NBC News and Dateline have uncovered an Internet Baby Scam that just sickens me and breaks my heart for those people who sincerely hoped to adopt a baby.
This story first aired on NBC on July 9, 2006 and involves birth mothers posting notices on the net that they would like to give (make that get paid) their children up for adoption to good parents. Karen and Mark Mantooth tried for seven years to have their own baby, but with no success. Treatments for infertility failed and two adoptions they hoped would bring them a baby fell through.
"That's all I've ever wanted out of life was to be a wife and a mom," said Karen.
Last fall, their dream seemed to be coming true when they signed up with an on-line adoption matchmaking service. Through it, they met a woman named Christy that was six or seven weeks away from delivery and looking for a couple to adopt her baby girl. Many emails were exchanged and they even talked with the woman on the telephone several times a day. The woman told them the couple was a perfect match and that the baby would definitely be theirs.
Meanwhile, another couple 800 miles away in Tennessee was planning for an Internet adoption as well. Lori and Chris Coleman had already adopted one child and were anxious for another. As with the first couple, they were told the same things.
"I am totally committed to this adoption and I want you and Lori to be the mommy and daddy to this baby," Christy said. "You are the only couple that I am pursuing." In another call she said, "This baby is not mine; she's yours."
Naturally, both couples made arrangements for the new arrival and set up their nurseries. With high hopes and excitement, they waited for the big day to arrive. But that day never came. It seems Christy had been talking to both couples.
Lori clued in that something was wrong a month before the expected due date, because Christy suddenly stopped calling. When she Lori tried to call her, she found out her cell phone was disconnected.
"We were so afraid that something had happened to her," Lori said.
She figured that maybe Christy either couldn't pay the phone bill or had changed her mind and was too embarrassed to tell her. However, after a week passed with no word from her, Lori turned to the Internet again to find answers. Through a message board, she linked with Karen and Mark Mantooth. When the couples shared information, they quickly realized that Christy was pulling a scam. They had each received documents from Christy and the address was the same, except for the city. The social security number and date of birth were the same.
Over the short time that the couples were in contact with the woman, she had asked for monetary help for a number of things. The Colemans gave her more than $800: $300 for food and $510 for rent. The Mantooths shelled out more than $1,200.
When the couples could not find Christy, they were heartbroken. Karen called what was done: "Emotional rape." Then they became angry and decided to contact Dateline, which then went on the trail with their hidden cameras to find Christy. First of all, they asked Karen to send an email and to their surprise, Christy popped up on instant messaging. Karen asked her what was wrong and the woman apologized for not calling. She said the baby was still theirs. Her excuse was that her grandfather had passed away and she had to go to Florida for the funeral. She'd also lost her cell phone.
While Lori was still highly suspicious, she pretended that all was well and even made a lunch date in Nashville for the following week. She did not tell Christy that Dateline would be there as well with their hidden cameras, watching her every move.
The brazen woman asked Lori to bring money, as she needed to pay her rent and overdue bills. Since they'd already given her a significant amount and spent thousands more on legal fees for the adoption, Lori only offered $25 to cover the late rent fee. And the night before their meeting, Christy asked for even more, saying she and her daughter were hungry and broke. Unbeknownst to her, Dateline decided to provide the money she'd asked for, as well as a $100 gift card for food. Lori then urged her to go out right away and get some food.
At the meeting, Lori takes Victoria Corderi of Dateline along and introduces her to Christy as a friend. While Christy does look pregnant, she doesn't look anything near to close to being ready to give birth. She said that is because the baby dropped and she expected to have it any day. She even invited Lori to a doctor's appointment the following day. The next two hours were filled with more lies about who she was, (she said her name was Christy Tidwell) where she worked and so on. And before she leaves, she makes sure to get the money she'd asked for.
Of course, Dateline immediately checked out the information Christy provided and found it was all bogus. They even found a mug shot of Christy Tidwell from a 1998 drug arrest. But that was not the woman who arrived for lunch. They discovered through video of Christy taken later when she went to spend the food money, that Christy Tidwell was actually her friend. They used the money to buy baby items, indicating that she had no intention of parting with the baby.
Meanwhile, Christy continued to call Lori with more lies about where she was going and what she was doing. However, Dateline cameras were still watching her every move. Finally, she told Lori she was in the beginning of labor and would soon need a ride to hospital. Dateline cameras then followed her as she went on a
shopping spree. Lori waited by the phone for two hours and decided to call Christy on her cell phone. It was disconnected again and the reality of the scam hit home. Lori was devastated.
"How could anybody be so cruel and so heartless?" she asked.
Dateline investigated further and found that this woman had duped other adoptive families out of money under a different name â€“ Amy Ost Cumbee. Dateline then went after her for an explanation. They found her in a parking lot shortly after she'd claimed to be in labor. She claimed she had stopped the contractions. I'd sure like to know how one does that!
The woman had said earlier that her name was Christy Tidwell Miller. Victoria, who had gone to lunch with Lori, revealed that she was with Dateline and that she knew the name was wrong, even showing her the video taken of her and a friend. At that point, the woman said she would give no information without talking to a lawyer first. Of course, that did not stop Victoria from questioning her. She eventually drove off and immediately called Lori. Much to everyone's surprise, she agreed to sit down with Dateline to answer questions.
During the interview, Amy Ost Cumbee admitted scamming would-be parents, but said she didn't know she did it. She said her ex-husband got her into doing it. She would not admit that it was for the money or for the power she ultimately had over other's lives.
"I've done this before and I just need help," she said.
However, she did admit that she is "a terrible person," for pulling such a hurtful scam.
Dateline further investigated and found out that her ex-husband, Eric, had been taken for quite the ride both emotionally and financially too.
"She is a professional con artist. This is her job and what she does. She's very good at it," he said.
The couples she duped hoped to bring an end to her "career" by filing reports with the police. The Colemans event went to the FBI. However, they found no one knew what to charge the woman with. Apparently, it's perfectly legal for a potential birth mother to take money from a family and then simply change her mind about the adoption.Â
Amy Ost Cumbee has since been arrested in Nashville and charge with identity theft for using her friend's name in connection with the adoption scheme. She's being held on a $100,000 bond and awaited a grand jury hearing. While this is good news, it is not enough. This woman should be charged with defrauding these couples.
There are many adoption resources on line, including web sites, message boards and chat rooms. The message here is that if you're going to opt for a less expensive, independent adoption though one of these sites, make sure you are able to fully investigate the person you're dealing with. In terms of the emotional costs, it may not be worth it.
After the report on this scam aired on Aug. 28, 2005,
Dateline was contacted by other people who recognized
the woman's name. They too had been scammed and
offered even more information.
Â To see the video on this, go here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13301137/page/6/