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Preying on Parents

Part: 1, 2, 3, 4

Bait and Switch

Many large adoption agencies no longer post orphans' photos on the Internet. But Yunona still does. The company maintains more than 20 Web sites with flashy graphics, mood music and pages and pages of photos of children. Company president Ivan Jerdev defends the practice, saying photo listings are necessary to link up prospective parents and orphans.

"That's a very good instrument to find parents," says Jerdev. "Because parents want to see the child. They want to have information."

But are the children really available for adoption, or are they advertisements as some critics contend? Jerdev insists the children on his photo listings can be adopted. "They're available when the family signs the contract," he says. But there's a big catch.

"It very clearly states in our contract that we can't guarantee that the child will be available for your family when you are there (overseas)."

In other words, Jerdev claims a particular child is available when prospective parents sign a contract. But that might not be the case months later when the parents go to bring the child home. So if photo listings are so unreliable, why doesn't Yunona stop using them? In a word, business.

"I would lose 80 percent of my clients," says Jerdev. "But in this way they will go to another agency with photo listings and they will have exactly the same problems."

Business is especially important to Jerdev since Yunona USA is a for-profit company. Though he runs an affiliated non-profit fund to raise money for orphanages, all families sign contracts with Yunona USA. And making money is something Yunona's founder doesn't hide.

"It (Yunona) happened not because of charity purposes, but to tell you the truth, because I had to pay bills," Jerdev says.

Jerdev says Yunona started small soon after he moved to the United States from Russia in the early 1990s. Then the company expanded aggressively on the Internet to compete with larger agencies. Jerdev hired a slew of freelancers to run the company's Web sites like a sales team. By 2001, the company reported it was handling as many as 400 adoptions a year with fees running as high as $15,000 and $20,000. Jerdev says he has many happy clients. But PJ Whiskeyman is disgusted with the company.

"It's basically a bait and switch operation because the children they're pulling you in with aren't available," says Whiskeyman.

Next: Mary's Story

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