Planning Can Foil Funeral Scams

All week, in partnership with the CBS Evening News, The Early Show has been investigating some of the ways scam artists try to separate you from your money.

On Wednesday, the series, "Taking Advantage," shone a light on the $15-billion-a-year funeral industry, and some of the common rip-offs that grieving people can face, with help from Joshua Slocum of the Funeral Consumers' Alliance.

Slocum says the first thing everyone has to remember, when you walk into a funeral home and begin talking about funeral arrangements, the funeral director must give you a printed price list. That is federal regulation. If you walk into a funeral home and such a list is not given to you when you begin the discussion or anyone seems cagey, that's not a good sign.

And if that should happen, Slocum's advice is to walk out the door. He acknowledges, "That's difficult for people who are facing death immediately and are shocked by it and feel like they don't have any other choice. It is possible to go to another funeral home and you could find that the attitude is different and the prices could be a lot lower, too.

"The main thing," he continues, "when you walk into the door, you better be given this price list or forget about it. If you walk in and start talking about, 'I want to talk about arrangements for my aunt or father,' if they sit down and start talking to you and there is no price list, that's a very bad sign."

Slocum also suggested that you bring a friend with you. "It's good to bring someone who is not as emotionally invested as you are," he explains. "If you lose a child tragically, the husband and wife are probably going to go, but bring someone else, a trusted confidante who does not have much intense emotional investment and say, 'Let's talk about this a few minutes.'"

Another good idea is to try to plan ahead. But Slocum emphasizes that he does not mean that you should pay ahead.

In most situations, he says, it is a very bad idea to pay for your funeral in advance, "because all 50 states have different regulations on how well or how poorly your money is protected. It's something you should do as a family and say, 'What do we want, what do we expect, what are we looking for and that way you don't get gouged."

Make it a conversation with your family and friends, and know your rights, advises Slocum, adding, "You have rights under the Federal Trade Commission funeral rule. Unfortunately, an AARP study a few years ago found among those surveyed only 8 percent of the people surveyed knew about this rule. The federal commission said they must give you printed itemized price lists. They have disclosures on the price lists saying you have the right to buy only what you want and that certain things are not required by law or if they are required by law, they will be explained to you."

Slocum also says that there are alternatives to consider, such as direct cremation, immediate burial, skipping some of the ceremonies and having a memorial service at later date.

For a look at how some unscrupulous funeral homes operate, click here.