Fraudsters and fakes of all kinds know to choose the most vulnerable and trusting people as their victims, which makes their crimes heinous, and also makes their crimes possible in the first place. One group of people that’s frequently susceptible to scams is the elderly. Another is couples who are desperate to adopt a child.
Last week, Chrystal Marie Rippey from Marshall, Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court to adoption fraud (wire fraud, technically). She wasn’t pregnant, but she told adoption agencies and various couples that she was so that she could collect the money and housing they were happy to give her while she brought their future (non-existent) babies to term. According to the Department of Justice via the Kansas City Kansan, Rippey took advantage of at least four couples in this way, in Delaware, Kansas, and Texas. Here’s one example:
A Delaware couple moved Rippey into their home for a month. They took her on a two-week vacation on the beach and paid for her living expenses, new clothes, cell phone and food. She gave them a sonogram that she claimed showed her pregnancy with twins. In fact, she got the image from the Internet. Then she broke off contact with them.
Rippey’s crime, while cruel, is really just a case of mere domestic wire fraud—a small thing when compared to some other international schemes that have been uncovered recently. Earlier this year, four staffers from International Adoption Guides, Inc., were accused of taking part in a conspiracy that involved falsifying documents involved in adoptions from Ethiopia. The DOJ says that “the scheme involved, among other things, paying orphanages to “sign off” on contracts of adoption with the adopting parents as if the children had been raised by those orphanages,” when they in fact still lived with their own parents or relatives.
Because of this lie, American parents-to-be would think they were rescuing orphans from Ethiopia who had no family—which would likely affect their motivations to adopt those particular kids rather than others. (The various types of official paperwork for the kids' transfers, including U.S. visas, were also easier for the agency to obtain under this scheme.) In her guilty plea last month, one of the former IAG directors also admitted that she and her colleagues had paid bribes to Ethiopian doctors and teachers in order to get access to the children’s private medical and education records, as well as bribes to officials to generally look the other way.
"A Delaware couple moved Rippey into their home for a month. They took her on a two-week vacation on the beach and paid for her living expenses, new clothes, cell phone and food. She gave them a sonogram that she claimed showed her pregnancy with twins. In fact, she got the image from the Internet."
There is a complicated patchwork of state, federal, and international laws regulating adoption—among the most important of which is the 1993 Hague Conventions on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Hague Conventions, and other additional regulations enacted since then, demand strict record-keeping and accreditation, and forbid adoption agencies and countries from profiting off of the process.
Perhaps because the above-the-board adoption process is so time-consuming and the hurdles so high, some people have inevitably resorted to shadier alternatives. (Shadier alternatives almost always means the Internet, and this is no exception.) In 2010, sociologists Jini Roby and Holly White published an article in the journal Social Work, “Adoption Activities on the Internet: a Call for Regulation.” Adoption websites allow both sides of the transaction to see profiles and pictures of each other at their leisure, which can very often lead to successful matches. But Roby and White also wrote about the potential risks of Internet-based adoption matches.
They cited corrupt and profiteering agencies that coerce poverty-stricken birth parents into premature agreements, and fake birth mothers who promise “future babies” to bilk couples out of their cash (and who then later tell the couples that the babies died at birth so as not to get caught). The authors noted that Internet adoption-matching is a less regulated system, but that it’s not entirely random, of course; “it’s regulated only by the market forces of supply and demand.... Thus, children can become commodities.”
And what about when those commodities aren’t as desirable as they once seemed? How do you throw them away? Last summer, Reuters published a shocking and damning investigative series about “a loose Internet network where desperate parents seek new homes for kids they regret adopting.” Reporter Megan Twohey included some samples from Facebook groups and Yahoo message boards (some of which have since been shut down):
"Born in October of 2000 – this handsome boy, 'Rick' was placed from India a year ago and is obedient and eager to please," one ad for a child read.
A woman who said she is from Nebraska offered an 11-year-old boy she had adopted from Guatemala. "I am totally ashamed to say it but we do truly hate this boy!" she wrote in a July 2012 post.
Another parent advertised a child days after bringing her to America. "We adopted an 8-year-old girl from China.... Unfortunately, We are now struggling having been home for 5 days." The parent asked that others share the ad "with anyone you think may be interested."
Just as disturbing as the cases where adoptive parents seemed to callously discard their kids were the cases where other adoptive parents were suspiciously eager to snatch them up (and did so, without background checks). In the Wild West of online adoption, scammers and fraudsters can prey on desperate people on both sides of the transaction.