Days later, they had no idea what had become of her. "It turned into a nightmare." The teenager had been tossed into America's underground market for adopted children, a loose Internet network where desperate parents seek new homes for kids they regret adopting.

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Nicole and Calvin Eason, an Illinois couple in their 30s, saw the ad and a picture of the smiling 16-year-old.

They were eager to take Quita, even though the ad warned that she had been diagnosed with severe health and behavioral problems.

The Puchallas simply signed a notarized statement declaring these virtual strangers to be Quita's guardians. It was the first and the last time the couples would meet.

To Melissa Puchalla, the Easons "seemed wonderful." Had she vetted them more closely, she might have discovered what Reuters would learn: • Child welfare authorities had taken away both of Nicole Eason's biological children years earlier.

Another re-homed child, a Russian girl, recounted how a boy in one house urinated on her after the two had sex; she was 13 at the time and was re-homed three times in six months.

"This is a group of children who are not being raised by biological parents, who have been relocated from a foreign country" and who sometimes don't even speak English, says Michael Seto, an expert on the sexual abuse of children at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group in Canada.

• The only official document attesting to their parenting skills – one purportedly drafted by a social worker who had inspected the Easons' home – was fake, created by the Easons themselves.

On Quita's first night with the Easons, her new guardians told her to join them in their bed, Quita says today. Within a few days, the Easons stopped responding to Melissa Puchalla's attempts to check on Quita, Puchalla says.

But with the rise of the Internet, parents are increasingly able to find complete strangers willing to take in unwanted children.