MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Losing a loved one can be a highly emotional and difficult time.
Investigators say a funeral scam that's emerged in Baldwin County is taking advantage of those most vulnerable.
13WMAZ’s Jessica Cha explains what's happening and how to protect yourself.
$14,093 -- that's how much someone posing as a funeral home employee scammed from a victim in Baldwin County. The sheriff's office says it’s an old scam, but a new one to the area.
“They're preying on people and in their greatest time of need,” says Investigator Major Brad King.
He says deputies learned of the scam last Tuesday after suspects tried to cash the check at the Magnolia State Bank.
“So, we were able to intercept that check with the help of personnel at the bank,” he explains.
While the victim’s money was returned and two arrests were made, he says they uncovered an operation more elaborate than a suspicious check.
“They were running a scam based on recent obituaries,” King says. “They’d pose as funeral home personnel and then advise them [victims] that there'd been an error in their billing. They would show up at the victim’s home and either receive cash or a check.”
King says suspects were targeting folks just after, or even before prior to the burial of their loved ones.
“It appears to be being run by inmates out of the Georgia Department of Corrections. We have contacted corrections and they are launching their own investigation and cooperating with us. So far, we have one confirmed case in Baldwin County where we’ve made two arrests. We’ve identified a victim in Camden County, and investigators there are working a case,” King explains. “It is just absolutely not going to be tolerated in Baldwin County.”
Williams Funeral Home Director Cameron Williams says most folks who seek their services are extremely vulnerable.
“Breaks my heart for these families that are experiencing such a tragedy,” he says. “In that time there is kind of a fog or a haze that they're trying to get through and we're trying to help and guide them.”
Williams says it's a shame it's happening here.
“We're trying to help and then somebody uses our industry profession's name to take advantage of somebody. It's just tragic."
Yesheika Brisco is Slater's Funeral Homes’ administrator.
“It's all about helping people,” she says. “I’ve always felt that we’re doing God’s work when we’re working with families during this time.”
Brisco says funerals can cost anywhere between $4,000-$14,000 or even more. She says scammers asking for $14,000 is not an unusual amount for funeral costs, and sees how one could be taken advantage of during an emotional time.
“It just really does hurt because the families are in a vulnerable stage and they need someone who is going to help protect them. They need to trust us as well, so this is taking away from that,” Brisco explains.
Funeral home directors say after making arrangements with them, you should get an itemized bill showing what you owe.
There's also a regulation called ‘The Funeral Rule’ enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. It requires funeral homes to disclose the cost of every item and service they provide.
They say it's unusual to get calls for additional payments, so if that happens call the funeral home directly to check.
The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office says they are continuing to investigate this scam and says if you’ve heard of or experienced anything similar, to contact them at their office at (478) 445-4891.