When consumers have questions about a company’s services, they often pick up the phone and call. It’s no different when consumers must select a funeral home to handle a loved one’s final arrangements. Telephone inquiries are particularly important for people who are grieving a loss or making arrangements for a loved one in a different city. That’s why the Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide accurate price information over the phone. The results of an undercover FTC phone sweep suggests that some providers would benefit from a compliance refresher – especially when it comes to how they handle telephone inquiries.
Throughout 2023, FTC personnel from across the country placed undercover calls to more than 250 funeral providers asking for price information. Staff determined that providers violated the Funeral Rule on 39 of these calls. The most common violation was a refusal to answer price questions over the phone. Those companies have received warning letters emphasizing their obligations under the Funeral Rule, stating they should take prompt remedial action, and reminding them that noncompliance may result in penalties of up to $50,120 per violation.
Regardless of whether your company received a warning letter, the undercover sweep suggests seven compliance principles relevant to anyone in the funeral industry.
- Respond accurately when people call with price questions. On 39 of the undercover calls, the funeral home either refused to answer the consumer’s questions about costs or provided inconsistent price information. Both practices violate the law. As Section 453.2 of the Funeral Rule makes clear, funeral providers must “[t]ell persons who ask by telephone about the funeral provider’s offerings or prices any accurate information from the price lists . . . and any other readily available information that reasonably answers the question.” The fundamental compliance principle is that if a consumer calls you with price questions, you must respond on the phone. You can’t require consumers to come to the funeral home in person to get price information
- Don’t highlight only package prices. When a telephone conversation turns to price, funeral providers should steer clear of highlighting only package prices. The Funeral Rule requires that when responding to telephone inquiries, you must provide accurate information from the price lists, which includes itemized and minimal services. As an additional reminder, price lists that contain only package pricing don’t meet the requirements of General Price Lists under the Funeral Rule. During the undercover sweep, one of the funeral homes promised to send a General Price List – a document that must include important disclosures and itemized services – but instead provided a list of package prices that didn’t meet the Funeral Rule requirements.
- In addition to providing information over the phone, you may supplement that information by sending people price lists or point them to price information available online. When people call with pricing questions, you’re not required to send them price lists electronically or to give them the URL of online price information, but it’s OK to take that additional step if you’d like. Just remember that you still must answer their questions over the phone. Sending them price information via other means doesn’t meet your obligation under the Funeral Rule.
- Don’t require callers to give their names, addresses, or phone numbers. When people call for price information, you can ask them to identify themselves, but if they choose not to, you still must answer their questions. What’s more, you can’t refuse to give out price information based on who’s asking. For example, a family member or other person who isn’t actually making funeral arrangements still has a right to get accurate information over the phone.
- Don’t misrepresent state or local laws or make other deceptive statements. One company contacted by the FTC falsely claimed that local law required embalming when that wasn’t the case. During telephone calls with consumers – and at any other time throughout the process – the Funeral Rule prohibits misrepresentations about state or local laws or regulations regarding – among other things – embalming and caskets or other burial containers. What’s more, it’s illegal to falsely claim that a law requires the purchase of particular funeral goods or services. The Funeral Rule lists other specific misrepresentations to avoid, but remember that the FTC Act’s prohibition on unfair or deceptive practices applies across the board, including to express or implied misrepresentations related to funeral goods and services.
- After-hours price information must be accurate. You don’t have to provide pricing information after hours if that’s not your normal business practice. You can tell people to call back during regular business hours and you will answer their questions then. But if you do provide price information when consumers contact you after hours, the information you give them must be accurate.
- Consult FTC resources to help you comply with the law. The FTC has a page especially for members of the funeral industry. That’s where you’ll find Complying with the Funeral Rule, a detailed guide with key advice for your business. Even if you’ve read it before, industry members tell us they benefit from a periodic review and share the publication with newer employees. The FTC also has guides in English and Spanish to help consumers understand their rights under the Funeral Rule, including Shopping for Funeral Services by Phone or Online and the Shopping for Funeral Services series.
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