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: