EverSafe Scam Watch

Protecting Your Financial Health

FTC Warns Funeral Homes on Misleading Pricing

Consumers may have their guard down when they are mourning a loved one, and this has not gone unnoticed by unscrupulous funeral homes, a federal investigation has found. Following what it called an “underground phone sweep,” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that dozens of funeral homes failed to provide accurate or complete pricing information when requested, in violation of a 40-year-old federal rule.

Elder woman on phone with hand to headThroughout 2023, FTC staffers placed calls to more than 250 funeral homes around the country, asking what their services  would cost. In a handful of cases, funeral homes either failed to fully disclose their prices or  declined to answer the questions. In response, the federal agency followed up with 39 warning letters earlier this year, demanding that the funeral homes take “prompt remedial action.”

Under the FTC’s “funeral rule,” consumers, including those who call on the telephone, have important rights. Funeral homes are required to give accurate details on prices and try to “reasonably” answer their questions. Violations of the funeral rule can lead to penalties of up to $51,744 per offense.

While most funeral homes complied with the rule, FTC investigators found, a significant minority did not.

In one case, a funeral home misstated the local health code, wrongly advising a consumer that a deceased individual had to be embalmed if a certain number of people were to view the remains. In another case, a funeral home failed to provide a general price list. Some funeral homes failed to provide consistent information on their own prices, giving “materially different” answers on what a service would cost to different phone callers, the New York Times reported.

The average funeral cost nationally last year was $8,300 according to Time Magazine, a figure that jumps to $9,995 if a burial vault is included. Prices varied somewhat around the United States, however, with the highest expenses in New England, averaging $8,985 and rising to $10,670 with a vault. The lowest average cost was in the Mountain states, with an average price of $7,390, although that figure jumped to $8,615 with a vault.

To see a list of the funeral homes that received official warnings from the FTC, click here.

Scam Victim Went to Jail While Thief Thrived in His Name

What if you were the victim of identity theft and no one believed you? That’s what happened to William Woods, who ended up behind bars in a Kafkaesque fiasco, while his scammer got away with using his identity for 30 years. It all came to an end on April 1st when Matthew David Keirans, 58, pled guilty in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa after being convicted of identity theft and making false statements.

Unbeknownst to Woods, Keirans assumed his identity after they had worked together at a hot dog cart in the late 1980s. Armed with his victim’s name, date of birth, and Social Security number, Keirans built a new life in Handcuffs and gavelWoods’ name. Over three decades, Keirans became a high-ranking hospital IT administrator, opened bank accounts, married, and had children. He even had $200,000 in debt in eight credit union loans, according to federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, the real William Woods sank into homelessness. It was not until 2019 that he discovered someone had accumulated debt under his name. The homeless victim went into a bank in Los Angeles, showed the branch manager his ID and Social Security card, and said he wanted to close his personal accounts.

But bank employees thought this was fraud and called the police. Incredibly, the cops ended up arresting the real Woods for identity theft, asserting he was actually Keirans. From there, Woods’ woes snowballed. A judge ruled him incompetent and sent him to a mental hospital. He ended up spending 428 days in county jail and 147 days in the mental hospital, before finally pleading “no contest” so he could be released. Even then, the court wrongly believed his true name was Keirans.

Once he was released, Woods was determined to settle the score. He learned where Keirans worked and contacted the hospital’s security department. Ultimately, a local detective used DNA evidence to connect Woods to his biological father, which proved he was telling the truth.

The Washington Post said federal prosecutors did not reveal why Keirans wanted to change his name. But a spokesman told the paper that Keirans had a troubled childhood, which included a car theft and an arrest.

Now that Keirans has been convicted, Woods wants relief for himself. He told the Los Angeles Times that he’s considering a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for the time he spent locked up. They should pay for every day I had to stay there,” Woods told the newspaper. “It isn’t right to be putting me in jail for nothing.”

Medicare Fraud Costs Taxpayers Billions

Stethoscope sitting on top on money and health formThe vast business of health care is a major lure for scammers and Medicare officials recently cautioned beneficiaries to protect themselves from a wide variety of medical frauds.

According to Medicare, common examples of health care fraud include:

  • Doctors who charge Medicare for services or supplies that they never provided. Or doctors who bill the government twice for a treatment that was only provided one time. Taxpayers end up footing the bill.
  • Crooks who get hold of the number on your Medicare card. They then use it to make phony Medicare claims – under your name. In one version of this scam, a company offers free medical equipment or services as a way to get hold of the victim’s Medicare number.
  • Insurance companies that offer cash or prizes in return for joining a Medicare prescription drug plan. Shady companies have also been known to warn consumers they will lose Medicare benefits unless they sign up for a particular prescription drug plan.

In one recent scam, the Washington Post reported that Medicare was investigating $2 billion in fraudulent insurance claims for catheters submitted to the government by seven companies. And that fraud represents just one type of medical equipment. Officially, the cost of Medicare fraud is estimated to be  $60 billion, though some analysts have pegged the price tag at $100 billion or even more.

In a March email to beneficiaries, Medicare suggested that people take three steps to protect themselves from scams:

  1. Do not respond to calls, texts or emails asking for your Medicare Number. Only share the number with health care providers and other trusted sources.
  2. Carefully review claims statements you receive from the Medicare program. If a statement lists a product you did not ask for or a service you did not receive, that may be a sign of fraud.
  3. “Guard your Medicare card like it’s a credit card,” the email advised. Scammers are after the personal information that identifies you on the card.

If you see signs of a scam, contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).