Miracles Lost: A Scandal in Surrogacy
Over a period of nearly four years beginning in August of 2008, Allison Layton, owner and operator of Miracles Egg Donation, Inc., defrauded as many as forty intended parents and couples. Miracles, which supposedly maintained offices in several locations around the world, turns out to have been a living-room operation conducted entirely by Allison Layton. Its reputation was based on a combination of anonymous, often emotionally sensational client testimonials.
Through a careful and deliberate series of deceptions, Ms. Layton – who also worked through the alias Allison Jarvie – operated a business similar to an investment Ponzi scheme. And like a Ponzi scheme, it ultimately proved unsustainable: she fell under investigation in 2011 after missing multiple payments to surrogates and egg donors. She had also strung along many intended parents who had demanded refunds, claiming that refund checks had been lost in the mail or delayed by accounting errors.
Everyone within the fertility community can breathe a small sigh of relief regarding the fact that Allison Layton's company has bilked its last client, but this dreadful story does not end with Layton's conviction. Her actions have ruined the lives of dozens of intended parents, many of whom no longer have the means or opportunity to pursue the services of an egg donor or a surrogate.
“The Commitment is a Sacrifice”
All told, her victims lost an estimated $300,000 or more in terms of financial assets. This money, which had been intended to cover egg donor fees and the costs of surrogacy, was instead used to fund Layton's lavish personal lifestyle. Among other personal expenses, it covered her luxurious second wedding, as well as her cross-country relocation from Glendora, California to Star, Idaho.
According to the Miracles, Inc. website, which has since been taken down, the fees paid by intended parents were made to compensate surrogates and egg donors for their time and personal inconvenience, as well as to cover their medical expenses. This is absolutely in keeping with industry standards, The agency asked as much as $6,500, with $5,000 being earmarked for egg donors. “The commitment you and your family make to this journey is a sacrifice,” Layton conveyed through her company's website. “Hopefully, the compensation below will help your family to have a special gift in your lives.”
Meanwhile, one surrogate mother who actually did carry a child on behalf of a Miracles, Inc. client recounts the story of how she was abandoned by Layton to face $14,000 in medical bills while still pregnant. There appears to have been no aspect of Miracles Egg Donation, Inc. which was not grounded in fraud. Once Layton received money from a client or an investor, it disappeared – and so did she, with months' worth of attempts to reach her by phone and by email going unanswered. Individuals located outside of the United States, having been communicating with what they thought to be local offices in their countries of residence, had a particularly difficult time maintaining any contact with Layton at all.
How to Avoid Fraud Within the Egg Donation and Surrogacy Industry
As grim as it may sound: it has happened before, and it will happen again. As long as there are deeply hopeful individuals involved, and significant amounts of money exchanging hands in individual payments, no industry will ever be without deceitful individuals. However, there are ways to protect yourself from this kind of deception.
You should always choose an established and reputable agency. Allison Layton took advantage of clients in a vulnerable position; they cannot be blamed for her deliberate deceits, but if we look at some of her much-reported practices in hindsight, we can hope to encourage others to double-check their own research in the future. Layton's agency, while brand-new, hand anonymous testimonials avowing prior successes. At the same time, there was a lack of professional testimony regarding her efficacy. Layton had little to mention, anywhere on her site, of doctors or clinics with whom Miracles Egg Donations, Inc. had partnered. One excellent way to find reviews which are far more likely to be the genuine article is to look them up on Google; Google’s local business reviews are heavily moderated for accuracy and authenticity. Social media accounts are also an excellent place to find testimony as to the full range of peoples’ experiences with a particular agency.
A reputable agency will have vivid, individual testimony, including videos and blogs submitted by those who have worked with the agency in the past. This might include clients, donors, surrogates, or professionals within the agency's network. If these elements are entirely lacking, it suggests that the agency is not sufficiently networked to provide the services it claims to offer in a reliable and dedicated fashion. Likewise, if an agency appears to have built up a substantial reputation in fewer than 3-4 years, be wary! Longevity is absolutely crucial.
Most reputable agencies are managed by a variety of individuals. Their management team requires experience in business administration, psychiatric health, and law. Some team members may themselves be former surrogates or intended parents, but a baseline of professional expertise is crucial. When this variety of accredited experience is not present, it should be the first hint that you need to investigate the agency in question further before giving them your money. A reputable agency will invariably maintain adequate full-time staff to handle their needs, including communication with donors and intended parents, without passing the responsibility for such services to contractors. They will also be fully and transparently insured. A good agency cares about its clients’ peace of mind, and will take these steps to provide their intended parents, egg donors, and surrogates with additional assurance.
Due to the large sums of money involved in egg donor and surrogacy fees, the services of an escrow company are mandatory. In the past, there have been instances where egg donation and surrogacy agencies owned their own escrow companies. This would not turn up without an in-depth investigation, one that is typically beyond the scope of an individual intended parent or couple. This issue can be circumvented by ensuring that your escrow agent is through a separate banking institution, and that the account is in your name.
Look at established online listings. Avoid agencies which don't give their physical address, as well as those which don't list their owner or staff members online. Don't be afraid to talk to friends who may have had their own experiences, to seek out feedback from the online community, and to investigate whether or not the agency you are considering does its own due diligence – for instance, are there reports of its hiring unreliable surrogates?
There is no way to be completely safe from the possibility of another person's deception. That is an unfortunate fact, but trusting your instincts and following a few critical steps you can greatly reduce the risk of being caught up in another individual's schemes. By partnering with the right agency, you will see your hopes and dreams brought to fruition in a safe, responsible, and transparent manner, and always with the caring support of a concerned and professional staff to help guide you along every step of the way.