Stranger Steals Pregnant Teen's Identity To Scam Couple Desperate To Adopt

The Stewarts with their new baby

Samantha Stewart had known for years she'd be unable to have children on her own. Six years, to be exact. As the 33-year-old from Michigan recently told the BBC, she underwent a hysterectomy at 27, after enduring years of pain from endometriosis and countless surgeries that did nothing to help. And so, after marrying her husband, Dave, and feeling ready to take on motherhood, she looked toward adoption. But by February 2019, the couple found themselves in the same spot thousands of hopeful adoptive parents do: sitting on a very long wait list.

  • It wasn't long before the Stewarts turned to social media, as many parents seeking an open adoption do.

    They set up an Instagram account called @findingbabystewart, filled their feed with photos of themselves and their story, and asked potential birth parents to contact them if interested. 

    Three months in, someone finally did -- and the prospect of having a baby soon enter their lives filled the Stewarts with newfound hope.

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  • The message came from a woman who said her name was Ashley. She was 16, pregnant, and lived just outside Atlanta.

    "Are you guys still looking to adopt?" her message read. 

    "Yes we are," Sam replied, in an exchange later shared with the Daily Mail. "We're working with an agency and are waiting to match with someone."

    "What's the agency?" Ashley asked. "Maybe we can make this happen. If we get to know you guys."

    The pair begin to exchange near-constant messages, and the excitement within Sam began to grow.

    "Are you guys talking to any other adoptive families?" Sam asked Ashley. "I'm just scared of being hurt. I want to be a mom so badly."

    "Nope," Ashley told her, to which Sam replied: "I'm crying."

  • Soon, there were phone calls, too, although looking back, those did present some signs.

    Sam later told the BBC that she found Ashley to be "immature," and after ending one of their phone calls and saying she'd be unavailable while heading out for dinner, she noticed a change in the teenager's tone. Ashley's language suddenly turned abusive -- even going so far as to tell Sam she would make a bad mother. 

    "It's just -- it's devastating," Sam later told the newspaper. "There's no other way to describe it."

    Then again, maybe Ashley's life story explained that one away.

    She said her parents had both been abusive, and that her mother had killed herself. At 14, she was raped by her brother, which resulted in another pregnancy and then, another adoption. But in that case, Ashley claimed, the adoptive parents shut her out, and she lost all hope of contacting her child.

    Perhaps some of her emotional behavior -- and immaturity -- was rooted in something deeper, Sam wondered. Still, the upsetting messages left her rattled, and ultimately, she stopped sending or replying to texts altogether.

    It seemed the Stewarts would have to find their baby some other way.

  • Sam continued to wonder what became of Ashley for the next month, until suddenly, out of the blue, she received a message from her.

    The 16-year-old told Sam that her baby was born early, at just 31 weeks. But by now, an emotionally drained and confused Sam couldn't bear any more back and forth. 

    "Have a nice life and don't contact me," Sam told her, expecting that to be the end of it.

    Slowly but surely, though, Ashley began to break down Sam's emotional walls. First, she gave her information on the center where she gave birth. Then, she sent photos of the sweet baby girl, along with the caption: "She's yours."

    Before she knew it, Sam was once again roped back in.

    "Omg I'm literally losing it," Sam replied. "I can't wait to meet her. I can't wait to spoil that pretty little baby!"

  • For three days, Sam and Dave were truly convinced they'd be getting a baby at the end of this after all. But then, it all came crashing down.

    The Stewarts talk to GMA

    Ashley blocked the couple on Instagram and then refused to answer calls. Just as quickly as she'd flown into their lives, she flew right out.

    It was in that moment that the truth hit the Stewarts like a ton of bricks: They'd been scammed. And it turns out, they were far from alone. 

    A short time later, Sam took to Instagram to share one more post. Not about their quest for a new baby, but about the scammers who prey upon couples who long to become parents:

    "They don't ask for money, they don't ask for material things like a lot of scams do. They want your time, emotional investment and quite frankly someone to talk to while promising you what you are desperate to find: your future child. We need to talk about this."

    A flood of comments began to come in, many of which were from other would-be adoptive parents who were also scammed by Ashley and her alleged boyfriend, "Chris."

    Several of the women, like Ashley Middleton of Kentucky, also spoke to Ashley for hours on end and went so far as to book plane tickets to meet their "baby" before realizing they'd been duped. But "Ashley," as they knew her, didn't exist. After searching Facebook, Sam discovered that the photos she'd been sent of a pregnant mother and her baby really belonged to a 22-year-old named Ashley King, whose identity had been stolen.
  • Sam messaged King to warn her that her photos, as well as intimate details of her life, were being used to trick would-be adoptive couples.

    King was floored.

    "The woman had loads of people thinking that they were going to adopt my daughter," King told the BBC. "It's a really scary thought. Why would someone do that?"

    King has since filed a report with Gwinnett County Police in Georgia, but the BBC reports that they are not investigating the matter. After all, it's hard to prosecute a case like this, where no real money has exchanged hands.

    Meanwhile, an independent BBC investigation led one reporter down quite the rabbit hole but ultimately landed on one suspect: a woman named Gabby, who according to multiple people, has pretended to be pregnant before.

    Without more evidence to charge her of a crime, though, it doesn't seem as if police will be making moves any time soon.

  • Earlier this year, a couple from California also went public with the adoption scam they were lured into by a woman named Elizabeth.

    Laura and Matt Trayte had been hopeful to add a second child to their family when they set up the Facebook page, A Sibling for Hudson. Then, in 2018, they connected with Elizabeth, who claimed to be a married and pregnant mom of two from Virginia, who was unable to keep a third.

    Before long, the Traytes formed a bond with Elizabeth, buying her gifts, texting and chatting with her by phone for hours, and even flying out to visit her in person. But in October 2018, their hopes were dashed when they learned the shocking truth: Elizabeth was not pregnant. In fact, there had never been any baby at all.

    According to the Traytes, Elizabeth never was able to explain her actions, other than to say she made a mistake.

    "What I did . . . I never should have done it," Elizabeth told WYCB, “but I’m not a horrible person. I’m really not. And I really wish people would see that. People make mistakes all the time."

  • The Traytes, just like the Stewarts, needed time to recover from the emotional upheaval, which took them by surprise.

    The Stewarts with their baby boy
    ABC News

    "It was grieving a child that didn't exist," Sam told Good Morning America through tears. "It was really hard."

    "The emotional scams took me -- when I was younger -- completely off-guard," Dawn Smith Pliner, who runs the Vermont-based Friends in Adoption agency, told the BBC.

    But she, like many others, believes that in cases where no real money is exchanged, the reason behind the scam is simple -- albeit sad.

    "There are so many lonely people out in this world today that just want some attention," Smith Pliner said.

    Attention that social media -- for better, or worse -- so easily provides.

    There is, however, some silver lining to this sad story: The BBC reports that the Stewarts connected with another birth mom several months ago and are now the proud parents of a baby boy named Parker.