Although all scams are horrible, funeral scams are one of the most despicable crimes that target seniors. Making arrangements for funeral services is often one of the most challenging times in one’s life, and having to protect ourselves from scammers is usually the last thing on our minds.
Funerals are expensive; whether it is for cremation or burial, one can expect to spend between $6,200 to $8,700+ on average. Regardless of if you are making arrangements for a recently departed loved one or are prepaying funeral costs for yourself, funerals are the ideal situation for criminals to prey on the unwary.
Funerals are the trifecta of a perfect storm, because most victims are:
- Emotionally vulnerable
- Less familiar with costs and laws
- In a hurry to get things arranged
All three of these elements create the ideal situation for scammers to move in and rob victims of their money.
However, the Federal Trade Commission implemented the Funeral Rules, which they regulate nationwide.
First-time offenders can expect a three-year probationary period, referred to as a “three-year training program.” The training program is enforced by the FTC and the National Funeral Directors Association. Additionally, first-time offenses can expect to pay a voluntary fee to the US Treasury.
Any future offenses can result in penalty fees up to $16,000 per infraction. Since the FTC implemented the Funeral Rule in 1984, most funeral homes have made significant efforts to comply with the new directives.
This article will uncover the most common funeral scams and the best ways to avoid them. Plus, we list the “Do’s and Don’ts” of funeral arrangments to help steer clear of funeral fraud.
- Casket Scams
- Unnecessary Products or Services
- Guilt Tactics
- Prepay Options
- Funeral Announcements
There are a few different casket scams, and not all of them are illegal, some are just immoral. But what all casket scams have in common is that they are designed to separate you from your money.
The first and most common casket scam is the Showroom Scam. The funeral director will show you three caskets, all from their showroom inventory. The first will be the most expensive, next will be the cheaper one and will be somewhat dull when compared to the first option, and the last casket will be the middle of the road option and usually the most commonly purchased.
However, as stated in the Funeral Rule, before discussions regarding funeral arrangements begin, the funeral home must provide a full price list of all of the services and products available.
Because people are wanting to move through the process of making the arrangements as expediently as possible, most don’t stop and ask for more casket options other than the three in the showroom. Additionally, many of us are not even aware of the FTC’s funeral regulations.
The Ugly Duckling
The second popular casket scam is when a funeral home only stocks economically friendly caskets and urns in unattractive colors and designs. These less aesthetically pleasing options automatically direct potential buyers into considering higher-priced options instead.
Instead of looking at their showroom first, ask to see their full price list. Although the price list is supposed to be provided before any sales tactics are implemented, almost 1 in 4 funeral homes evaluated by the FTC failed to provide a price list before initiated a conversation regarding arrangements.
Additionally, buyers have the option of selecting a casket or urn from a third party at a lower cost such as from Costco or Walmart, allowing the consumer to save a significant amount of money.
The Preservation Casket
Selling a gasket to aid in the preservation of the casket and body is a standard sham. How this scam works is that the funeral home offers a $20 gasket, but at a much higher cost, say hundreds of dollars instead. They state the gasket will provide added protection for your loved one and their place of rest.
First, and foremost, there is no way of further preserving your loved one’s remains other than proper interment. So, adding a gasket to the casket will only have the possible result of causing gasses and fluid to build up, consequently causing an explosion.
Funeral homes implement this technique with seniors not because they think us feeble minded, but instead preying on our desire to keep our loved ones physical being as intact for as long as possible. They use our emotions against us.
So, if you are asked if this is something you would like as an add on, the answer is “no.” Note, there are no laws against funeral homes, offering this added level of “protection” as long as it is on the price list provided upfront.
Unnecessary Products or Services
The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral homes from forcing unnecessary or unwanted products and services on consumers. They are forbidden to claim elective services as requirements such as:
- Purchasing packages containing unwanted features
- Requiring people to purchase a casket even though the deceased has been cremated
- Charging additional fees if you choose to purchase a casket or urn from a third party
- Requiring you to purchase a casket or urn if you would like to have the service conducted at their facility
Scammers use this technique with trusting seniors knowing that in our current mental state and need for guidance that they can steer us in direction to best our money.
