Saving You From Yourself
I nominate Kinsolving, Troy Dunn, Pam Slaton, Search Quest, Worldwide Tracers, OmniTrace and all other so-called "professional searchers" who have for years, unchallenged and unregulated, engaged in the worst kind of vulture capitalism, price-gouging, exploitation, and manipulation, and who have made literally millions of dollars off of the pain and heartache of adopted persons and those who are searching for them, people who, for too long already, have been unfairly disenfranchised and discriminated against by the adoption industry and state laws sealing birth records. To do so unabashedly, all the while mouthing platitudes of support and lip service to adoptee rights to OBCs - their identity, family history, heritage and the identity of those to whom they are blood related - and engaging in offensive self-aggrandizing and self-promoting television programs without informing their victims that there are many search and support groups with no or minimal fees and hundreds of search angels all over the country who charge nothing and have just as great, or better, success rates, is deserving of a group Demons of Adoption Award. – Nomination for Sixth Annual Demons in Adoption Award, PoundPupLegacy.org
One of the great things about being an independent, free agent (in every sense of the word) Search Angel is the ability to remove myself from associating with the unsavory underworld of adoption. I refuse to, knowingly, have anything to do with any organization or individual who profits from adoption by trafficking babies and children, such as adoption agencies and lawyers, or paid search companies who exploit adoptees and those who love them. If you’re here reading my blog, it’s obviously too late to save you from being victimized by the former, but here’s hoping I can save many thousands of you from losing your hard-earned money to the latter.
There are two kinds of paid searchers: The pay-up-front, no guaranty, such as OmniTrace, WorldWide Tracers, and Search Quest America (which I understand are all tied together financially or have extensive cooperation agreements) and the no-find/no fee firms such as Kinsolving and Pamela Slaton. Frankly, I don’t have as much of a problem with these two companies, which charge fees upwards of $2,500 to $4,000, because at least they only get their money if they make a successful conclusion to the search. My only difficulty with them is that they are not fully honest with searchers and inform them of all of their options.
On the other hand, I do not have one merciful or tolerating word for the pay-up-front, no guaranty companies. I wish people who are considering signing contracts with these firms would do a little research. Just Googling the company name in quotation marks along with the word “complaint” will bring an eye-opening education, and one will quickly learn that the ethics of these businesses are appalling and that they’re even in cahoots with each other. For example, I have been credibly informed that, although Troy Dunn claims he is not in the search business any longer, everyone who puts their contact information on his site is immediately referred to Search Quest America, which is run by Susan Friel Williams, a former Dunn employee. There are also compelling allegations that Dunn receives a kickback for every victim SQA signs up, which he has apparently denied.
Here’s how these companies operate: First, they get referrals by harvesting contact information from on-line adoption registries that have public contact information. They have also spent years scouring the Internet, harvesting sites and have formed their own new registries to entice victims. These searchers will then be contacted by sales marketers who will make grandiose promises and pressure them into signing contracts for minimum fees of $1,500, which are good for only six months and for which there is no promise or guaranty of a completed “result.” These marketing agents adhere to strict company guidelines to persuade the victims to sign. For example, they are not allowed to inform searchers of all their alternatives (i.e., that they can get their original birth certificate in certain states, that they should sign up with ISRR – International Soundex Reunion Registry – the largest free on-line registry in the world) or tell them that there is free, competent, very successful help available in search and support groups and through independent search angels. We have even heard of instances where they have falsely told the victims that they "have no option" but to hire them. Even if they know a case is fairly easily solved (something anyone reasonably savvy on the computer can do by themselves in a few minutes), the marketing agents will push the victim to sign up and pay the full fee, thus boosting the company’s "success stories" with easy searches. Even worse, the sales reps know there are cases that cannot possibly be solved (black/grey market adoptions, or private adoptions where there is no birth name and no non-identifying information), yet sign them up anyway just to get the $1,500 non-refundable fee.
Whenever a consumer who is vulnerable, in confusion and distress,
is not fully and honestly informed of all their options,
it is exploitation!
The amount of money these companies have been ripping off people is staggering. Just an example, an employee of Search Quest America recently slipped up in an on-line forum and declared that the company had “302,000” clients. Accounting for an errant ‘2’ in there (the message was obviously typed in angry haste), I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they have 30,000 clients. In a recent press release, Williams wrote, Since the company was founded in 2008, over two thousand families have been reunited! For the sake of expediency, I am willing to round that up to 3,000. Subtracting 3,000 from 30,000, then, would leave us a figure of 27,000 clients whose cases have apparently not yet been resolved. Then is it reasonable to assume that, at $1,500 each, SQA has raked in $45,000,000 to solve 3,000 cases? (!!) I wonder if the IRS is aware of this? Even just considering the solved cases, it comes out to $4,500,000. Pamela Slaton on her website claims, I have solved over 3000 cases to date. Her fees range from $2,000-$2,500. Again, using the minimum fee, that comes to $6,000,000.
I have been saying for years, if we had put just half of the money and effort that we have been giving to these unsavory rip-off artists over the years into adoptee rights and efforts in state legislatures to unseal original birth certificates, we would have been over and done 20 years ago!
UPDATE - 18 Jun 2013
UPDATE - 18 Jun 2013
Since publishing this post "Saving You From Yourself" I have been hearing more stories of how paid search companies have been scamming and ripping off victims. Some have been successful in getting their money back, but that doesn't make up for the emotional pain and suffering they have had to endure. And it leaves these vultures free to prey upon other victims with impunity. I hope you will all take just a few moments to file a formal fraud complaint with the Attorney General's Office. We have got to put a stop to this and make the public more aware.