Even the most discerning consumers can be the most vulnerable when making final arrangements for a loved one. They must make quick decisions – often choices with major financial implications – while mourning the death of a loved one. In a lawsuit filed on behalf of the FTC by the Department of Justice, the FTC alleges that Legacy Cremation Services, based in Colorado and North Carolina, also doing business as Heritage Cremation Provider, Funeral & Cremation Group of North America, LLC, and owner Anthony Joseph Damiano targeted grieving consumers with practices that violated FTC law and the funeral rule, including impersonating local vendors and charging people prices significantly higher than those advertised. According to the complaint, the defendants’ response to many consumers who disputed these charges was particularly egregious.
When looking to make arrangements after the loss of a loved one, many consumers begin by searching online for providers in the community of the deceased. Location is a key criterion so that family members and friends can attend memorial services or visitation without having to travel long distances. The complaint uses the example of a person searching online for cremation services in Abbeville, Alabama. When consumers click on the defendants’ links, they are taken to a page titled “Trusted Cremation Services in Abbeville” which claims to offer “compassionate community service close to home.”
That’s what the page says, but according to the FTC, the defendants optimized search results and designed landing pages to give people the false impression that they have a physical location or provide funeral or cremation services. in the requested city and many more when, in fact, they do not.
JThe FTC says the defendants engaged in other practices that inflict injury on grieving loved ones. For example, if people call to ask if they are a local business, defendants would have misled consumers either by claiming to be a local business or by saying that they work with crematoria in the city where consumers are looking. services. In fact, the Complaint alleges that in many cases, Defendants contract with third-party vendors located one hour or more from the advertised city. Further, when consumers want to know the location of their loved one’s remains, the FTC alleges that defendants have often refused to give them the name and location of the third-party provider. Additionally, the complaint cites defendants’ customer service scripts that direct their employees to provide this information only after the consumer has paid.
YesYou’ll want to read the complaint for the FTC’s allegations of how the defendants misled people about the price, but the bottom line is that despite express representations like “starting at $695″ or quotes for packages” all-inclusive”, defendants often accumulate several fees and charges that significantly increase the cost.
OWhat happens when consumers balk at the price increase? The lawsuit cites three tactics the defendants employed in response: they withheld the death certificate, they added even more fees if frustrated consumers decide to do business with another company — and they even withheld the cremated remains of the consumer’s loved one unless and until the person pays the new higher price.
IIn addition to alleging unfair and deceptive practices in violation of FTC law, the complaint accuses defendants of violating the funeral rule by failing to provide accurate price information over the phone, failing to provide asset declarations and funeral services that include full cost, and failing to disclose that the price charged for cash advance items was not the cost to defendants.
JThe complaint, which is pending in federal court in Florida, seeks a permanent injunction, civil penalties for violating the funeral rule and monetary relief.
JThe funeral rule has been in place since 1984 and was last amended in 1994. Thus, funeral and cremation service providers can hardly claim ignorance of practices that the rule has prohibited for decades. Additionally, industry members are subject to the same long-standing consumer protection principles that apply to any other business. Considering a compliance check? The FTC has resources for businesses in the funeral industry.