All scams are, by definition, immoral and illegal. Even so, it’s hard to come up with any as immoral and illegal as funeral and cemetery scams.
A loved one has died, a family is in mourning, and a scammer is willing and eager to take advantage of them in their hour of grief. You can hardly get lower than that. Operators of funeral and cemetery scams know how to do so.
In preparing for funerals, especially when the death is sudden, survivors will often tend to be disoriented and unable to concentrate on costs. That’s what makes them an attractive target for funeral and cemetery scams. Moreover, funerals and burials can be expensive. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation in the United States is $6,260. A traditional adult funeral with viewing and burial in a vault raises the amount to $8,755. And those prices do not include the cost of a grave. The bottom line is that funerals are so expensive it’s relatively easy for a dishonest funeral director to pad the bill without the family even knowing it.
One common way operators of funeral and cemetery scams pad the bill is by padding the coffin. Literally. One common trick used by a dishonest funeral director is to withhold information from the grieving survivors when they choose a coffin. Instead of showing the family a plain pine box first, they will see a series of expensive coffins made of quality hardwoods. Inside, they are lined with silk (rather than cotton), and they may also feature a gasket that’s supposed to prevent water from seeping in (but it will anyway).
Sure, they certainly look more impressive than plain pine boxes. Therefore, relatives planning an open coffin at a viewing or wake will be enticed to choose one of them before they even think of asking if a cheaper model is available. But that may not be the end of it. There are cases when the expensive coffin is switched with a cheaper version before the body is placed in the hearse and driven to the cemetery for burial. Since the casket may be covered by that time with a flag, wreaths, flowers, or some sort of ritual object, the switcheroo may be impossible to spot before it is lowered into the grave.
Do not agree to bury a loved one in a cemetery that is chosen by a funeral director unless and until you inspect it in advance. Is the price of the grave reasonable? Are the cemetery grounds well maintained? Does the price include perpetual care? Are security procedures sufficient to prevent trespassing after hours? Have there been any reported cases of desecration? Seek out the advice and experiences of other families online.
Moreover, can you be assured that the grave you are buying wasn’t previously sold to someone else? Even honest cemetery administrators can and do make mistakes.
If the deceased will be cremated, there is no need for a coffin. If there is to be a viewing or wake before the cremation, funeral homes can provide a rental casket. And no, a body that will be cremated does not need to be embalmed (nor, of course, does a body that will be buried). Cosmetics will suffice if there is to be a viewing.
While there’s no need to buy a coffin for someone who will be cremated there is a need to buy an urn. They are easily obtained online, where prices are competitive. The funeral home can provide one as well but expect to pay more. A lot more.
Be sure, therefore, to read all the fine print before signing a contract. The easiest way to be scammed is to be talked into purchasing something that isn’t necessary.
It is quite common, especially in the United States, for an individual to contract for funeral expenses while still alive. The contract is a package deal that will include every conceivable service from the moment of death to the setting of the tombstone or plaque. The perceived benefit is that dealing with all this in advance saves the grieving survivors from having to make all the arrangements on their own and pay for it themselves.
Needless to say, any of the scams mentioned above can sneak into prepaid plans as well.
In 2013, six people, including a father and son, were sentenced in Missouri to prison for selling fake funeral insurance policies to as many as 150,000 victims. Their company, National Prearranged Services, failed to deliver services for more than 16 years. The six spent the premiums their customers paid on themselves and various business expenses. Throughout that time they also consistently lied to state regulators. Four of the six were fined a whopping $450 million.
In early 2020, moreover, an independent contractor working for a funeral home in Georgia was arrested on suspicion of having scammed at least 28 people out of $75,000 for prepaid funeral services and then pocketing the money. He ran the scam from June 2017 to July 2019.
In light of all of this, it is critical to know that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, adopted in 1984, obligates funeral providers to be transparent and honest about pricing, products, and services. It means that in the United States, you have enforceable consumer protection rights in your hour of grief.
Of course, most funeral professionals are above board. Likewise, it is important to note that not all funeral scams are carried out by funeral professionals. In 2020, it was reported in Great Britain that scammers were calling the next of kin named in obituaries. They were telling them that their funeral payments were declined and that they would have to repay immediately over the telephone. There were even cases of these calls being made before the funeral took place and the families were told that if payment was not made then and there the funeral would be cancelled.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a funeral or cemetery scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.