When you need to seek out a funeral home, remember you needn’t pay for any service or product you do not want or can’t afford.
Guilt tactics are a popular method implemented by unscrupulous funeral homes. Using guilt tactics is a way in which criminals manipulate emotionally vulnerable clients into spending outside of their budget.
The guilt technique is a basic yet extremely effective scam that plays on our heartstrings to buy the most expensive options both in services and products.
Shady funeral directors will use phrases such as, “Don’t you want your husband or wife to have the best…” or “Take some time to think about how you want them to be remembered, though what you chose is fine, we can do so much more to honor their memory.”
How you honor your loved one is up to you, and it isn’t about how much you spend. Your love is not measured in a dollar amount.
Many seniors consider a prepaid funeral option as a way to save loved ones the expense and emotional trial of making funeral arrangements. Unfortunately, there are several ways in which prepaid options can backfire, such as:
- The funeral home going out of business
- The funeral home is sold, and the new owner leaves town with the money
Because of these issues, you need to understand your state’s regulations as it pertains to prepaid funerals as it differs from state to state. Not all states require funeral homes to “protect” their buyer’s money in the event of unexpected business changes
It’s also important to understand the cancellation policy in the event you choose to move.
Prepaid funeral issues are not always intended to be scams, but maybe more of a lack of understanding in the laws and guidelines around these contracts. However, there are times that criminals actively steal money from people under the guise of a prepaid funeral.
For example, the FBI busted a major Ponzi-style scam that was run by a father and son duo. By the time the two plead guilty, they had already stolen more than $450 million from unsuspecting clients.
To avoid possible unintentional money losses or prepaid funeral scams, you should put money aside with explicit instructions regarding your burial or cremation preferences.
Cybercriminals are now using fraudulent emails to announce fake funeral or celebration of life announcements. These scams, often directed towards seniors, use actual funeral home names and logos in their emails, giving them a legitimate appearance.
However, when you click on the link to show the funeral details, the link will bring you to the criminal’s website. After accessing the link, the cybercriminal will then upload malware (malicious software) onto your computer.
Malware can act as a spy to collect personal data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card information. Additionally, malware can:
- Slow your computer performance
- Allow unauthorized and undetected access to your computer
- Cause issues when attempting to connect to the internet
- Result in your computer crashing or freezing
And unfortunately all of this can occur without you ever knowing it happened until it’s too late.
To avoid funeral cyber-scams delete these emails immediately and do not click on the links. Additionally, make sure your computer’s security software is up to date.
How to Avoid a Funeral Scam
Now that you are familiar with the top funeral scams here are few more tips on how to ensure your money stays where it should.
- Most states do not require embalming. It is a practice that has fallen out of favor with the majority of people since it has negative impacts on the environment and lacks long term value.
- Most extras and upgrades don’t provide the value that’s advertised, such as gaskets.
- Be wary of questions like what neighborhood you live in or other inquiries that are fishing to see what you can afford.
- To save money, consider buying a casket from a third party such as Costco or Walmart.
- Avoid being talked into funeral packages many contain products and services that are unnecessary.
- Cremation caskets are not necessary. Crematoriums do not require a body to be transported or cremated in a casket. Instead, a body bag is the only requirement
Do’s and Don’ts
- Shop around. Prices vary from one home to another, also take the time to research pricing online
- Request an itemized invoice before paying
- Take the time to read the contract and understand your state’s laws before committing to a prepaid funeral
- Ask for price lists first
- There should be three price-lists presented before any discussion The three price-lists are: All goods and services, caskets or urns, and outer burial containment regarding vaults
- Allow yourself to be pressured into deciding on funeral arrangements until you are ready
- Most coroners allow a minimum of two days and sometimes a week or more before they require the body to be transported
- Be talked into spending more than you are comfortable paying
- Believe when the funeral home states their products are superior to products you can get elsewhere, most often, they are the same products
- Reveal the amount of money you are prepared to pay
Finally, be aware of other types of scams, particularly romance scams, as scammers often take advantage of people who are emotionally vulnerable.