A young mother promised her baby to at least two different women she met online, only to change her mind after receiving $25,000 from the pair.
For one of the women, a 34-year-old engineer who wanted to be known as Jane, the likelihood that she has been cheated is both a financial and emotional blow. She has a nine-year-old daughter but has been unable to have more children after four miscarriages.
In January this year, she saw a posting by Anne (not her real name), a pregnant Singaporean housewife in her mid-20s, who said on a popular parenting forum that she had "huge financial difficulties and debts", could not afford another child and wanted to give her baby up for adoption.
Anne, married with a four-year-old son, asked for $30,000 to cover her pregnancy-related bills. Jane contacted her and agreed to give her $20,000.
Anne even drafted a contract, stating that the sum would be paid in three instalments. She also promised in writing to return Jane the sum if she did not hand over her baby.
Jane handed over $10,000 and did not suspect that anything was amiss until Anne suddenly stopped providing updates about her pregnancy in February.
Anne gave birth to a girl in March.
Jane told The Sunday Times: "She did not tell us she had given birth. When I asked, she even denied it. After that, she told us she had had a difficult delivery and could not bear to give her baby up. So I asked for my money back, but she said she had no money."
Jane is not the only one claiming to have handed over money for Anne's baby.
Mary (not her real name), a 44-year-old businesswoman who is childless after more than 10 years of marriage, said she gave Anne $15,000.
She too had seen Anne's post on the same online forum, met her in person many times and signed a similar agreement. Then Anne told her the same story - she could not bear to give up her baby and had no money to repay what she had taken.
The Sunday Times learnt that Anne had asked a third couple for $35,000 for her baby, but the childless couple in their 40s declined. Both Jane and Mary said they confronted Anne and threatened to report her to the police, after The Sunday Times alerted them that Anne had taken money from at least two persons.
She agreed to pay them back in instalments.
Jane said they decided not to go to the police right away as they feared they would then not get any money back. When contacted, Anne declined to comment.
Three weeks ago, The Straits Times reported that people are turning to online forums to look for babies to adopt or offer their babies for adoption.
The trend is emerging as there are now fewer babies from Malaysia and Indonesia, where most foreign adopted babies are from, for couples here to adopt. Foreign middlemen are also less keen to work with local adoption agents, as the Singapore authorities demand more documentation, such as details of financial transactions.
Very few local babies are given up for adoption, as the bulk of unwanted pregnancies are aborted, social workers said.
As a result, the total number of children adopted has halved, from a high of 731 in 2004 to 358 last year.
So some couples go online to find a baby. Some, like Jane, also feel uneasy about paying up to $35,000 to adoption agents and prefer to deal directly with the birth parents.
It is, however, illegal to pay the birth parents for giving up their child for adoption, although adoptive parents can reimburse them for prenatal and post-natal expenses, including hospital delivery bills.
Lawyers interviewed said Mary and Jane could go to the police or sue Anne to get their money back.
Adoption scams - where pregnant women promise to give up their babies to more than one couple, take the money, then change their minds - have made the news regularly in the United States. Some women tricksters were not even pregnant.
The cases have led the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to issue warnings about such adoption fraud.
Ms Teo Seok Bee, senior manager of Touch Adoption Services, advised Singaporeans not to adopt a child through online forums unless they meet the birth parents in person and verify their backgrounds.
She said it would be helpful if a social worker or counsellor talked to both the birth and adoptive parents, to ensure they are prepared for the adoption as it involves complex feelings such as guilt and loss.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development told The Sunday Times it "strongly advised" prospective adopters to contact a ministry-accredited agency, Touch Adoption Services or Apkim Centre for Social Services, to find a child to adopt.
A spokesman said: "As with other types of cybercrimes, it may not be easy to take online scammers to task and recover monetary transfers made."