Many NYC Funeral Homes Deny Consumers Pricing Information, Fined Big Time
A two-month long investigation of the sales practices of New York City funeral homes finds may of them are playing fast and loose with city regulations.
Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Jonathan Mintz says the inspections of 579 funeral home resulted in 87 businesses being charged with a total of 275 violations. That works out to a compliance rate of 85 percent. The charged funeral homes could face more than $230,000 in fines.
Manhattan funeral homes had the highest compliance rate, with only five percent receiving violations. Brooklyn had the lowest compliance rate, with 26 percent of businesses receiving violations.
“Coping with the death of a loved one is stressful enough, so planning a funeral should be as simple and easy as possible,” said Mintz. “New Yorkers have strong legal rights to make purchasing funeral arrangements a straightforward process, including the right to get clear and complete pricing information on a price list by the entrance to a funeral parlor or even over the telephone.”
Approximately three quarters of the violations issued, resulting from both in-person and undercover phone interviews, charged funeral homes with pricing deception including failing to have retail prices and price lists visible, failing to provide prices over the phone, and not disclosing that consumers may use or bring in a casket from a third party.
Another top violation included illegally displaying the least expensive caskets separately and more unpleasantly than other, more expensive caskets.
New York City isn’t the only area with problems.
Undercover inspections by Federal Trade Commission investigators in nine states and the District of Columbia found significant violations of Federal Trade Commission consumer protection rules at 52 of 175 funeral homes they visited during 2009. The agency’s Funeral Rule, enacted in 1984, gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements. Key provisions of the Rule require funeral homes to provide consumers with an itemized price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements, as well as a casket price list before consumers view any caskets. The Rule also prohibits funeral homes from requiring consumers to buy any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service. By requiring itemized prices, the Rule enables consumers to compare prices and buy only the goods and services they want.
Avoiding the pitfalls
Dealing with the death of a loved one? Follow these tips:
? Get a price list. By law, the customer is entitled to a general price list when conducting arrangements either in person or over the phone. This list should include the prices for all services and merchandise regularly offered by the funeral home. Consumers have a right to this information before they commit to using a specific funeral home, so they should try to obtain multiple lists and compare prices.
? Don’t pay illegal or unnecessary fees. Funeral homes can charge a fee for cash advance items or services, and merchandise the funeral home pays directly to a third party, such as fees for the cemetery or crematory, death certificates and clergy. The funeral home cannot profit on these items. If you choose, you may be able to pay for cash advance items directly.
You may be charged:
? a custodial care fee, which charges the customer for the days the body is being held, though no services are being performed.
? a transfer of remains fee, which covers transportation of the body from the place where the death occurred to the funeral home.
? You have the right to switch funeral homes at any time. You will need to pay for any services that have already been performed and for which you have given approval. The funeral home must allow the transfer of the body to another funeral home, even if you haven’t paid yet. It may not hold the body in exchange for payment.
? Get a receipt. Regardless of who pays for cash advance items, be sure to get a receipt for these items. When you have made all the decisions regarding the funeral, you should receive an itemized statement of services and merchandise, a detailed outline of the specific goods and services you have chosen and the price of each item as well as the total cost. This must include cash advance fees.
? If you have your own casket, the funeral home is required by law to let you use it.
? Embalming is not required by law in New York State. If you do not want embalming, you have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for embalming such as direct cremation or direct burial. If you select certain funeral arrangements, such as viewing or an open casket, embalming may be required by the funeral home. This information must be included on the general price list.
Although consumer complaints about funeral homes are fairly rare, they do exist. And, as you might expect, seniors are primary targets
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