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Funeral Scams

A Guide to Some Tricks of the Funeral Trade

Funeral scams are a much-talked-about topic on a number of internet message boards. And news outlets across America have found in recent years that audiences cannot seem to get enough of stories about the tactics that some funeral homes use to take advantage of grieving families and tack on profits for goods and services either not needed or available elsewhere for dramatically lower prices. Unfortunately, many (if not most) do not inquire even the most basic procedures involved with planning a funeral, until the moment when a loved one is lost.  This leaves individuals to face a myriad of decisions and arrangements to make at a time of grief, when emotions run high and they are most vulnerable. Often, this is the main reason many funeral homes can get away with overcharging hundreds for a memorial service. Below are just a handful of the blood-boiling funeral scam tales that have become common on the internet in just the last decade:

The stories of how funeral homes scam families can be jaw droppingOne man reports that he innocently hired a former schoolmate to be the funeral director for a family member's services, and he assumed that the $7,200 fee was just the going rate for a funeral. He gladly paid the bill and, only afterwards, did he pay close attention to the itemized charges: He saw thousands of dollars worth of questionable, downright unreasonable fees -- nearly $150 for the use of the funeral home's 20 space parking lot (most attendees could not find a spot in the lot and parked across the street), $100 for the use of the funeral home's coffee pot and filters (family members actually provided the coffee), and the list goes on. The funeral director held firm to his charges and refused to offer discounts even when confronted.

Another woman says that she and her sister lost their husbands within a few days of each other and decided to buy matching caskets -- albeit from different dealers. Comparing notes a few weeks after the fact, they discovered that one sister paid almost $2,000 more for an identical casket. "We discovered the hard way that shopping around really does pay," the woman says.

And still other tales abound in various forms and from a myriad of locales. Some funeral homes are said to offer kick-backs, or large church donations, to ministers who recommend their services. Others work deals with local newspapers so that only funeral-homes may buy obituary announcements (thereby allowing the funeral homes to charge a premium for the exclusive service). And there is no short supply of complaints from people who bought an expensive "sealed" casket because a salesmen suggested (or in some cases even blatantly claimed) that the sealant would protect a body from decay for years. Most customers will have no occasion to investigate this claim, of course, but scientist, and those who have exhumed a loved-one's body for one reason or another after just a few weeks, will testify that sealed caskets, in fact, can actually enhance the speed at which a body decays. No need for expensive sealants, the experts say.

The FTC Funeral Rule helps in stopping the abusive practices in the memorial industryAll of these stories can certainly inspire anxiety in anyone faced with the prospect of arranging a funeral. But it is important to understand that these stories do not necessarily reflect the practices of most funeral homes.

While it is true that the funeral industry has had a history of using monopoly-like tactics to keep prices for items such as caskets and headstones artificially high, it is also true that the Federal Trade Commission created the Funeral Rule in the 1980s to stop the abusive practices. The vast majority of funeral homes are happy to comply with the relatively new rules, and, for those who are not, the FTC has strong enforcement procedures. Additionally, plenty of consumer groups -- and even funeral industry groups themselves -- offer a wealth of advice and information for ways to get the best value for a funeral. These groups encourage customers to ask important questions of their funeral director, to compare prices, and to make sure they understand what they are paying for before they sign an agreement.

As with any industry, unscrupulous operators are certainly present among the ranks of funeral directors. But, there is no evidence that the funeral industry has more than its share of scoundrels. It is simply important that consumers take strong action, no matter their state of grief, to assure that they get no more and no less than they can afford or want.

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