Rolling Over in the Grave: Three Funeral Scams

Avoiding funeral scams – six tips on what to look out for when planning a funeral: Internet ScamBusters #243

Today we discuss a topic we’ve never talked about before: funeral scams.

We know funerals are not something most people want to think about; however, we suggest you read through this issue now and then remember to look at it again if you ever need to plan a funeral or help someone else who is making the decisions for a funeral. It can really make a big difference, especially at a very difficult time.

Rolling Over in the Grave: Three Funeral Scams

Most people would rather not think about funerals — whether it be their own or that of a loved one. Yet knowing about funeral scams can save families from added heartache when they are already in an especially vulnerable state of mind.

The average funeral with all the extras can easily cost a family over $10,000. For many people, a funeral will be one of the most expensive purchases of their lifetime.

Though most funeral directors are compassionate people who care about grieving families, the chance to sell high ticket items like cushion-lined mahogany caskets or embalming prior to cremation are business opportunities too good for some to pass up.

The federal government protects consumers from unfair business practices with a law called The Funeral Rule. A few of its main points will help you know what to watch out for.

Casket Scam: First Impressions

One way funeral directors fatten profits is by introducing customers to their most expensive caskets first.

Industry studies have shown the average casket shopper buys one of the first three casket models they are shown and usually the one that is in the middle price range.

This means it is to the funeral director’s advantage to steer customers towards showroom models first.

The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to show customers a list of all caskets the company sells with descriptions and prices before showing any models.

The Funeral Help Program advises consumers to ask about lower priced caskets, even if they don’t appear to be readily available. Some funeral homes tuck cheaper caskets away in a basement. They may even be painted “uglier” colors to seem less appealing.

More attractive colors or cheaper models may need to be ordered, but should only be a phone call away.

“At last count, there were over 500 models of caskets on the market for under $1000,” according to their website. If you don’t see what you want at a price you are willing to pay, immediately ask to see a catalog.

Funeral Package Discounts That Mislead

Traditionally, caskets were sold only by funeral homes. But now showrooms and websites sell caskets independently, sometimes at cheaper prices.

The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to use a casket you bought somewhere else without charging an additional fee.

Some funeral homes have tried to get around the retail casket store competition with deceptive promotional packages. They offer “deals” that reduce the price of their caskets, but make up the difference by increasing the funeral director’s fee by a comparable amount.

Mortuary service fees are intended to cover the funeral director’s time to plan the funeral, make arrangements with a cemetery and obtain required permits such as a death certificate. The FTC says these tasks should take about four hours or less and should not be a large expense.

Be suspicious of any package deal that includes a mortuary service fee in the thousands of dollars.

Casket Gasket Scam: Preserved for Eternity

Another deceptive practice is selling “protective” caskets. These include a rubber gasket designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket, theoretically preserving the body from biological entities.

The protective casket has been called the biggest rip-off in the funeral industry. The gasket costs $12 to $20, yet funeral homes typically charge $700 more for models with gaskets than for those without.

The Funeral Help Program says the gasket can actually have exactly the opposite effect. Further, these gaskets could even make the caskets explode. For this reason, mausoleums do not allow the gasket.

The Funeral Rule forbids claims that “protective” features like the gasket help preserve the remains indefinitely, because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.

Six Funeral Tips:

The Federal Trade Commission — the federal agency that enforces The Funeral Rule — offers these guidelines for consumers planning a funeral:

  1. Shop around in advance. Compare prices from at least two funeral homes. Remember that you can supply your own casket or urn.
  2. Ask for a price list. The law requires funeral homes to give you written price lists for products and services.
  3. Resist pressure to buy goods and services you don’t really want or need.
  4. Avoid emotional overspending. It’s not necessary to have the fanciest casket or the most elaborate funeral to properly honor a loved one.
  5. Recognize your rights. Laws regarding funerals and burials vary from state to state. It’s a smart move to know which goods or services the law requires you to purchase and which are optional.
  6. Apply the same smart shopping techniques you use for other major purchases. For example, you can cut costs by limiting the viewing to one day or one hour before the funeral (if at all), and by dressing your loved one in a favorite outfit instead of costly burial clothing.

For more information on how to avoid funeral scams, check out the FTC website, Funerals: A Consumer Guide.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance offers additional tips on keeping funeral costs down.

One last point: some funeral directors really lay on the guilt to get you to overspend. Making decisions beforehand — and recognizing that you don’t need to overspend to honor and show your love — can help a great deal during a very difficult time.

We know this was a difficult topic, but we thought it was important to give you the info about funeral scams that you might need someday.

Anyway, that’s a wrap for this issue. We wish you a great week!