VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - November is National Adoption Month. Couples who can't have children of their own often choose adoption to build their families.
It is often a very emotional and vulnerable process. And unfortunately, a growing number of scam artists are preying on those emotions for financial gain.
Heather Boyd wanted to be a mom for as long as she can remember.
"People would ask me what I wanted to do when I grow up and I'd say I want to be a mom," she told CBN News.
Boyd married her husband Brandon eight years ago. The couple looked forward to starting a family, but a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome made that nearly impossible. The disease affects the body's insulin.
Boyd was diagnosed with the condition a few years after getting married.
"It just makes it very difficult for a lot of things including fertility, including having a baby," she explained.
Boyd said the pain of that infertility was coupled with seeing her friends start families.
"We were the first ones to be married yet he last ones to be having a baby. Some of them are on their second baby," she explained.
"And you look at them and it's something you want them to be happy about and you want to celebrate with them, but in the back of your mind you're thinking, 'I want what they're having,'" she said.
Potential Birth Mother
The Boyds prayed about adopting. In September, it looked like their dream of having a family might become a reality.
"We were contacted by our attorney who said, 'We just got a lead from a birth mother that says that she is looking for potential parents to adopt her baby.' We were contacted by the birth mother that said that she had an adoption set up," Boyd recalled.
Boyd began communicating with the woman via text messages.
The woman said her name was DeAmber Dotson. She sent Boyd a picture of a baby boy she called Jeremiah.
Boyd said she was excited about the prospect of finally having a baby, but admitted she remained cautiously optimistic.
"It may just be the answer to our prayer because we had been praying for a private adoption," she recalled.
Dotson claimed she was from Virginia Beach, Va., (Boyd lives in nearby Portsmouth) and that she was staying in Oklahoma with a relative who had helped set up an adoption there for baby Jeremiah.
She told Boyd that she backed out of the deal after learning that the prospective parents were lesbians.
"When she contacted us she said she needed some money to get back to Virginia - back to what she claimed was her hometown," Boyd explained. "She needed some money for diapers and formula, which is pretty normal when you're doing a private adoption."
Boyd sent the woman $460 on a pre-paid card and another $160 for the baby's carseat for the trip back to Virginia.
Dream Turns into Nightmare
However, Boyd became suspcious when the woman continually refused to speak with her attorney and pressed her for more money.
Boyd shared an excerpt of a text exchange with Dotson with CBN News.
Dotson: "Do you have another $400?"
Boyd: "For what?"
Dotson: "I have to pay my bill. I will give it back I promise. Please Heather as soon as I start working."
Dotson: "Did you get my messge?"
Boyd: "…I don't have an extra $400 to give you, especially as I prepare to take Jeremiah in."
Boyd did a Google search of the woman's telephone number. It took her to a link to a Facebook page titled "Avoiding Adoption Scams."
Information posted on the page made her realize that she was being scammed.
Several people on the Facebook page shared similiar stories of being approached by a woman with the same telephone number as Dotson's. In fact, the information also revealed Dotson's real name was Davanna Dotson.
Sadly, Boyd discovered there was no baby and no adoption.
Boyd said she was shocked by the news.
"We had people over to our house, tearing up our guest bedroom, trying to get a nursery ready. Felt like I was on such overdrive that it was almost like we just all of a sudden came to a halt," she recalled. "And once it hit me I was devastated."
More Victims Come Forward
Boyd told her story to KOTV, the CBS-TV affiliate in Tulsa, Okla.
Police said Dotson's alleged adoption scam spread across several states, including Texas, Kansas, Alabama, and Utah.
Many of the victims came forward after they saw Boyd's story. She targeted people looking to adopt children. Authorities believe there are also other victims who haven't come forward.
"Unfortuntately, families do fall victim to adoption scams on occasion. However, most adoptions work out just fine, and families and birthparents can take steps to guard against this heartbreak," Chuck Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the National Council For Adoption, told CBN News.
"The NCFA estimates that there are more than two million families interested in adoption, yet only 18,000 infants available for adoption each year," he continued.
"This disparity sometimes results in a feeling of competition among prospective adoptive families," he said. "The competition, coupled with the highly charged emotions surrounding adoption, can cause families to ignore waring signs or make poor choices."
"Because adoption scams occur so infreqeuently, NCFA is ot aware of statistics that provide an accurate number of cases per year," Johnson said. "We encourage those considering adoption to work with credible adoption professionals and stay actively engaged throughout the process, which may help reduce their risk of falling victim to adoption scam."
Kris Fossee, director of Bethany Christian Services in Virginia Beach, explained the difference between birthparents backing out of a planned adoption and outright adoption fraud.
"What is not uncommon is an expectant mom who needs assistance and may change her mind. That's neither illegal nor unethical," she explained.
"So there's a difference between someone who is scamming who's just trying to get money from a family and an expectant parent who approached the agency and says, 'I need help with food, with my rent, with getting to the doctor," Fossee said.
She also described the benefits of using a professional adoption agency.
"An agency will often have social workers and counselors involved. They'll provide services to that expectant parent. They'll interview her. They'll assess her needs," Fossee explained.
"They'll also assess what kind of resources are available within the community that may help meet those needs rather than immediately going to a prospective adoptive family and saying, 'Boy, we've got somebody considering adoption and she needs X amount of money," she said.
"So it's very important to do that assessment of needs and look at where those resources are rather than simply going to prospective adoptive families," she added. "So while it's not widespread and moms do change their minds, there's ways that we do assessments that do reduce the risk."
Signs Signaling Scam
The National Council For Adoption says adoption scams can occur in different ways.
- An adoption professional intentionally witholding medical information, so a family might push for an adoption they would not otherwise pursue.
- A woman pretends to be pregnant and convinces a family that she will plan an adoption with them.
- A pregnant woman promises multiple famiiles they can adopt her baby and accepts money for pregnancy-related expenses from all of them.
NCFA red flags for potential adoption fraud include:
- The birth mother continually makes excuses for not providing proof of pregnancy or not communicating.
- Avoiding meetings with an adoption agency, pregnancy counselor, or attorney.
- Frequent requests for money.
Not Giving Up
Dotson faces eight felony charges for fraud and is awaiting trial in Oklahoma.
Boyd said Dotson's story was so good that she had her attorney fooled.
She said people should not judge people who have fallen prey to adoption scams.
"She had turned this scam many times and she knew what to say to people. I think people are quick to make judgments that you have to be dumb to fall for something like this," Boyd said.
"But it's an emotional situation and you've got a scammer that is good at what she's doing and her ultimate goal is the make a buck and she'll do anything for it obviously," she said.
"It happens a lot easier than you think, especially when we reacted a lot faster than we should have," she added.
Meanwhile, Boyd will travel to Oklahoma to testify against Dotson. She said she and her husband are not giving up on their dream of one day having a family.
"We're not going to let this deter us. We'll probably take a little break from it all, but we'll be right back in there trying to adopt another child," she said. "Hopefully we'll be a little more cautious this time."