A despicable scam

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I have been part of hundreds of funeral services during my lifetime and career. It is almost always a very traumatic event for a family even in those where death was expected. It is a time when many individuals are weary, grieving, and vulnerable.

A few days ago, I was with such a family as we were discussing plans for the funeral the next day. The telephone rang and the woman, one of the three adult children of the deceased 92-year-old woman, said, “It’s the funeral home. I need to take this.” She stepped away from the table and returned several moments later. She looked upset.

One of her brothers said, “Who was that?” She said it’s the funeral home. They said that we hadn’t paid the fee for the liability insurance, and we can’t have the funeral until we do. My ears perked up. In the fifty plus years I have been part of those hundreds of funerals, I had never heard of such a thing. The speaker phone was turned on so that the whole family was listening — including me, of course.

The man identified himself as from the financial office of said funeral home and said that the fee needed to be paid that day or there could be no funeral the next day. One of the brothers said that they would drop me a check off later in the day. That wouldn’t work, the financial guy said as he had to go to one of the funerals and would be back until after the office closed. When asked how much the fee was, he replied that it would be $800.

One of the brothers pulled a credit card out of his wallet and started to hand it to his sister, saying, “Just put it on this.” At that, I suggested that it might be a scam. He looked at me for a few seconds and said to the guy on the phone, “We’ll call you back,” and had his sister end the call.

Immediately he called the funeral home whose number he had called earlier. A man answered and the two immediately recognized each other. It was indeed a scam, one that had been perpetuated on several grieving families.

The husband of the woman who died and their three children, two men and a woman, are some of the finest people anywhere. They are all savvy about the world, yet, in a moment of grief, some low-life dirtbag tried to con them out of $800. The funeral home was aware of this scam in the past and thought they had stopped it. Somehow the caller ID had the name of the funeral home, prompting the family to believe it was a legitimate call.

I really don’t know how low a person can get who would do this to a family. Basically, he said, “If you don’t pay now, you can’t have the funeral tomorrow.” Believing the man to be legit, they almost paid him. What a vile, despicable, heartless, and perverted man this was and is. Fortunately, the family did the right thing by calling the funeral home directly and avoiding the scam. But how many fell prey to this predator?

How did the scammer choose this family? Why, they read the obituary of course. How did they get the woman’s cell phone number? Unknown. Be aware and beware. People like this are everywhere seeking to enrich themselves at your pain and expense. In my opinion, there’s no jail sentence too long or a hell too hot for such vultures.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He has been a weekly opinion columnist for The Citizen for over 27 years. He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

13 COMMENTS

  1. Fr. Epps—Thank you for alerting us to this shameful scam. I am so glad that the grieving family did not fall for it.

    Obviously, you wrote this piece in the heat of the moment. Your anger is completely understandable. Yet…I am troubled by your final declaration–“In my opinion, there’s no jail sentence too long or a hell too hot for such vultures.”

    This statement is unworthy of anyone who professes following the teachings of Jesus the Christ. The one who, from His cross, prayed, “Father, forgive them…”.

    Restorative justice–certainly. Retribution–no.

    Peace.

    • Actually, it is repentance that is key in receiving forgiveness. Along with the “go and sin no more” admonition. As far as I know, this criminal just moved on to bilk another grieving family. I sincerely hope he spends time behind bars where the prison chaplain can give him guidance and the opportunity to repentant and intend amendment of life.

        • This is an excellent topic for me. I, too, was concerned of the anger’s effects. Theology is fascinating to me. Christian theology even more so. Assuming we are all important, until a “criminal” repents and accepts forgiveness, should we forgive the offender without regard to whether he will accept it?

      • Here come I to my own again,
        Fed, forgiven. and known again,
        Claimed by bone of my bone again
        And cheered by flesh of my flesh.
        The fatted calf is dressed for me,
        But the husks have greater zest for me,
        I think my pigs will be best for me,
        So I’m off to the Yards afresh.

        I never was very refined, you see,
        (And it weighs on my brother’s mind, you see)
        But there’s no reproach among swine, d’you see,
        For being a bit of a swine.
        So I’m off with wallet and staff to eat
        The bread that is three parts chaff to wheat,
        But glory be!— there’s a laugh to it,
        Which isn’t the case when we dine.

        My father glooms and advises me,
        My brother sulks and despises me,
        And Mother catechises me
        Till I want to go out and swear.
        And, in spite of the butler’s gravity,
        I know that the servants have it I
        Am a monster of moral depravity,
        And I’m damned if I think it’s fair !

        • Hiya Vjax—I love this re-imagining of the Parable of the Prodigal Son! The young offender decides to return to the swine (after the cold, judgmental reception he receives from his family).

          If we are being honest, that conclusion sits better with a lot of us. It rankles that the ne’er-do-well is celebrated. We prefer skipping Jesus’ declaration, “Neither do I condemn you” and quote the following, “Go and sin no more”.

          Grace is a hard sell. Christians declare (or should) that forgiveness/reconciliation
          is a free gift to all by a loving creator Who simply wills it.

          Like the Prodigal Son, we are forgiven before we ask. We are home before we leave the pig pen.

          As my spiritual father (and Episcopal Priest/Author) the late Robert Farrar Capon assures us, “He (Christ) knows He loves you, and that is all that counts. You catch up as you can.”

          And that is very good news!

          • Thanks Suz! Your quoting the sainted and incomparable RFC reminded me of this bit from the beloved one-time Catholic priest (and notable screw-up) Brennan Manning …

            “My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten til five … This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”

            I feel like Fr Epps Orthodox foot has slipped on the banana peel and fails to see Jesus paid it all.

      • So, Father Epps, does that mean that if your are criminally convicted and found civilly liable for fraud, you should admit your misbehavior and seek repentance? I thought the accepted response is to double down on your innocence and blame the judge, DA, jury, politicians, and everyone other than yourself. That seems to be the preference for 80% of the Evangelicals.

        Truth is always stranger than fiction!

      • Fr. Epps—I appreciate you softening your view toward the repercussions for this criminal act. Legally, at least. Much better than “no jail sentence too long”.

        However, I still disagree with your rigid theology. Repentance the key to forgiveness? Intentions for amendment of life? No such requirements were mentioned in the exchange between St. Peter and Jesus–

        “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven?! Hardly! Try seventy times seven”. ( Matt. 18:21,The Message Translation).

        Christ places no requirements, no demands, no qualifiers, no codicils, no ifs, ands , or buts on forgiveness. He once, for all, doused those fires of hell you mentioned.

        For some reason, indiscriminate grace like that offends even as it amazes. Amazement is better!

  2. Thanks for sharing this David and reminding others that there are some individuals who will go to the lowest of depths to rip people off, especially at their most vulnerable and weakest of times while clouded in grief. Lesson, when someone calls for money and/or it’s a family emergency, tell them let me call you back. Then pause and think about the present and current situation.