statue of angel grieving at a cemetery

Something Scary in the Cemetery Lurks: The Tombstone Scams

If you are like most people, you understandably think that the one area in life in which shady schemes and outright scams are not found is in the area of … death. In fact, every year unscrupulous individuals and businesses associated with the funeral and burial business take advantage of unsuspecting consumers, including people struggling with the death of a loved one. One area in which you may be particularly surprised to find shell games, shams, and cons is that of the tombstone trade. There are some tombstone shams that you need to be aware of so that you make the proper decisions when it comes to purchasing a gravesite memorial.

Possible Tombstone Points of Purchase

A considerable amount of confusion among consumers involves where a tombstone is purchased. A typical consumer likely believes a tombstone goes along with a grave purchase. If not specifically part of a grave purchase, a person will assume that a tombstone purchase is made as an additional transaction at the same time. A logical conclusion for many if not most people is that this point of contact (with the cemetery) is the sole avenue through which a tombstone is purchased. A typical cemetery wants you to believe that this is the case. In fact, there are at least two other options available to you when it comes to purchasing a tombstone for a grave.

A good many funeral homes sell tombstones to their clients. In addition, there are tombstone makers in many communities that not only sell to cemeteries or through funerals home but directly to the public as well.

Who is Most Likely to Sell a Tombstone to a Consumer?

In the final analysis, the entity that is most likely to sell a tombstone to a consumer is the one that has first contact with a consumer. In this day and age, the one death-related area in which a good many consumers do pre-plan is the purchase of a cemetery plot. Thus, when a person is dealing with a cemetery to purchase a burial plot, that individual is likely to walk away with a tombstone at the same time.

Those consumers that begin the preplanning process with a funeral home are quite likely to conclude that piece of business having purchased a tombstone as part process. (Not all funeral homes have extended their reach into selling tombstones.)

The Hyping of Tombstones

You are not likely to hear the term “tombstone” used when you are planning for a funeral or burial. Rather, you will find tombstones referred to as monuments or memorial markets. These terms are intentionally. They leave you feeling that the tombstone selected is a unique memorial to a person who has passed on.

If you were to walk through a section of a cemetery that was utilized prior to the 1970s, you will see an interesting mix of unique looking tombstones. They come in different styles, sizes, and shapes. Prior to the latter part of the 20th century, cemeteries in the United States allowed for a good amount of latitude when it came to the selection and placement of tombstones. That simply has not been the case for several decades.

Most cemeteries have strict policies limiting the types of tombstones used. More often than not these restrictions stem from a desire to control ground maintenance costs. For example, a cemetery with tombstones flush to the ground will have a much simpler time undertaking necessary tasks like mowing the lawn. In this end, this saves what amounts to a considerable amount of money over time.

As a consequence, while you are likely to receive hype about a unique memorial, beyond the inscription, a tombstone at a particular cemetery is likely to pretty much the same as everyone else’s “memorial.” This holds true whether you purchase from a cemetery, funeral home, or directly from the stonemason. Vendors that are third party to a cemetery must follow a memorial park’s tombstone restrictions.

Understanding these realities, the fact that tombstones sellers hype their products as being truly unique memorials is in and of itself a type of sham. In the end, in nearly any cemetery in Southern California, or anywhere in the U.S.A., you really will not be getting a truly unique memorial of the type available in days gone by.

Tombstone Sales and Insurance Shenanigans

Another prevalent scheme associated with tombstone sales involves a situation in which a life insurance policy is assigned to a funeral home to cover expenses. A funeral director is going to know the costs related with body preparation and the funeral itself. He or she will know what portion of the assigned insurance policy will be used to over those costs. For example, assume a live insurance policy provides $10,000 in coverage and the essential funeral home expenses come to $7,500.

What a number of funeral homes will attempt to do is up-sale a customer by taking advantage of the balance left on a life insurance policy. In other words, when someone is likely to emotionally distraught because of the death of a loved one, a funeral home will raise the issue of buying a necessary tombstone using the balance on the life insurance policy. The tombstone recommendation is likely to be for one that costs almost the amount of the life insurance policy balance.

Tombstone Price List Shell Game

Yet another scheme used by tombstone makers, funeral homes, and even cemeteries involves maintaining different price lists for tombstones. There will be one list that enumerates lower prices on tombstones, prices more in line with what a marker actually costs. There will be another list in which the prices are inflated.

The way the tombstone shell game works is a tombstone maker, funeral director, or cemetery manager or salesperson will chat with a prospective customer. In that process, at attempt will be made to flesh out the financial status of the consumer. For example, a distinction may be made between an older person on a fixed income versus an entrepreneur seemingly with money to burn. The net effect of the shell game is that a consumer is charged as much as a salesperson believes a consumer can pay. This is accomplished by utilizing different price lists depending on a perception of consumer’s ability to pay.

Gravesite Verification Sham

Yet another scheme used to pressure a tombstone sale is that surrounding a gravesite verification. A family member is called to the cemetery after the death of a loved one under the pretense of making certain the right grave is opened for burial. While on site, a representative of the cemetery brings up the subject of a tombstone and subtly pressures that family member to purchase one while at the cemetery for the grave verification. 

Cemetery Schemes to Block Competition

Cemeteries are notorious for preventing other entities from selling and placing tombstones on their premises. Although a cemetery may not prohibit a third-party created tombstone from being installed, a cemetery may require such a tombstone be placed on a foundation built by the cemetery itself. A cemetery then charges an exorbitant amount for the foundation. In addition, the cemetery may charge a third-party tombstone vendor a fee for even driving onto cemetery property.   

By educating yourself on these various tombstone schemes you place yourself in a more solid position to make educated choices. Understanding these schemes and scams allows you the ability to ask pointed questions about a particular business’ practices. You will be better able to purchase the tombstone you desire and without unnecessary additional cost run ups.