PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- When an adoption runs into problems -- which most do not -- it's likely that fraud is to blame, according to the National Council for Adoption.

[WATCH: Arkansas attorney wants stricter adoption laws following Petersen arrest]

Knowing how to avoid adoption fraud and identify red flags should be something prospective parents prepare for before they even start the adoption process.

[WATCH: Lawyer's advice for parents considering adoption]

Family law attorney Craig Simon of Simon Law Group says there were some signs of potential trouble with adoptions of children from the Republic of the Marshall Islands that were arranged by Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen. He's now facing dozens of charges here and in Utah in connection to the scheme.

"This is a prime example of people being taken advantage of because of the attorney is a solo practice, and the attorney owns the adoption agency, so people aren't going to be aware of what's actually going on," said Simon, who is not involved in the Petersen investigation.

One of those red flags is that all of the adoptions Petersen arranged involved Marshallese babies.

"I would say you don't put all your eggs in one basket," Simon said. "If the agency is coordinating adoptions from China, maybe different provinces or cities in China. But if it's focused on one orphanage from one city, I think you have to be concerned about that."

Craig Simon, Simon Law Group

Click image to enlarge.

Another red flag is if an agency advertises shorter adoption time frames compared to the rest.

"Even a standard adoption -- which we do a lot of here, like step-parent adoption -- that takes a minimum of four months. Sometimes six to eight months. With international [adoptions] you could be looking at a year or more."

Finally, there's overpromising on the part of the agency or lawyer. As with anything, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

[RESOURCE: National Council for Adoption]

[RELATED: Adoption nonprofit says Marshallese victims of Paul Petersen reached out for help]


In the Petersen case, the Arizona attorney general says the investigation is centered on Petersen -- not the adoptive families.

Petersen was also indicted on crimes in Utah and Arkansas.

Josh Bryant, an adoptive father and attorney in Arkansas, told Arizona’s Family that he’s been working on legislative adoptive reform for the past couple of years. He says there should be a national set of minimum standards. If not, he fears situations like Petersen’s case could keep happening to vulnerable populations.

“The initial bill we filed-- it was sweeping legislative reform, it sought to classify some of the things Mr. Petersen is accused of as human trafficking in Arkansas,” said Bryant.

Petersen was charged in federal court, so the new amendment to Arkansas law won't affect this case.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Adoption fraud investigation]

Anyone with information or questions pertaining to adoptions involving children from the Marshall Islands is urged to call the Arizona Attorney General's Office at 602-542-8888. (Click the phone number to call from this story your mobile device.)

Paul Petersen arrested

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