As an increasing number of Americans choose Cremation over traditional burials, Cremation Scams and Fraudulent Practices are also on the rise. As with IRS scams and Banking scams, Cremation Scams are aimed at people 65 and older. Fraudsters and scammers attempt to take advantage of the sadness, grief and confusion many feel in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one. This is a time of great vulnerability for families, especially those who did not take advantage of Pre-Planning Services.
The best way to combat Cremation Scams and Fraud is education. Here are some examples of Cremation Scams:
- Concealing or misrepresenting prices. Dishonest providers may deliberately avoid providing prices to you in writing or they even increase prices/fees once the cremains are delivered.
- Selling extra or unnecessary services or items. Service providers may try to sell unnecessary additional services, such as embalming or a burial casket, as part of a cremation package. These items can be quite expensive and are considered “pure profit” by unscrupulous funeral providers. Oftentimes, providers will use “high-pressure” sales tactics to coerce elderly customers into buying unnecessary products and services.
- Forcing consumers to buy proprietary goods. Sometimes called “cramming,” a family member who wants to use a family heirloom for the cremains may be coerced into buying an “approved” urn or casket that is only sold by the provider, at a premium of course.
- Misrepresenting legal requirements for funeral or cremation services. Unscrupulous providers may insist that embalming is required by law, even in a direct cremation with no viewing or funeral service, despite the fact that embalming is not a statutory requirement in most states.
Now that you know what a Cremation Scam looks like, here are some steps you can take to avoid falling victim to such scams:
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Cremation providers should be willing to answer any questions that you or your family may have. If a provider fails to answer questions, is evasive or tries to hurry your family into a decision that does not feel right, you could be at risk for a scam. Be sure to meet with family members and even a family attorney to organize your questions in advance. Such questions can include:
- How can I be sure that my loved one’s cremains are actually his or hers?
- How will the cremains be presented to the family?
- How long will the Cremation process take and how long will cremains be held prior to pick-up?
- Do you offer support services for bereaved families, especially young children?
Research the Cremation Provider
As more and more families opt for Cremation in lieu of burial, “fly by night” cremation-only providers have begun to appear. In the same way that you would investigate a general contractor before building a house or hiring an attorney to draft a will for your family, you should investigate the credentials and performance of your Cremation provider. Here are some ways to conduct your investigation:
- Visit the provider’s website and locate the provider’s physical address
- Most provider websites include an “About Us” section. In many cases, you can double-check that information with public resources, including the Better Business Bureau and certain state-specific licensing agencies
- Be wary of offers that may be too good to be true. Contact at least two providers so that you can compare products and services. The more offers you compare, the better
- Read online reviews on social media and other online resources such as Yelp and Google
- Where possible, follow-up with references
Arrange for a Witness be present at the Cremation
Request that a family member or representative (such as an attorney) witness the Cremation to ensure that no mishandling or mistakes in identification happen at any point during the Cremation process. The family representative must be able to visually identify the individual being cremated as a safeguard to ensure to that your loved one’s cremains are being returned to the family. Keep in mind that some states do not allow witnesses and some crematories have specific rules and regulations concerning witnesses, including additional fees to allow for a witness.
Get Everything in Writing
Do not commit to any Cremation services until you have received all documentation in writing and have had a chance to review, including having legal counsel review the documents.
Know Your Rights
As a consumer, your rights are clear under the FTC’s Funeral Rule, which describes in detail how providers of funeral services should provide burial and cremation services. Knowing your rights can help you to avoid the cremation and funeral scams listed above.
The FTC’s Funeral Rule applies to all types of funeral and cremation service providers except third-party sellers like casket and urn dealers or cemeteries without an on-site funeral home. Your rights when purchasing or contracting services for burial or cremation include:
- The right to buy only the services and products you want.
- The right to refuse embalming. Many state laws do not require embalming as the only preservation process. In some cases, refrigeration may suffice. Check with your specific state laws before being forced to pay for embalming.
- The right to get price information by phone without agreeing to buy.Funeral service providers are required by law to give you the prices you request by phone without requiring you to provide your name or other information. You also have the right to compare prices without being obligated to purchase a provider’s services.
- The right to a written, itemized price list and written statement that lists your products and services.
- The right to use a container other than a casket for cremation.A provider might try to coerce you into purchasing a casket for cremation even though no laws require it. The provider must offer alternatives such as wooden boxes or cardboard.
- Know your rights and Cremation requirements in your state.
Not only can Pre-Planning save your family money, it is always better to make such important decisions ahead of time so that all aspects can be researched and evaluated. Rarely are proper decisions made under duress or during a time of grief and confusion.
Veterans Benefits for Cremation
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides certain burial benefits for veterans of U.S. military service that covers free interment in a National Cemetery and associated military honors, and those benefits can also be used for cremation services. Ask your cremation provider how they are equipped to accommodate veterans and their families.
What Can You Do if You Fall Victim to a Scam?
What actions can you take if you experience cremation fraud or fall victim to a cremation scam? Your rights under the FTC’s Funeral Rule are protected by several agencies and organizations, and you can report any experiences of fraud or scams to these entities for further investigation. You can report a funeral or cremation scam to the FTC here. State Attorneys General also investigate consumer complaints pertaining to funeral services. You can contact the Attorney General’s Office in your state by searching online.
Business organizations also track complaints about the funeral and cremation industry. The Better Business Bureau and Consumer Protection Agency pursues reports of scams/fraud, and so does the Consumer Protection Agency.
As you can see above, education is the best way to avoid falling victim to any cremation or funeral scams. At Cremation Society of America, we are committed to providing you and your family with the most competitive and dignified Cremation services available. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.