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8 Little Known Funeral Rip-offs and Consumer Counteractions

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Monday, April 8, 2013

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A three month investigation by Money magazine has found one in four funeral homes in the U.S. regularly commit crucial violations of Federal Trade Commission laws that were enacted to protect the consumer. One blatant example is that funeral homes are obligated by law to disclose all costs up front, but many fail to do so. Money obtained funeral and cemetery director training tools that “reveal funeral pros sharing tips on how to hook grieving families into going over their budgets and divert them from buying cheaper merchandise elsewhere.”

Today 43% of grieving families choose cremation. Only 26% chose cremation in 2000. This has caused a 27% reduction in revenues for the funeral industry over the last decade. Consumer advocates and industry insiders are warning that funeral homes are under tremendous pressure “to squeeze as much profit from every customer they can.”

8 Rip-offs and Counteractions

1) Some funeral home directors don’t inform the customers that services like embalming are a choice. Many falsely claim that state law requires embalming. However, in most states it is not mandatory and refrigeration is just as effective for bodily preservation. Profits from embalming range from $700 to $3,000, so it is not in the home’s interests to divulge all the facts. Find out the laws in your own state at the Funeral Consumers Alliance web site at: http://funeralethics.org/rights.htm.

2) The American Association of Retired Persons reports that only one in five consumers shop around when planning a funeral. Consumer advocates advise to check the prices at three homes, and more if possible. Comparing prices can be done online or by phone in just a few hours. Be sure to check for both the obligatory fees as well as the specified costs for extra services.

3) A more exhaustive and time-saving search can be done with the help of efuneral.com or everestfuneral.com. Prices for up to eight homes in your immediate area are given and the cost for the service is only about $30. The Funeral Consumers Alliance (funerals.org) provides reduced rates for those who qualify.

4) The casket is the most costly item in a funeral. Copper and bronze models are $10,000 or more. The more commonly purchased steel and wood caskets range from $2,400 to $3,500. The good news is that retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart and independent online stores price their caskets at about half of similar ones sold by the funeral homes. The catch is that some homes disallow “outside merchandise” or charge an extra handling fee. Both are a breach of FTC rules. Lawsuits have been won by customers who were turned away because they wouldn’t buy the home’s casket. Know the laws in your state at http://funeralethics.org/rights.htm. Press the director with your legal rights or search for a home that respects your wishes.

5) The most purchased casket at Costco.com is only $1,300, including shipping. Another highly competitive supplier with a large selection is BestPriceCaskets.com. In most cases the caskets can be delivered within 24 hours. If settling for the funeral home’s caskets ask for a catalog or the home’s complete selection. Often the director will only show 3 caskets with 3 varying price ranges and won’t mention others unless asked. If buying steel, ask for 20-gauge steel, not the far more expensive 18-gauge. The 18-gauge is thicker, but according to consumer advocates, costs $700 to $1,000 more. The less expensive one is more than adequate.

6) Consumer advocates recommend going into the first meeting with the funeral director with an informed and firm list of the services and products you want. This will prevent you being persuaded to buy more. Bringing along a good friend with a clear head is invaluable. Some unscrupulous directors will subtly make the client feel guilty if they want the cheapest materials and services for the one they supposedly loved so dearly.  

An online course for funeral directors approved in 27 states is titled “Upselling Without Upsetting  the Client.” Directors are taught techniques on convincing customers to go about 20% over their budget.  Typical extras are: a decorative urn, a memorial web site and video, luxury cars for the procession, elegant jewelry that holds ashes, and a group of white doves released during the memorial – about $200.

7) Cemeteries can also be very expensive. A plot can be from $1,500 to $6,000. The grave diggers will get anywhere from $600 to $2,000. A simple headstone is about $250. Only six states mandate a price list for the consumer. Consumer advocates recommend insisting on a price list or going elsewhere. Some cemeteries insist you purchase a burial vault ($1,195) when a concrete grave liner ($400) is sufficient.  To know your rights check the aforementioned Funeral Consumers Alliance (funerals.org). If applicable, military benefits can be claimed with the help of www.cem.va.gov.
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8) Paying in advance seems like a smart idea, but the Consumer Federation of America, the FTC, and the AARP advise against it. The Government Accountability Office has found numerous cases of mismanagement. Prepaid contracts are near the top of the list of consumer complaints for funeral and cemetery services. In Maryland, for example, 38% of all complaints were in this area. Disputes are on issues like contract transfers and refunds. Many prepaid clients in Kansas ended up shelling out 40% more than the original price when the time came for the funeral. 

Consumer advocates recommend avoiding this option and, instead, set up a “payable on death” account with your bank. Most people already have adequate life insurance to cover the costs. Beware of glib marketing from the industry that tries to coax people into prepaying. Large funeral chains like SCI hold free dinners/meetings where speakers shrewdly inform prospective clients that funerals are head-aches: “There are 72 different decisions to make!” And exhausting: “We don’t want you coming here on the worst day of your life!”

April 2014 Update

FTC Undercover Inspections of Funeral Homes in Nine States Test Compliance with Funeral Rule Disclosure Requirements: FTC’s Funeral Rule Requires Funeral Homes to Provide Price Lists to Consumers       http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/03/ftc-undercover-inspections-funeral-homes-nine-states-test

Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services       http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0072-funeral-goods-and-services.pdf

Shopping For Funeral Services     http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0056-funerals.pdf


Lisa Gibbs and Ismat Sarah Mangla, “The High Cost of Saying Goodbye”, Money, November 2012 

Photo: John Barnabas Leith  (flickr CC)     


Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.

2 comments :

  1. They are a scam. Most I know are going for cremation. To hell with funeral homes and burial. Let the emotional crooks starve.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello. We are a group of journalists based in London investigating funeral home scams and up-selling. We are aware that the industry is unregulated and bereaved family members have gone through bad experiences. If you have had a bad experience with organising a funeral, feel like you have been scammed or have any information on the industry please get in contact with us to tell your story.

    We are gathering information for our investigation. The process is sensitive and vulnerable people are at risk. Our aim is to prevent others from being taken advantage of when dealing with a funeral in the future.

    Email:
    christina.zhao91@gmail.com

    Thank you

    Christina

    ReplyDelete

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