Consumers may grumble about funeral prices but cases of outright theft are relatively rare among established funeral homes. They do occur, though, as a case now playing out in Evansville, Indiana, shows.
Caroline Marie Rich, 37, who had worked as a “family services counselor” for an Evansville funeral home is accused of stealing nearly $40,000 from four families, including one whose three-year-old son died when he was left in a parked car on a college campus. Rich allegedly collected about $18,000 from the boy’s family, then pocketed all but $1,000.
In one of the other cases, she allegedly asked a family to deposit $9,000 into her personal Paypal account to cover the costs of a grave marker. Another family allegedly paid more than $8,000 into Rich’s Paypal account for various charges and a third wrote a check to get the memorial book from a recent funeral service, police say. None of the money went to the funeral home.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding said families who pre-planned funerals with Rich’s employer, the Alexander Funeral Home, in the last four years should contact the funeral home to make sure the planning was actually done and the money was properly deposited. He said the funeral home had fully cooperated with the investigation.
AARP warning signs
Most funeral homes are honest but some are, as the saying goes, more honest than others. AARP says you should consider it a warning sign if you encounter either of these situations:
- A funeral home does not show you an itemized price list before you discuss arrangements, as required by the Funeral Rule.
- A funeral director tries to make you feel guilty for not purchasing the most expensive products and services.
AARP also cautions that prepaid funeral plans have pitfalls as well.
“Regulations vary widely from state to state, and you might not be protected if, for example, the funeral home you dealt with goes out of business or you move out of the state where you bought the plan. Find out about cancellation policies, and what regulations your state has in place to ensure the money you paid will be there for the funeral when the time comes,” the seniors organization cautions.
Tips from the FBI
The FBI offers these tips to avoid funeral and cemetery fraud:
- Be an informed consumer. Take time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help make difficult decisions. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed general price lists over the telephone or in writing.
- Educate yourself fully about caskets before you buy one, and understand that caskets are not required for direct cremations.
- Understand the difference between funeral home basic fees for professional services and any fees for additional services.
- Know that embalming rules are governed by state law and that embalming is not legally required for direct cremations.
- Carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing, and make certain that all of your requirements have been put in writing.
- Make sure you understand all contract cancellation and refund terms, as well as your portability options for transferring your contract to other funeral homes.
- Before you consider prepaying, make sure you are well informed. When you do make a plan for yourself, share your specific wishes with those close to you.
- As a general rule governing all of your interactions as a consumer, do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds. These decisions are yours and yours alone.
FTC Funeral Rule
The Federal Trade Commission has strict rules about how funeral service providers should conduct themselves. The FTC Funeral Rule allows you to compare prices among funeral homes, and makes it possible for you to select the funeral arrangements you want. It’s important to note that the rule does not cover third-party sellers, like casket and monument dealers, or cemeteries that are not part of a funeral home operation.
The FTC has more extensive information on its Shopping for Funeral Services website.
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