I came across this advertisement today on Craigslist. I share it unedited:
“I know my posting must seen strange but when you run out of resources you do things you normally wouldn’t do. I am 33 and I am married m husband is 42, we have 5 children together and he has two from a previous marriage. We can not afford to take on the responsibility of another baby to raise, my husband lost his job and right now the only money we have coming in is what is left over after my school grants pay for my online schooling and that’s not much, we get a little bit of food stamps but not nearly enough for a family of 7, I am on medicaid so I do see the Doctor for the baby, I am due April 20th so not very much longer. We really need some help please, we are not asking much at all I just want a good family yo take our baby girl and raise her with love and protection and I want letters and pictures please. I am really praying that someone will come forward and help us not just with the baby but with our other kids they are 19 months (girl) 3 (girl) 4 1/2 (girl) 6 (girl) and 12 (boy), we really need clothing for them and I have no maternity clothing, I own two pair of sweat pants and a few tee shirts I don’t even have a winter jacket that fits, we have a car but can’t afford gas to get to all my Dr appts and I have to go every 2 weeks, we really need some food please can anyone help us, I had my tubes tied and still got pregnant (I swear, I will show yo the paperwork). You can be there when the baby is born, you can name her, you can be the first to hold her and I won’t stand in your way, please just help us I can’t have another kid I have enough that I can’t hardly take care of, I love my kids but we are poor people and just can’t feed another mouth. We will do whatever you want, I promise. Please no mean emails, I just want to find a family who will take the baby and help us until the bay is born, I don’t think I’m asking to much. You can text me [a name and number are provided] and TEXT only until I know your not being mean or nasty to us, then we can talk, you can email me to I am on computer a lot for school and I check my email a lot to.”
Now I can’t speak to whether this ad is a hoax, an adoption scam, or a genuine plea for help from a desperate woman. The ad contains the phone number and city of the individual purported to be pregnant along with two photographs of an attractive dark-haired Caucasian woman.
I telephoned the police department in the city noted in the Craigslist posting as the woman’s home base and was told by the answering officer that it is not illegal in the state in which she resides for a birth mother to advertise for adoptive parents. “It is not a criminal matter,” he said, “unless she is trying to sell the child.” I was told I could bring the ad to the attention of Social Services on Monday morning. It might also be a matter for a sheriff’s investigation.
What I came to learn through my subsequent research is just how key to the U.S. adoption matchmaking process Craigslist and other online boards are becoming. Prospective parents are also turning to YouTube to promote their virtues to women who are seeking homes for their soon-to-be-born.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that some 677,000 children a year are placed through private domestic adoptions. But, as of now, according to an article on Shine from Yahoo! by Piper Weiss, “it’s unknown how many of those matches come from social networking and online community boards.”
Weiss notes that: “In a small 2012 study conducted by the organization Families for Private Adoption, 40 percent of private adoptions were successfully matched online, the majority through paid adoption websites like ParentProfiles.com – an online database of adoptive parents. Only 5.7 percent of those surveyed were matched through other unspecified social networking sites. But in an age where at least 2.5 million of American woman are trying to adopt (according to the National Survey for Family Growth) and international agencies are imposing stricter limitations on the process, hopeful parents are relying on their own homegrown social media skills to have a kid . . . Websites, like ParentProfiles.com, Adoptomism.com and Adoptimist.com, are playing online matchmaker for parents and birth moms. Agencies are encouraging parents to launch viral campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. And adoption consultants are coaching clients on optimizing their websites on search engines. Now there are even adoption marketing companies providing parents full-service web consulting packages for a price.”
But according to the handful of hopeful parents Shine interviewed, it is Craigslist’s free community board for missed connections and apartment rentals that’s directing the most traffic to their personal adoption websites.
And, it is on the community board of Craigslist that I found the ad from the woman trying to place her seventh child, her unwanted seventh child. With all of the worries we have today with predators, human trafficking, scams and hoaxes I find it quite disconcerting that we would we be searching on line for newborns and adoptive parents on the same sites where folks shop for snowblowers, prom gowns, toasters and TVs.
Traveling this route seems fraught with danger so I wasn’t surprised to note that the Craigslist page carrying the birth mother’s ad was topped by advice sections on “personal safety” and “avoiding scams.” Here folks are warned that: “The overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-intentioned. With billions of human interactions facilitated through Craigslist, the incidence of violent crime has been extremely low. Nevertheless, it’s very important to take the same common sense precautions online as you would offline.”
