A recent story posted on Associated Content is titledExposing Funeral Home Scams.”

 Written by Jamie K. Wilson, the story is a general overview of the industry by a casual observer who, it seems, has turned two or three sensational stories about isolated criminal behavior into a indictment of the entire industry. 

She begins a section on sales tactics she mistakenly believes all funeral directors utilize with the heading “Morticians: Scruples of Used Car Salesmen.”  It goes downhill from there with headings like “Don’t Get Scammed By Funeral Homes” and “Do you want a stranger to profit from your loved one’s death?”

Presented as well-researched facts, many of these attacks can be dismissed as sensationalism, until you reach the headings that begin to inform your community.  She talks about “The Funeral Rule: Your Consumer Rights” and answers the question “What About Prepaid Plans?” by warning her readers to “under no circumstances” pre-pay for a funeral.

And it only gets worse.

Beyond a normal attack against hardworking, caring professionals that seems to increasingly come from lazy news reporters digging for a sensational story to justify their salaries, this story reaches farther into the make-believe world to bring forth “facts” that just aren’t true.  Such as these quotes:

Modern funeral directors often work on commission, or commission plus salary. To give you an idea of how big that commission can be, caskets alone typically have a 300%-500% markup from the wholesale price.

Few companies offer appreciable commissions for funeral sales, unless you work in the pre-need department.  Most funeral directors are paid a salary without overtime.  That means that the director gets paid the same if he goes home to get some sleep or wakes up at 2:00 am and goes to a family’s house because there’s been a death.  Few directors I know make more than $50 – 60,000 per year for their efforts.

Unfortunately, your pastor may not be a person to turn to. There is evidence that some pastors are in collusion with funeral home directors, and may get kickbacks.

Under no circumstances should you sign a preneed agreement, though you can preplan your funeral with a specific funeral home. Not every funeral home exercises fraudulent practices when setting up prepaid funerals, but enough do that AARP strongly recommends against it.

Doesn’t leave much room for Medicaid qualification or for dealing with the speed of funeral price hikes as opposed to the small amount of interest offered by savings accounts.

Funeral homes sometimes substitute substandard items for your nice ones, and then claim the one you chose was sold out.

This is illegal.  to accuse funeral homes of this (even if you write “sometimes”) borders on slanderous.  I’m personally offended by her use of this sentence because it suggests that “all” funeral homes “sometimes” do this.

For the last decade, four giant corporations have controlled about 90% of the funeral parlors in the United States.

While many smaller firms have spent the last couple of decades bemoaning the rise of SCI and other corporates, they have not had the reach that Ms. Wilson suggests.  In recent years, SCI, Alderwoods and others began selling off underperforming units and lowering their market share.

I counted less than 2,500 firms between the big FIVE funeral service consolidators.  Conservative estimates (and because I’m too lazy to count all the firms in the Yellow Book) show 20,000+ firms in North America.  That’s scarcely over 10%, not the 90% she blatantly states in her article.

WHY THIS AFFECTS YOU

The most unfortunate part of this issue is not that Ms. Wilson got her facts wrong or that she latched onto the misguided few who give our industry a bad name; it’s most distressing that she chose to present her wrong information as fact and distribute it to the world.

Associated Content, the site where her story is published, ranks 552 out of millions of websites for U.S. internet users.  To give you some perspective, here are some other well known companies and how their websites rank:

K-Mart  ranks 1,041
McDonald’s ranks 2,488
Moviefone ranks 17,053

(source:  Alexa rankings)

 Ms. Wilson is reaching a large audience.  People are reading her stories and all the others written by misinformed or malicious journalists.  You community wants to know the facts about funeral service.  When will you step up to properly educate your community?

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