Instagram isn’t just for posting your dogs or your latte anymore — hopeful couples are using the social media platform to adopt children.
For some people, finding a child to adopt through Instagram works out. But for others, like Utah couple Alyssa and Isaac Short, a promising connection with a woman they believed was a pregnant mother looking for a family to adopt her child turned out to be an emotional scam.
The 23-year-old couple struggled with infertility. After they resorted to Instagram — posting pictures with captions about their adoption search — Alyssa Short says a woman messaged them saying she was due to give birth in a month and couldn’t take care of the child.
“We were absolutely thrilled,” Isaac Short says. “We thought it was an answer to our prayers and that our family was finally going to be able to start.”
The couple began messaging her on Instagram, where her profile showed pictures of what appeared to be a real pregnant young woman and her boyfriend. The conversation then moved on to text and phone calls.
After days of constant communicating, the Shorts began to realize something wasn’t right.
“She would never sign a doctor release form for us to be able to talk to her doctor,” Alyssa Short says. “She was really hesitant about giving information out so we could find a lawyer to work with her.”
This prompted the couple to contact Georgia-based adoption attorney Juli Wisotsky about a possible adoption placement with a woman who promised to give them her child, but never had a baby to offer.
“Up until March of this year, I had not seen this,” Wisotsky says. “I had never seen a situation where someone was not pregnant and was just doing it for no other purpose, it seems, than to cause heartache.”
One particular scammer who uses different fake names has come up amongst her and her colleagues 12 times since March, Wisotsky says.
When the couple blocked the scammer, she tried to reach them using different Instagram accounts.
The scammer never asked the Shorts for money, they say, but she wanted to talk on the phone constantly.
“When we told her that we had gone out and bought baby stuff, I think she honestly felt bad. I think that was the only point that she ever seemed sincere,” Isaac Short says. “I really don't think she wants anyone to put any money into it but she just wants somebody to talk to.”
The Shorts’ story isn’t the first time a social media approach to finding an expecting mother has ended in a similar emotional scam.
Last month, the BBC reported Michigan couple Samantha and Dave Stewart were ready to fly to Georgia to adopt a baby girl from a pregnant 16-year-old they met on Instagram when the supposedly expecting mother suddenly blocked them.
The same scammer has tricked multiple other couples using different names, the BBC reports.
But not every person looking for a home for their child on Instagram is a scammer.
After their experience with a serial scammer, Samantha and Dave Stewart ended up adopting a baby boy from a woman who reached out to them through the platform.
The hashtag #hopingtoadopt has more than 45,800 posts from people using Instagram to connect with pregnant women.
Every state has different adoption laws, Wisotsky says. In Georgia, a new law allows adoptive families with a pre-placement approved home study to advertise on different platforms including social media.
After a couple finds a match on social media, that’s when attorneys and adoption agencies get involved to oversee the process, Wisotsky says. The first thing an adoption attorney will do is ask for proof of pregnancy.
“The truth is that there aren't a lot of infants for adoption. The wait for an infant adoption can be two years,” she says. “And so I think that people are just looking at all their options.”
Even after this painful experience, Alyssa and Isaac Short are still hoping social media can help them start a family through private adoption because they can’t afford an adoption agency.
“We want a family so bad that we are willing to put ourselves out there,” Isaac Short says.
In the U.S., adopting through an agency costs $43,000 on average and only 62% of couples are matched within the first year of working with the agency, according to infertility and adoption support nonprofit Creating a Family.
Older couples are also turning to social media to match with expecting mothers because some agencies won’t work with them due to their age, Wisotsky says.
She recommends hopeful couples lookout for key red flags such as if the biological mother refuses to meet with social workers or attorneys, and if she won’t name her doctor or the hospital where she plans to deliver the baby.
This segment aired on September 11, 2019.