And we all know that scammers and hoaxers are out there: In 2009, a woman in Abington, Massachusetts received a message one day from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her child was being offered for sale on Craigslist. The horrified mother emailed the address she found in the online posting and did, indeed, find a picture of her own son in the ad. It was claimed in the blurb that the child was Canadian born and living in an orphanage in Cameroon. Three hundred dollars was all that was required to start the adoption process.
In an ABC News report at the time, the child’s mother, Jenni Brennan said anger was just one in a “range of emotions” about her son Jake’s picture being used by scammers: “Brennan, 30, said the family had been using a WordPress blog for nearly two years to update the family on her children’s milestones, including stories and pictures. . . But then Brennan said she got an e-mail from a woman she had never met, warning her that some of the pictures of Jake kept on the family’s blog were being used by a scammer who was using Craigslist to lure potential adopters. The woman’s friend had fallen for an adoption scam from a St. Theresa Conception Parish that was asking for $300 to start the adoption process the year before. And when she saw the same ad pop up again she posed as an interested adopter to see what the scammer would send back. What she got, Brennan said, was a picture of Jake Brennan, a chubby blond-haired little boy. Because the family’s blog address popped up when users rolled their mouse over Jake’s picture, the woman knew where to find the Brennans.”
Brennan and her husband filed complaints with the FBI and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, both of which said they would look into it. Brennan said she also contacted Yahoo, which shut down the e-mail addresses used in the Craigslist ad by the scammer, the adoption “lawyer” and the supposed orphanage in Cameroon. Her hometown Abington Police Department assured Brennan they’d do what they could, but that they may never know who was behind it.
This fraudulent ad is now referred to as the “Cameroon Scam” and prospective adopters looking online for children are told to watch out for red flags in other ads that could be signaling trouble ahead. How very easy it is for a photograph to be pirated from a parent’s page on Facebook or on a blog platform for use by a scammer!
Last week, police in Manitowoc, Wisconsin were investigating a Craigslist ad offering a four-year-old boy for $1,000. Authorities had taken the ad seriously but, by the time they were alerted to it, the ad had been removed from Craigslist. The caller who had notified the police about the posting was able to help detectives contact the suspect. The poster told the detectives that he’d sold the four-year-old for $1,200 but he promised he would be able to acquire another child. Police traced the computer sending the message to them back to a 17-year-old student who had posted the ad while he was in class. Despite the boy’s apology, the police issued a $681 ordinance citation for disorderly conduct. The boy was fortunate; the police could have filed a criminal charge.
After initially posting this piece on February 23, I found – in the following day’s SFGate, under The Mommy Files, another article entitled, “Baby wanted: Couples adopting through Craigslist.” The writer of this concluded: “Yes, adopting through Craigslist seems risky since it’s a place that’s increasingly becoming known for cons and frauds, and adopting a child is a far more delicate and important transaction than, say, buying a used dishwasher. It’s difficult to fathom that you’d look for used housewares (not to mention one-night stands) and cuddly, living, breathing babies in the same place. But the everyday nature of the site might be what makes it a great place for parents looking to adopt. Craigslist is where people go to buy, sell, trade, find, give away. Things happen on Craigslist, and when you’re a weary couple who has been trying to start a family with little success for years this is actually what you want. Can transactions go bad? Yes. But anyone who has used Craigslist knows that more often they go right.”
So, regardless of the danger, more websites like My Adoption Adviser, are singing the praises of advertising on Craigslist and other sites. And couples, eager to find a child to adopt, have to navigate not only the web but the sweep of adoption advertising laws that are literally and figuratively, all over the map in the U.S.
As of now, according to Adopting Family Resources.com:
“Connecticut specifically allows advertising by birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. An additional eight states allow advertisement by agencies and other entities such as attorneys (in Florida), crisis pregnancy centers (Louisiana), birth parents (Nebraska), facilitators (North Carolina), and prospective adoptive parents who have favorable pre-placement assessments (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin). Georgia allows the use of public advertising by agencies only; individuals such as birth parents and prospective adoptive parents may exchange information by private means only, such as letters or phone calls.
“Two States (Alabama and Kentucky) prohibit any use of advertising by any person or entity. Another 12 States prohibit advertising by anyone other than the State department or a licensed agency. Utah specifically prohibits advertising by attorneys, physicians, or other persons. In Virginia, no person or agency may advertise to perform any adoption-related activity that is prohibited by State law, and a physician, attorney, or clergyman may not advertise that he or she is available to make recommendations for adoptive placement, as that is also an activity that is prohibited by law.”
So where are? We have parents with too many children offering up their extras on Craigslist. We have childless couples promoting their parenting potential on YouTube hoping to attract a sympathetic birth mother who will gift them with a newborn. And we have more than a million babies aborted in the U.S. every year — 55 million lost since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down 40 years ago. There must be a better way.
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