Hustling the Faithfully Departed: A Case Study of Fraud and Deceptive Practices in the Funeral and Cemetery Industries

Bernadette Jones Palombo, Louisiana State University

When Jessica Mitford published her groundbreaking study in the early 1960s of what today is euphemistically labeled as the "death care" industry, she essentially argued as an industry outsider that fraud, criminal misconduct, excessive profiteering and misappropriation of funds had become endemic within the industry at the expense of bereaved families. In her recent follow-study published posthumously, she documents the continuance of scandalous practices resulting from crass commercialism and excessive exploitation of the bereaved which continue to infect this industry. In spite of, or perhaps because of recent Federal Trade Commission regulations, both the cemetery and funeral industries are considered to be presently "out of control" according to an industry insider. This present study documents an interview with one industry insider as to the existence of professional deviance and criminality as well as to unethical, fraudulent and deceptive practices plaguing the death care industry. Additionally, this interview addresses the problem of increase in corporate takeovers, monopolization of the industry, and a goal of maximization of profit which result in the "manipulation of the bereaved," corporate profiteering by preying on the grief, remorse and guilt of the loved ones' survivors.

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Updated 05/20/2006