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Scandal at the Morgue: Beware Shady Expenses

By Eric Reed

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- When you bury a loved one, the last thing you want to deal with is a pushy salesman. Yet, for many people, it turns out that's exactly what's happening.

According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission, a recent investigation found nearly 20% of funeral homes visited were in violation of the agency's consumer protection laws. The businesses in question, 23 out of 127, are spread across eight states and were visited by undercover investigators posing as consumers.

The parlors in question were found in violation of the Funeral Rule, a regulation enacted in 1984 that requires every funeral home to deliver a specific, itemized list of all goods and services called a General Price List, or "GLP." The funeral home must deliver this GLP before offering any kind of package deals and must include realistic information about the customer's actual needs.

The FTC adopted this rule to make sure that businesses don't take advantage of consumers when they're at their most vulnerable, swooping in with tied-together packages and easy paperwork for families who are only worried about how they'll deal with the death of a loved one. Easy paperwork is admirable of course, especially during a difficult time, but not when it comes with extra costs lining an imported teak wood coffin.

According to Craig Tregillus, Funeral Rule Coordinator for the FTC, this kind of predatory practice used to be commonplace.

"Back in the '50s and '60s and '70s if you walked into a funeral home and only wanted a direct cremation, as many people do today, you basically had to pay the price for a full funeral," Tregillus said, "because that was the only thing the funeral home would sell you. And that was why the Funeral Rule was put out, to unbundle that service so that you could buy only what wanted or needed."

Similar, somewhat ironically, to weddings, every aspect of a funeral seems loaded with meaning. When a funeral director pushes expensive packaged options, customers can often feel like it's disrespectful to a loved one's memory to eliminate them based on money. Unfortunately, this can also lead to spending far more than the customer had wanted.