BBB Warns Area Veterans of Questionable Sales Pitches By Casket Company

December 21, 2011
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St. Paul, MN — The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) has been alerted to an out-of-state casket and funeral supply company, which claims to be a veteran’s group.

The company, U.S. Patriot Services, lists addresses in Kansas City, Missouri and Rossmoor, California, and a motto on their paperwork claims they are ‘Veterans Serving Veterans.’ Recently, the BBB contacted the company’s national headquarters – in Rossmoor – to learn more about this claim. However, the company has failed to respond to our inquiry.

From a report the BBB received recently, the company seems to be focusing on elderly veterans in the Twin Cities metro area, going door-to-door and selling caskets and funeral urns. Based on how their paperwork is drawn up, the company makes it seem as though they’re offering interment in National Cemeteries free of charge as part of their sales package. However, all U.S. veterans who are honorably discharged from the military are eligible for free interment in National Cemeteries, meaning this is not a benefit U.S. Patriot Services or any other funeral service company can offer.

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The BBB is advising area veterans to ask the company to verify that they’re actually a veteran’s organization. In addition, the BBB reminds everyone to always request multiple quotes prior to making any purchase. The report the BBB received regarding U.S. Patriot Services indicates the company may have attempted to charge an area veteran more than double for funeral urns, compared to another funeral service company. According to this report, the veteran was able to get the company to refund his money after being made aware he’d been overcharged.

U.S. Patriot Services’ General Manager, Shawna Estrada, has been linked to other funeral supply companies, including a company called American Veteran KCA. In 2010, that company reached a settlement agreement with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. As part of the settlement with the attorney general, all customers of that company received a letter stating the company was not affiliated with the VA, nor any National Cemetery or governmental agency. In addition, all customers who had purchased caskets from the company were entitled to a full refund as part of the settlement, provided they made that request before a certain date. The company also had to pay a $20,000 fine.

The BBB offers the following tips to families and individuals looking to make funeral arrangements:

  • Be an informed consumer. Take time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed price lists over the phone or in writing. Product mark-ups can be significant. Ask if lower priced items are included on the price list.

  • Check out the funeral service. Contact the BBB for a report on the funeral home. Check whether the funeral services director or embalmer is licensed.

  • Be wary of outrageous claims. Sellers who claim to have a product or service that will preserve human remains over the long-term are misleading you. Funeral providers cannot determine how long a casket will preserve a body, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to purchase the more expensive “sealed” or “protective” casket. Also, a casket is not legally required for a direct cremation.

  • Research funeral home service fees when shopping for products elsewhere. The Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at www.ftc.gov has information on charges that are prohibitive.

  • Embalming is not always required. You are not required to have embalming if you choose direct cremation or immediate burial.

  • Resist high-priced sales pitches from funeral industry vendors. They should treat you with compassion; not pressure you.

  • Consult a friend or family member. It might be a good idea to take along a friend or relative when you visit the funeral home or talk to a funeral service representative. Someone who is not as emotionally invested as you are can assist with difficult decisions.

  • Get everything in writing. Compare the posted prices and any oral promises with those listed in the contract. The contract should itemize all prices and specify any future costs. Check the contract for any restrictions.

  • Carefully read contracts and purchasing agreements before signing. Ask if the agreements you sign can be voided, taken back or transferred to other funeral homes.

  • Remember, prepaying for a funeral has advantages, as well as risks. If you choose to prepay, make a well-informed decision, carefully research your options and know your rights (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm). You can always make plans in advance, without prepaying. Be sure to share your specific wishes with those close to you.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public.

BBB hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at http://www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

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