building Arizona Families is a local Arizona adoption agency available 24/7 by phone or text at (623) 695-4112, that’s (623) 695-4112. We can make an immediate appointment with you to start creating an Arizona adoption plan or just get you more information. You can also find more information about Building Arizona Families at azpregnancyhelp.com. Thanks also to Grapes for allowing us to use their song, I Don’t Know, as our theme song. Birth Mother Matters in Adoption was written and produced by Kelly Rourke-Scarry, and edited by me. Please rate and review this podcast wherever you’re listening to us. We’d appreciate it. We also now have a website at birthmothermatterspodcast.com. Tune in next time on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption for Kelly Rourke-Scarry; I’m Ron Reigns.

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