Survey finds fewer funeral complaints submitted to Federal Trade Commission
by ICCFA General Counsel Robert M. Fells, Esq.
The ICCFA has published the results of its survey of funeral-related consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission from January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2006. A total of 522 complaints were submitted to the FTC during this two-year period, compared to a total of 571 complaints filed during 2003-2004.
These figures represent a drop in complaints of close to 10 percent in the comparable time frames. The decrease is especially surprising considering that more people have gone online in the past two years, making the filing of FTC complaints through e-mail (and toll-free phone numbers) more convenient.
In addition, 331 inquiries were submitted (for a combined total of 853), primarily requests for FTC publications on funerals and on the Funeral Rule.
Three hundred and fifty-eight complaints, or 68.5 percent, involved funeral homes. Most complaints alleged violations of the Funeral Rule, such as not providing a general price list, charging a casket handling fee or refusing to accept a third-party casket. Third parties, including casket retailers and monument companies, comprised the second largest group, with 80 complaints, or 15.3 percent of the total. Seventy-six complaints (14.5 percent of the total number) were filed against cemeteries. Five complaints were filed against combination operations, and three against crematories. The commission staff said the complaints "have not necessarily been verified by the FTC. Therefore, you should make your own judgment about relying on the information provided."
The ICCFA survey report contains brief descriptions of each complaint and identifies the state where each originated. As in past years, a number of complaints were filed by businesses against their competitors; that information is noted in the description. Also, the FTC internal reference number specifically identifies each complaint and inquiry.
The survey is useful in determining areas of concern for consumer protection and whether new issues are emerging.
The complete ICCFA survey report can be viewed on the association Web site at www.iccfa.com/pdf/ftc_complaint_survey.pdf.
AARP: More than 60 percent of people age 50 and over never solicited for preneed
In November, AARP published the findings of its Funeral and Burial Planners Survey, a telephone poll of 1,087 Americans age 50 and older concerning whether they have preplanned or prepaid for a funeral or burial.
Sixty four percent said they have never been contacted (by mail, phone, in person or online) about purchasing a funeral. Even more, 67 percent, said they have never been contacted about purchasing a burial space.
These figures represent an increase from past years' AARP surveys. In 1995, 60 percent said they had never been contacted about funerals; in 1998, 61 percent said they had never been contacted about burial space.
Some of the results track the industry-sponsored Wirthlin surveys. For example, the 2005 Wirthlin report shows that 64 percent of consumers age 40 and older have not taken any steps for prearrangement. The new AARP survey shows that 65 percent of consumers have not prearranged.
However, unlike the Wirthlin reports, the AARP survey never inquired about the level of satisfaction, positive or negative, consumers experienced in dealing with the funeral profession. The complete AARP survey can be viewed on its Web site at www.aarp.org/research/endoflife/funeral/funeral_survey.html.
New ICCFA benefit: Model Cremation Authorization Form
The ICCFA announces an important new member benefit available through its Web site: the Model Cremation Authorization Form.
"I am pleased that our cremation-related membership services have reached a new level by providing this important tool for our members," said President Paul Elvig. "Thanks to our new cremation legal counsel, Poul H. Lemasters Esq., who brings a new perspective to these issues, and also to the expertise of ICCFA President-Elect Mark Krause and Ernie Heffner."
The ICCFA advises that anyone using the form should modify it to comply with the legal requirements in his or her respective state. Additional information may also be added at the discretion of each user. To view and download the model cremation authorization form, visit the ICCFA Web site at www.iccfa.com/docs/cremation_model_disposition_authorization.doc.