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Funeral Scams And How to Avoid Becoming A Victim

Posted on Tuesday, January 2, 2024
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by Outside Contributor
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Religion, death and dolor - funeral and cemetery; funeral with coffin

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Losing someone close to you is incredibly painful. If you’re responsible for planning and/or paying for a loved one’s funeral, it can add stress to an already difficult time. Unfortunately, there are fraudsters who want to take advantage during this period. While the vast majority of funeral service providers are honest and trustworthy, sometimes the scammer is a funeral home director.

With these type of scams, a funeral director may bill for extra features to funeral packages that weren’t part of the original agreement with the customer. They may also pressure customers into paying these charges immediately by threatening to delay or not perform agreed upon services. To protect yourself and your family, it’s essential to understand the warning signs.

How Funeral Scams Work

In the midst of being upset, tired and grieving, victims of funeral scams may not even realize they’re getting scammed until it’s too late. These are three common scams:

  • Funeral price scams. In this type of scam, a funeral director gains the trust of someone struggling through the death of a loved one and adds features and items to the services without the customer’s consent. [1]
  • False claims and advertisements. In some cases, a funeral home or crematorium may place intentionally inaccurate advertisements. In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against a business that claimed to provide full funeral and cremation services. The business gave customers lower, false prices up front. But later they’d outsource cremation to a third party and pass that cost to customers — who never consented — in the final price. The funeral home, at times, even withheld cremated remains until customers paid the higher prices. [2]
  • Funeral staff impersonation. Fraudsters find the contact information of a family that’s planning a funeral. They falsely claim to work for the funeral home that the family selected and demand immediate payment or else the funeral will be cancelled. [3]

Scams like these often succeed because many people aren’t familiar with the process or the costs of funerals, burials or cremations. In 2021, the national median cost for an adult funeral with a viewing and burial was nearly $8,000, and the median price for a viewing and cremation was just under $7,000. [4]

Fraudsters take advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge to tack on additional prices, services or made-up rules to drive up the bill. [5] As a result, victims may think the charges seem reasonable at the time, but later discover they’ve paid thousands of dollars extra in unnecessary fees or services.

A Typical Example of a Funeral Scam

This fictional story of Maria Olson closely represents how a typical scam could unfold.

Maria Olson recently lost her husband, Steven, in a car accident. While they’d been married for over 30 years, Maria and Steven hadn’t discussed what would happen if one of them passed. When Steven’s unexpected death occurred, Maria struggled to know where to start.

She contacted the first local funeral home she found online and asked for guidance. The funeral director seemed attentive and helpful, giving her a quote for a funeral package that appeared reasonable. During his life, Steven was relatively frugal and practical in his purchases. Therefore, Maria chose a simple yet elegant coffin and funeral service that reflected his personality. However, during the funeral service she saw certain details, decorations and other arrangements she hadn’t consented to. Even the coffin looked fancier than the one she remembered selecting.

When Maria got the bill a week after the burial, she was shocked. The expenses were nearly $12,000 — about $4,000 more than the original agreed upon amount. In her grief, Maria didn’t have the energy or the will to argue, though she didn’t have enough funds to pay the bill. Instead, wanting to just be done with it all, she borrowed money to cover the charges.

How to Help Avoid Funeral Scams

Here are some tips to help avoid falling victim to funeral scam:

  • Discuss plans with loved ones. Before you or your loved ones pass, consider discussing what you’d like for your funeral services and resting place. It can help prevent additional expenses and frustration when the time comes.
  • Ask for a general price list. The FTC requires funeral homes to provide a written price list for every service and package they offer. [6] Make sure the costs for the funeral services you want align with your budget.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. If the funeral director is offering you a package or service you don’t want, say no. Don’t let anyone pressure you or a loved one into spending more than you need or can afford.
  • Get a written confirmation of your order before you pay. Ask the funeral director to provide an itemized list of the specific, agreed upon services you requested and the prices for each. Review it before moving forward so you know the final bill. [7]
  • Know your rights. The FTC enforces “The Funeral Rule.” It’s a list of consumer rights when dealing with funeral homes. [8] Review the list to know what is and isn’t allowed by funeral home directors.
  • You have options. You don’t have to work with the first funeral home you come across. Take a little time to go over your options and talk to others to learn about their experiences. You can also look for funeral home reviews and ratings through sites such as the Better Business Bureau. [9]

Have the Talk, Make a Plan

It may be challenging to think about what you or your loved one may want for a final farewell. But having these conversations and setting a plan beforehand can help reduce the risk of falling victim to a funeral scam.

This content is brought to you by Travelers. AMAC members receive special discounts and competitive rates on auto and home insurance from Travelers.

To learn more about how to save on Home, Renters and Auto Insurance, visit this Travelers website or call 866-675-9167.

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