Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 January 2008 01:41 )
Loewen Vet Scam
On a flyer picked up at the regional VA hospital:
The Military Gardens has been rededicated for veterans ex-service personnel and their families. Veteran space No Charge. Spouse and family members of veterans one half off burial space. Proof of honorable discharge required.
In the past ten years, thousands of veterans and their families have reserved their property so a limited number of spaces are still available Therefore, immediate preregistration is advisable. To receive your eligibility certificate and other valuable veterans information, fill out and mail coupon below or call:
Sunset Memorial Park
Cemetery & Funeral Home
2250 St. Anthony Blvd., N.E., Minneapolis, MN 55418
One WWII veteran and his daughter paid a visit to this Loewen-owned operation. The veteran and his wife live on a very limited social security income, so burial cost was a serious concern. The sales rep at Sunset told them that the national cemetery at Ft. Snelling was running out of space, so it was a good thing they came in. (This is a blatant lie. The VA predicts enough space to last another 50 years, and burial is free to veterans and spouses.)
The family was never given price information for all the available lots. Instead, they were shown to an area of high-priced lots (nearly triple the price of the least-expensive one quoted over the telephone to an inquiring caller three months later). The family didn't see any markings to indicate that what they were shown was the Military Gardens, but the whole experience was a bit overwhelming, they said. Telling them that urns and urn vaults were required, the sales rep cranked up the bill for the aging veteran and his wife—to over $3,400 for the burial of cremated remains on a single lot that was supposed to be "free"! No "other valuable veterans information" was forth-coming.
When this was brought to the attention of the regional VA office, one staffer called the cemetery/funeral home—"shopping" for the veterans' burial deal. He was told that he had to bring in discharge papers so they could be "sent to Washington, DC." When the staffer told the sales rep he thought they were already on file in St. Louis, the rep quickly replied, "Oh, yeah, that's the same place."
The angry staffer has since made sure all of the misleading flyers have been removed from the VA hospital, and the family is seeking the return of their initial payments.
If you feel you were misled about veterans' benefits and pressured into purchasing cemetery goods and services at a high price, give the FAMSA office a call: 800-765-0107.
In Ponca City, Oklahoma, Loewen has made a bid to buy a local IOOF Cemetery, currently being run as a nonprofit operation as required by law. The County Commissioners must determine that a sale would not alter the operations before approving such a sale. At a recent meeting, one Loewen attorney was reported as saying: "Let's just talk in the 4th grade vernacular. We are talking about putting dead people in holes in the ground. That's not going to change whether Loewen is doing it or someone else is."
(A survey of a dozen Oklahoma cemeteries, however, shows that prices are, on average, $1,000 higher at chain-owned cemeteries.)
But there is opposition among the local Ponca City residents—among them, an independent monument dealer, another cemetery operator whose cemetery actually might benefit if Loewen moved in and raised prices, a Hospice social worker, and a woman who reports that Loewen pulled up rose bushes at the Rose Hills Cemetery in California (to reduce maintenance).
One has to wonder how Loewen can promise—as it has in its application—to continue to run the cemetery as a nonprofit operation. Or why anyone would believe such a promise. According to Loewen's Quarterly Report, June 30, 1997: "The Company's cemetery division . . . continued to show strong growth. . . . Profits from cemetery operations rose to $35.9 million, an increase of 70 per cent. Cemetery operating margins [profit] increased to 33.6 percent, compared to 31.2 per cent for the second quarter of 1996." Does Loewen want to own the IOOF cemetery out of the goodness of its heart?
Such goodness apparently does not extend to obeying the law. In the November 17, 1997 issue of Funeral Service Insider: "It's 'pretty much a done deal,' [the Loewen lawyer] predicts, dismissing the opposition. If not, he would advise his client to challenge the law in court or simply pay the $500 — the only fine for violating the law."
If you don't know who owns the cemeteries in your town, you might want to find out.
