Chicago Funeral Homes Prey on Families of Homicide Victims

Inside Subprime: Aug 24, 2018

By Lindsay Frankel

Advocates have accused Chicago funeral homes of taking advantage of the families of homicide victims. Victims of violent crime, which is rampant in Chicago, are eligible to receive up to $27,000 in assistance from the state and federal government. Families of murder victims receive $7,500 from the Illinois Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund to cover the cost of a funeral. Susan Johnson, executive director of Chicago Survivors, says some funeral homes target these families by overcharging them, in some cases billing them for services they didn’t receive.

“Every funeral home in the state knows that victims get $7,500 for a funeral and it’s their goal to charge the entire amount because it’s easy money,” Johnson told Fox News.

While there are laws prohibiting funeral homes from cold calling or soliciting families, Chicago doesn’t have the resources to enforce these laws, allowing fraudsters to prey on families that have already been through enough. Authorities in Chicago are focused on the rising crime rate, and funeral fraud is a low priority by comparison. While consumers are invited to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, the agency typically doesn’t take action until a pattern of abuse is present. And many families have been through too much stress already to consider reporting offenses. Johnson commented, “They have just gotten through the worst thing in their lives and they don’t want to get into a protracted fight with a funeral home.”

Johnson added that families are frequently asked to sign documents when they are still in shock, before a funeral or at the viewing. Relatives may be too emotional to understand what they are signing, which is how funeral homes are able to sneak additional charges onto the bill.

The exorbitant costs of a funeral don’t guarantee quality service, either. In one case, a funeral home declined to retrieve a woman’s remains in time for her service and neglected to tell the family that the casket was empty. When the victim’s son asked to view his mother’s body, the funeral director brought in a second casket, but the mortician had failed to properly prepare the body, and relatives were horrified by the sight.

Johnson also described a case in which a Chicago funeral home attempted to charge a family more than the originally quoted amount, holding the victim’s remains hostage when the family couldn’t pay the full amount.

The National Funeral Directors Association defended its members, stating that funeral homes must follow a code of professional conduct “which is centered on an obligation to serve families in an honest and fair manner.” The organization also maintained that funeral homes are bound by the FTC’s funeral rule, which “requires transparency when discussing prices with families.”

The Illinois attorney general’s office declined to comment on whether the problem was being addressed. Although local leaders may not be devoting resources to combating the fraudulent behavior of funeral homes, families are still encouraged to report any misconduct. Joshua Solcum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, believes that families have the right to be outraged and should voice their concerns.

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