The National Funeral Directors Association recently received a call from an Ohio funeral home asking about a large jewelry order it had received over the phone. In addition, two separate funeral homes in small, rural areas of Minnesota have experienced calls from outside the state ordering expensive cremation jewelry.
In both incidents, the credit card information given over the phone proved stolen. One funeral home found out after the fact and the second called the credit card company ahead of time because it became suspicious.
It seems that scammers, in their never-ending quest to take advantage, may be re-using an old scam. Not all scams are as obvious as the long-lost uncle in Nigeria looking to transfer money to the United States or the bogus email from Apple with a dozen grammatical mistakes in an attempt to convey the message that an iTunes account will be frozen.
The key word is vigilance. T. Scott Gilligan, NFDA general counsel, prepared the following list of precautions to avoid merchandise fraud.
- Whenever the funeral home receives an email detailing that some person has died and the sender is looking to make funeral arrangements, your radar should click on. This is especially true if the sender is from outside the United States. Funeral homes should insist that the person makes arrangements in person or over the phone. Do not commit to any arrangements until you can verify the death and the location of the body. Never pay out any cash advances, such as funds for air travel or removal costs of the funeral home holding the body. Do not give out your banking information if the sender wants to “wire” money to your account.
- Simply because a charge goes through on a credit card does not mean it is legitimate. The credit card may have been stolen and a chargeback will eventually be made against the funeral home when the theft is discovered. Funeral homes should be very careful about accepting credit card payments when the contract is initiated by the consumer and the card number is given via email, fax or telephone. If a consumer sends you a check and asks you to ship merchandise, wait until the check has cleared and the money is in your account before shipping.
- Never wire funds to a consumer, especially overseas. Also do not provide account information to an overseas consumer who needs to deposit funds into your account.
- Be suspicious whenever a purchase order is for several of the same items of merchandise, such as cremation jewelry.
- Whenever a funeral home is required to ship to an international address, it should be suspicious as many scams are initiated overseas.
- VISA advises that merchants be careful when asked to ship to a single address when the transaction is placed on multiple cards.
- Another sign of a possible scam is orders from addresses that use free email services. VISA reports that these email services have no billing relationship with the consumer, making them very difficult to trace.
Guidelines to Avoid Telephone Scams
- Funeral homes should not accept collect calls from shoppers.
- Beware of any calls or emails from someone claiming to be an IRS agent. The IRS does not call or use email when initiating any type of tax inquiries. Rather, any such contact would be made by U.S. mail.
- Be wary if the caller claims to be a telephone company employee or government investigator checking on possible technical problems with your telephone. Do not comply with requests to dial certain numbers in order to “check” on technical problems. Instead, ask the caller for his or her name and telephone number and then call the telephone company immediately to determine whether there is a problem with the funeral home’s telephone service. Do not dial any numbers or transfer the call to an outside line.
- If the funeral home provides telephone calling cards to its employees, the calling card number and personal identification number should be memorized. Never write the PIN on a calling card. If the calling card is stolen or lost, it should immediately be reported to the company that issued the card.
- Do not purchase any item over the phone from an unfamiliar company. Always request more information in writing and delay your purchase until you have received it and had the opportunity to review it.
- Never respond or send money to a charity on the basis of a phone call. Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any charity.
- If a funeral home is stung by a telephone scam, alert your telephone carrier as soon as you receive the bill containing the charge. Inform the telephone company that you are contesting the charge because it is part of a fraudulent scheme. Most telephone carriers will delete the charge on that basis.
Memorial Business Journal – July 7, 2016