Many funeral homes are now requiring "personal identification" or ID viewing prior to cremation, hoping that when you see Mom in a cardboard box, someone will ask if there isn't something a little nicer. In fact, this tactic was recommended at a funeral industry symposium—Keys to Cremation Success, "How to Add $1,400 to Your Cremation Calls"—where the speaker admitted that such a maneuver was self-serving. Unless this occurs after a plane crash, for example, where there might be a legitimate doubt regarding the identity of the deceased, this is, indeed, a despicable and manipulative tactic. The funeral home certainly isn't going to show you the wrong body.
Not only is it a basic responsibility of the funeral home to be certain of the identity before ever taking custody of a body, it is also a reasonable expectation that the funeral home will not co-mingle bodies or "lose" the identification. Yes, occasionally there are stories about the wrong body being cremated or the wrong body in the casket for visitation, but these represent sloppy funeral home practices, not a failure to identify.
Some funeral homes have the gall to charge for this "required" viewing or for "preparation for ID viewing." According to the FTC, you may CERTAINLY decline either of these charges unless you specifically asked for private family viewing or unless there is a state law requiring personal ID viewing by next-of-kin. FAMSA knows of no such laws.
A son went to the nursing home to sign the permit for cremation after staff from an SCI-owned funeral home arrived to pick up his mother's body there. Although the nursing home staff had most certainly already done so, he was asked to identify his mother's body. When he said he had no desire to see his mother's body, he was asked to sign the following:
ELECTION NOT TO IDENTIFY BY ACTUAL VIEWING
I, _____________, having declined to make identification through actual viewing of the remains of ___________________________, my ____________________, hereby agree to indemnify and hold [an SCI-owned funeral home] and its officers, directors, shareholders, affiliates, agents, employees, successors, and assigns harmless from any and all claims, liabilities, damages, losses, suits or causes of action (including attorneys' fees and expenses of litigation) brought by any person, firm or corporation or the personal representative thereof, relating to or arising out of such failure to identify.
I understand that [the named SCI-owned funeral home] will wait three (3) additional days after all papers and/or forms required by law have been completed and filed with the appropriate governmental agencies before proceeding with cremation and will charge a storage/ refrigeration fee for the same.
Stressed at his mother's death and all that he needed to do while juggling work commitments, the son signed the form thinking it was a simple release. At no time was he told how much the storage fee would be, he claims. Six days later, he got a bill for $250 dollars more than he expected: storage for five days at $50 per day. Paperwork indicated that the bill had to be paid by the next day, a Friday, but he put off doing so to seek legal help. By the following Tuesday, the funeral home became threatening after a FAMSA inquiry—additional storage would be charged because of the son's delay . . . because he had not signed any "contract." Even though the son had signed a permit to cremate when the funeral home picked up his mother's body at the nursing home, FAMSA was told that the body had not yet been cremated because of the lack of a "contract." At no time—until Tuesday— was the son informed, he says, that a "contract" was the pivotal piece of paperwork necessary before his mother could be cremated. Eleven days had now elapsed with his mother's body stored in a cooler. One other reason the son was unwilling to sign the contract: His signature would indicate that he had been given all price and other disclosures required by the FTC prior to making any arrangements. Such information came after-the-fact—with the bill—and he had no intention of signing a false statement.
In legal terms, the son was a victim of duress and undue influence, not to mention the FTC violations that were committed. There was no legal reason to hold the body for three days AFTER all paperwork was filed, and the funeral home may NOT impose such a charge, let alone without notifying the consumer how much the charge will be. FAMSA is filing complaints with state and federal agencies on the son's behalf, but other consumers should be forewarned about this new manipulation of cremation customers.
Greedy and Outrageous Tactics
On the back of a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected/Purchase Agreement supplied by an SCI-owned funeral home—under Terms and Conditions—there appears the following, "LIMITATION OF DAMAGES AND REMEDIES: By signing this Agreement you expressly waive, and you agree that you shall not be entitled to recover, consequential damages or losses of any kind, based on negligence. [Is this permission for the funeral home to be as negligent as it wants to be?] You further agree that recovery of direct or actual damages shall not exceed the amount of total charges for goods and services under this Agreement and acknowledge and agree that emotional distress will not be one of the claimed items of damage for any breach of contract." [No matter how egregious the actions of the funeral home might be, one obviously isn't supposed to get upset—or hold the funeral home responsible for making you upset. This reads like a license for consumer abuse!]
