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Heartbreak in Adoption: The Fallout of Emotional Scammers

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

By Juli Wisotsky

“Heartbreaker” is a term we generally reserve for those who cause hurt in romantic relationships. But being deceived, emotionally strung along, and then dropped suddenly by someone who was never actually committed is not exclusive to a romantic setting. When you put your heart in something, you run the risk of having it hurt. Despite this, we invest our hearts every day; spending time with family and friends, pursuing the activities we love, putting in hard work in the hopes it will pay off… all of this is investment and part of what makes us human. Of course, most of our emotional investments are safe, and we don’t feel anxious about them.

The sad news is, sometimes people intentionally cause hurt to others, whether due to a cruel nature or mental illness. While we can’t stop this completely, there are ways we can act wisely to protect ourselves and warn others when we learn of danger. So, I will use the word “heartbreaker” to describe a woman who has been doing just that, breaking hearts. While she’s not operating in a romantic setting, she has been leaving individuals and families around the country devastated and emotionally hurt through her selfish and manipulative behavior.

This heartbreaker, a woman who goes by the name “Gabby Wabby” (as well as Alyssa, Ashley, Ciara, McKenzie, Skye and Anne in her communications with families), has been posing as an expectant mother seeking to place her child for adoption. She contacts couples and families, usually over social media, and Instagram, and consumes their time and exhausts them emotionally, when in fact she has no baby and never intended to place one for adoption.

Couples have been contacted in various parts of the country, including Alabama, Texas, Alaska, New York, Texas and Minnesota. Within the last few weeks, this emotional scam has been the subject of a BBC investigative report, a Good Morning America show and was highlighted on Robin Young’s Here and Now program on National Public Radio. “Gabby” says she is from Athens, Georgia, although recently she has changed this to Buford, Georgia. Her proximity to our fair community makes it even more imperative that we spread the word and do our best to stop her emotional manipulation.

To understand the seriousness of “Gabby’s” deceit, we must first properly respect what adoption is. Adoption is a process where a person, couple, or family makes their home available to a child in need. It is a beautiful and selfless act of love; it is welcoming into your family a baby, toddler, or teenager and giving them familial support that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Some couples who adopt have also experienced infertility and are anxiously waiting to begin their families. Adoptive families may be especially emotional and vulnerable at this critical juncture in their lives.

Adoptive parents undergo what can be a lengthy and expensive process. The first step is often to complete a home-study intended to ensure that the child will be safe in the home and that the family is financially and physically able to care for a child. There are criminal background checks and mountains of paperwork to complete. Also, of course, the entire process is emotionally charged. Adoption deals intimately with one’s identity as a person and parent, and many children in need of a home have past traumas to be addressed. In all, adoption is motivated by compassion and/or a strong desire to build one’s family. The choice of adoption for families is becoming more common, but the topic has been sadly underappreciated and rarely discussed as an option for pregnant women.

As of September 2018, Georgia law changed so that prospective adoptive families who have an approved pre-placement home-study can advertise for or otherwise seek out expectant mothers who may wish to make an adoption plan for their child. Many families are reaching out through various forms of social media to let their friends and family, and even the public, know they are seeking to adopt a child.

Imagine you have decided to adopt and are happily looking forward to opening your home and welcoming a child. You are excited about the prospect of adopting, and you post on social media that you want to adopt. You make contact with a young woman who says she needs someone to adopt her child. You feel sorry for her as she weaves a tale of being a teenage mother, whose own mother has died. She may even tell you sad stories about her boyfriend who has cheated on her. For a period of days or perhaps weeks, she takes full advantage of your sympathetic ear, unloading heavy emotional baggage through long phone calls and texts. You spend a great deal of time listening and sympathizing with her, meanwhile contacting agencies, social workers and attorneys so you can move towards adopting her child. She says to meet her at the hospital where she’s had her baby, so you drive to the town (or state in many cases) where she says she has given birth.

And then there’s no baby, and you never hear from her again. Worse, you confront her with the lies, and she laughs and hangs up.

She has wasted your time after building up your hopes and dreams, and leaves you hurt and without any recourse to fight back. You’re back at the beginning, having spent your time, energy, and probably money, with only hurt from meaningless emotional manipulation to show for it. This can be so painful that some folks will give up on adoption completely. Sometimes people are embarrassed, sometimes furious, sometimes both.

As no money has exchanged hands (a felony under current Georgia law) there may be no crime for which this woman can be arrested. However, she has possibly committed a fraud by offering you something she doesn’t have. She has also sometimes “borrowed” another’s identity on her internet posts, using fraudulent names and stealing photos from other Facebook members, claiming to be the person in the photo. Potentially she has committed what in Georgia is known as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress requires a plaintiff to prove four things: that the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless; that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; that the conduct caused emotional distress and that the emotional distress was severe. The courts interpret “extreme and outrageous” conduct to be behavior that exceeds all bounds of common decency. I will leave it to the reader to decide wherein the bounds of decency “Gabby’s” conduct lies.

This emotional scammer has not only hurt adoptive families, she is hurting potential birthmothers who wish to make an adoption plan for their child. At a time when an expectant woman is herself quite vulnerable and scared, she may reach out to an adoptive family who has become suspicious and holds her at arm’s length because of “Gabby’s” actions. By destroying trust, “Gabby” is undermining the process by which people connect, a process which is a benefit to expectant mothers, families and children alike.

Additionally, “Gabby” is wasting the time of countless social workers, lawyers, agencies, and adoption professionals, contributing to wage loss and unnecessary expenses to prospective adoption families through the nation.

If you are considering adoption either as an adoptive family or as an expectant mother, I applaud you. It is not always an easy journey, but it shouldn’t be made any more difficult by someone who is either mentally ill or malicious.

Please exercise discretion when speaking with expectant mothers on social media, especially if they immediately begin to reveal extremely personal details about themselves and refuse to arrange a meeting with your social worker or your attorney or tell you who their doctor is, if they have received prenatal care. While these are not hard and fast rules, they are red flags to be aware of.

November is National Adoption Month, so now is a good time to begin spreading awareness to stop this senseless manipulation and hurt and help others to avoid unnecessary heartbreak.

For more information on the adoption scams, please see:

Juli Wisotsky is an Athens adoption attorney

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