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FTC: Stop Funeral Giant From Getting Bigger

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Consumer Group Opposes Merger of Funeral Chain Giants 

July 11, 2013 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Josh Slocum,
Executive Director
802-865-8300
 
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

South Burlington, VT.—Funeral Consumers Alliance, the only national nonprofit protecting the rights of funeral consumers, urges the Federal Trade Commission to deny the merger of funeral giants Service Corporation International (SCI) and Stewart Enterprises (STEI). If they combine, SCI will amass more than 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries from coast to coast, and will be vastly larger than any other funeral home and cemetery chain.

Unlike many other retail chains, bigger isn’t better when it comes to funerals. Unlike Wal-Mart or Costco, SCI’s savings from economies of scale don’t get passed on to the customer family. They go to the company’s true customer, the shareholder.

“It’s alarming to think that a company with a long track record of abusing consumers at the worst times of their lives might get even bigger,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s executive director. “For at least 15 years grieving families around the country have complained to us about the practices at SCI funeral homes and cemeteries. From lying about options in order to boost the funeral bill, to digging up graves to re-sell them to another unsuspecting family, to denying the legal rights of LGBT people to make funeral arrangements for their partners. You name it, we’ve heard it.”

“SCI has devoured the other funeral home chains over the past several years and now is the king of the hill in most major metropolitan markets. And the results have not been good for consumers. These mergers have led to higher prices and deteriorating service,” Slocum said.

Most people don’t even know they’re doing business with a multinational Wall Street chain when they call their local funeral home. “Smith and Sons Funeral Home” may not have anything to do with the Smith family at all. Only SCI’s consumer-friendly brand-name, Dignity Memorial, gives a clue to the ownership. Price surveys by Funeral Consumers Alliance groups have long documented how Dignity-owned businesses are among the most expensive in any region you look.

“Dignity Memorial” is no stranger to scandal: 

Funeral Consumers Alliance has collected hundreds of complaints from families around the country. These families report SCI funeral homes and cemeteries have violated federal regulations protecting grieving consumers from funeral fraud, that strangers are found buried in graves families bought decades before, and that aggressive salespeople (SCI calls them “family service counselors”) have lied about non-existent government regulations so consumers would be forced to buy expensive burial services they didn’t want.

Funeral Consumers Alliance reminds the Federal Trade Commission that funeral purchases are unlike any other in their potential to harm the customer. Families buying funeral and cemetery services are incredibly vulnerable and have been subject to deceitful and egregious conduct. Indeed, the FTC’s own “Funeral Rule,” enacted in 1984, was a response to the overwhelming record of routine deception and consumer abuse across the funeral industry.

“This is not a run of the mill merger; this isn’t about whether a $20 retail product will cost consumers $5 more,” Slocum said. “We’re talking real money here. Funeral consumers often make great economic sacrifices to bury their loved ones. The average full-service funeral runs in excess of $7,000 and often for much more at SCI’s Dignity locations. Especially when it has faced less competition, SCI has increased prices and we can expect more of the same if this merger occurs. Given the lack of knowledge about funeral options and the stress of grief, we can’t just say a ‘rational consumer’ will vote with their dollars and choose another funeral home. That’s not how the unique funeral transaction works, and that reality is why the FTC specifically regulates
funeral homes.”


Contact:
Josh Slocum, Executive Director
802-865-8300
 
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 October 2013 10:51 )
 

Knock knock. Who's There? Nobody

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We've long complained that cemeteries escape even the most basic regulation around the country. In Arizona the regulators appear not to know who they're supposed to be regulating at all. From an email exchange between Ruth Bennett, exec. director of the FCA of Southern Arizona, and the Arizona Real Estate Board (which state law says is supposed to regulate burial grounds):

Ruth Bennett: I am looking for a list of cemeteries in Southern Arizona. I understand that the AZ Dept. of Real Estate regulates cemeteries, so am hoping that you have a list you can send me. Please email me this list or tell me where I can find it online and I thank you in advance!

Real Estate Board: Thank you for contacting the Department of Real Estate. The Department does not regulate all cemeteries in the state; therefore, we are unable to provide you with a list of cemeteries in Southern Arizona.  You may wish to Google "Cemeteries in Pima County, Cemeteries in Cochise County, etc" to obtain a complete list of cemeteries in Southern Arizona.

Ruth Bennett: Are you able to provide me with a list of the cemeteries you do regulate?

Real Estate Board: Unfortunately, our database is not set up to pull a specific set of licensees; therefore, we are unable to provide you a list of the cemeteries that we currently regulate in Arizona.

..............blink. blink. ...................

Ruth Bennett: Wow, fascinating! So you have no way to print or email a list of the cemeteries you are responsible for regulating?  So just how does regulating cemeteries work in Arizona if you do not have a list of the cemeteries you regulate? Who is responsible for inspections and how does that person know what cemeteries to inspect?

Arizona Real Estate Board, back to you. 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 July 2013 13:02 )
 

NPS Preneed Scandal UPDATED 7-5-2013

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UPDATE 7-5-2013

NPS Executives Plead Guilty In $600 Million Ponzi Scheme

Read the full article at Riverfront Times

 

UPDATE 6-2013—Jim Cassity, Brent Cassity, and others to go on trial for NPS Preneed Ponzi Scheme

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

One of six people accused of bilking customers out of as much as $600 million in a pre-arranged funeral scam admitted her role on Monday, as the rest of the defendants prepare to go to trial.

Sharon Nekol Province, 69, of Ballwin, pleaded guilty in federal court here to six counts of the 50-count indictment.

....

They include James Douglas Cassity, of Clayton, who bought the company in 1979; his son, Brent Cassity, also of Clayton, who helped run the companies; Randall K. Sutton, of Chesterfield; Howard A. Wittner, of Chesterfield; and David R. Wulf, of St. Louis County.

They face additional charges of embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy, all allegedly committed through a lengthy series of money transfers. The network of trusts and businesses named in the indictment include National Prearranged Services, Lincoln Memorial Life Insurance Co., Memorial Services Life Insurance Co. and Forever Enterprises, former owner of funeral homes in the St. Louis area.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 09 July 2013 15:09 ) Read more...
 

Join PBS Discussion on Funerals

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Public Television wants to hear from you. In conjunction with a soon to be released documentary about African-American funerals, PBS has a discussion page up asking readers their thoughts about a variety of funeral-related questions. 

 

 

LGBT Funeral Rights

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Karen Zinn's heart2soul.com has a new article on the pitfalls lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face when planning funerals for their partners. LGBT folks take note! If your state doesn't have same sex marriage you're likely to run into legal hurdles involving who has the right to make decisions about the disposition of the body. Having a healthcare power of attorney is not enough. 

Check out the article, and also our list of Designated Agent For Body Disposition laws by state. 

 


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