Under ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF DISCLOSURES/DISCLAIMER, the above SCI Purchase Agreement has an item: "You were advised that the funeral firm's cost may be different based on volume or cash discounts or other professional/trade customs where permitted by state or local law."
Translation for consumers: We told you (in mirky wording) that we would mark up Cash Advance items, but we are not required by the FTC to tell you how much we've jacked up the prices of items you could arrange for yourself—i.e., the obituary, flowers, arrangements with clergy or other outside parties.
At a Stewart-owned cemetery in Pennsylvania and in Florida (and elsewhere?), families are being required to purchase urn vaults for the interment of cremated remains. One family was told this was required by the EPA as a health precaution. NOT so! There are NO federal or state requirements for an urn vault. Such a requirement is nothing more than a new tactic to line the pockets of greedy corporations.
In both of the above cases, the families were told the urn vault would be $495—an outrageous price. When one suggested he would purchase the vault somewhere else, he was told there would be a $75 "inspection fee." This should be outlawed. Unfortunately, cemeteries are permitted to set their own policies, and there is little consumers can do about it at this time. Write to your Congressional senators and representatives. Demand that cemeteries be brought under the Fair Trade Practices of the FTC Funeral Rule.
On the General Price Lists at Loewen-owned funeral homes, we are seeing wording that appears to be misleading and illegal: "Embalming is a chemical process which provides temporary preservation of the body and eliminates health hazards." (emphasis added)
According to the Center for Disease Control, there is NO public health purpose served by embalming. This is the only country where embalming is widespread, thanks to industry perpetration of such myths as the one above. Once embalmed, the undertaker is usually successful in selling you an expensive casket for the "beautiful memory picture."
At at least one Loewen-owned mortuary, when a family is choosing an immediate cremation or burial without other services, the "counsellor" signals another employee. The employee then places a call which is answered by the counsellor in the arrangements room. The family is told, "Someone is calling to see when they can come pay their respects to your Dad." If one call isn't enough to add embalming and calling hours to the arrangements, another call will come in.
If families don't purchase an expensive urn for cremated remains, require them to purchase a $45 temporary container. But be sure to stamp it "Temporary Container" on all four sides, advises one industry newsletter. SCI funeral homes are already doing this. When one woman balked—smart enough to know that the crematory would, of course, supply a container—she was sneeringly told she could probably find something at a Payless Drugstore.
"Gay-Friendly" SCI in England?
The following is from an article by David Northmore in "The Pink Paper," a British publication, dated November 1, 1996:
A multi-million dollar American corporation is cashing in on AIDS deaths in the UK via a helpline claiming to direct the bereaved to gay-friendly undertakers.
An investigation by the Pink Paper has revealed how relatives and partners are likely to be referred to one of the 370 UK funeral firms operated in Britain by the helpline's owners, Texas- based Service Corporation International (SCI).
The Corporation is now being probed by the Department of Trade for "acting against the public interest," and has already been slammed by the Advertising Standards Authority for issuing misleading advertisements.
Last year the Corporation launched a National Gay Funeral Advice Helpline claiming to offer the gay and lesbian community a network of "the highest standard of professional, compassionate and unbiased funeral services available."
But the Pink Paper has established the helpline is a marketing front for Service Corporation International's UK-wide chain of undertakers. It operates from an address in Kensington Park Road, south London, which is shared with Ashton Funeral Service—a subsidiary of the company.
The helpline's manager, Richard Van Nes, said callers are referred to SCI undertakers, but claimed the organisation's database also includes independent gay and gay-friendly funeral directors.
The Pink Paper put this to the test by calling the helpline and asking for details of gay-friendly funeral directors in Brighton. Two independent gay-owned or managed undertakers operate in the area, but the helpline only referred us to George Newman and Son—part of SCI.
. . . Sarah Bavil of the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors said: "Any respectable funeral director will be gay-friendly. To emphasize the gay issue, with references to HIV and AIDS, implies 'we want your money.' It is clearly very tacky advertising."