A Maybe Baby

Adoption Fraud Aided by Internet

By Charles Elliott, CFE, CPA

What began as a routine income tax review for one of my clients, developed into a case that eventually sent a woman to prison for arranging adoptions of fictitious babies. The case aimed a spotlight on a growing fraud made easier by the Internet. The lessons I learned may help other accountants and fraud examiners.

I own an investigative and accountancy firm. In March of 1999, I met with a client, Kelly K., to review her tax forms. After discussing the adoption tax credit option, she told me how she and her husband, Roy, had tried and failed to adopt with a local adoption agency.

Roy and Kelly had been working with attorneys and other adoption facilitators until they were referred to Sonya Furlow, head of the Philadelphia agency, Tender Hearts Adoption Facilitation Services, in December of 1998. Furlow's website was appealing. Almost immediately, Furlow matched Roy and Kelly with a young, expectant woman named "Elsie" who was scheduled to give birth to a girl in March of 1999. However, after many months of anxious waiting the Kaisers never did receive their adoptive baby. During our interview, Kelly shared her suspicions about Furlow; soon I would find out that neither Elsie nor her baby actually existed.

Types of Adoption  

Fraud Adoption fraud can include:

  • An adoption agency or facilitator that charges exorbitant fees, and isn't properly staffed;
  • Agency misrepresentation of a child's emotional and physical history, or background, which is generally called "wrongful adoption";
  • A birthparent accepting money for expenses from prospective adoptive parents with no intention of completing the adoption process; and
  • An agency or facilitator that accepts money for services never rendered, which was the type of case I found myself in.1

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