Consumer Protection

Consumer Groups Petition FTC to Require Online Funeral Price Disclosure

Petition Reflects the Fact that Many Funeral Homes Fail to Fully Disclose Prices Online

Washington, DC – Today, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America petition the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to revise the “Funeral Rule” so consumers can obtain vital price information on the Internet.  A nationwide survey by FCA and CFA released last October revealed that very few funeral homes fully disclosed prices on line.

We find it fitting that we are submitting this petition on Amazon’s “Prime Day,” sometimes called the “Cyber Monday of the summer.” Prime Day serves as a reminder that we are now firmly a nation of online shoppers. Some consumers have compared prices online for months and have waited until today to buy their flat screen TV, e-reader for their kids, or shiny new kitchen appliance. Millions of Americans will go online before midnight tonight and view historical pricing data, compare similar products, and score a great deal.

However, the most vulnerable consumers in the marketplace must spend thousands of dollars on a funeral and still cannot compare prices online. Today, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America urged the FTC to change the Funeral Rule so consumers can make an informed decision on one of the largest purchases they will ever make.

The Funeral Rule has protected consumers for over 30 years by requiring funeral homes to disclose price information in a meaningful fashion. The Rule was enacted to provide basic price information for vulnerable consumers purchasing funeral services.  This information is vital to protect consumers. Many Americans cannot afford the average funeral as the market functions today, and between now and 2019, consumers will likely spend at least $50 billion on funeral services.

However, those protections are limited to face-to-face or telephone disclosures.  The Rule does not apply to the Internet.  Thus, it is almost impossible for consumers to secure price information online. The Funeral Rule no longer reflects how Americans access information on a daily basis and to make almost every large purchase.

“The Federal Trade Commission should update antiquated disclosure rules developed in the pre-Internet 1980s,” said Josh Slocum, Executive Director of Funeral Consumers Alliance. “Almost all funeral home websites feature stories on how the funeral home has been providing caring, compassionate service since the days of the horse and buggy but nothing about how much it actually costs.”

The Funeral Rule currently mandates that any person who asks for a general price list, an itemized list of funeral products and services, be furnished with complete and accurate price information via telephone or in person, but not online. Today, the function of the telephone in the Funeral Rule has been augmented, if not supplanted by the Internet.

The petition makes a compelling case for online price disclosure, refutes common misconceptions about extending the Funeral Rule, and shows that consumers will be harmed if the FTC waits until 2019 to review the rule.

“In the 1980s, consumers were prepared to comparison shop by phone and even to visit funeral homes to collect price information, but commerce has been revolutionized because of the Internet.  In almost every other market information is just a click away and that intensifies competition, drives down prices and improves services.  Especially for such an expensive purchase by vulnerable consumers, quick access to price information is vital.  Consumers expect to get information online, which is why we undertook this survey and are urging the FTC to update the rule.” Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America

“We hope that the FTC acts promptly upon our request,” says Slocum. “Grieving families don’t have time to wait.”

FCA is nonprofit organization founded in 1963 to protect the consumer’s right to choose a meaningful and affordable funeral.  More than 70 local educational groups are included in FCA’s national federation.

 The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.