THE FUNERAL INSURANCE SCAM: How Misleading Junk Mail is Putting Your Grandparents at Risk
To be clear, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with funeral insurance. You may actually need funeral insurance.
The scam is not the funeral insurance itself, but the way this company is trying to sell it.
They are sending out mail that looks official and that might make some people think that it is from the government.
They are using misleading language to make people think that they HAVE to respond to the letter or they might be in trouble.
A “scam” is a “deceptive act or operation”.
Something doesn’t have to be illegal to be a scam.
To qualify as a “scammer” you simply have to be pretending to be something you are not…
THEY TARGET THE VULNERABLE
There’s a very small chance that you and I will get scammed through the mail.
(Going forward when I say “mail”, I mean snail-mail, not e-mail. It’s like email but made out of paper and envelopes. Like physical paper you can touch.)
The fact that you’re reading a blog on the internet right now means that you already have the ability to Google a piece of mail if it looks shady.
But we are not the intended targets of misleading pieces of mail.
The targets are people who don’t know how to Google anything.
They don’t know what “a Google” is.
They don’t have smartphones – they have landlines.
They don’t use Wikipedia – they have shelves full of encyclopaedias.
When something comes in the mail – they actually read it.
Yes, I’m talking about your grandparents. And they need your help to not get scammed.
INTRODUCING: THE SCAMMERS
An envelope arrived in my mailbox yesterday.
At first glance, it looks like a government envelope.
It says “Canada Pension” on the front. (There are several variations, but the above image is an example of what the envelope might look like.)
It looks legit. Except that it is not addressed to anyone.
It is bulk mail.
Now maybe your grandparents know that the government doesn’t send anything that is not addressed to a person. The government doesn’t use bulk mail.
But if grandma and grandpa don’t know that, they might think this is from the government. If so, we’re already in trouble because they might now trust everything that’s inside, no matter how strange.
Let’s see what’s inside the envelope, shall we?
1. A postage-paid return envelope
Well, even if it’s not the government, that’s gotta be a legit company spending the money on business reply mail, right? Scammers don’t have THAT kind of money.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
In Canada, companies just have to pay a $725 annual fee for the business reply mail service from Canada Post. And they only pay the postage on the reply mail if it’s actually mailed back to them.
Ok, what else do we have inside that government look-alike envelope?
2. A form that looks quite official
At the top it says it’s for “Canadian Residents Born After 1938”. Well, there’s one positive thing. If your grandparents are over 80, they are safe from the scammers!
The top part of the letter tries to explain, poorly, that the $2,500 that the government pays out when you die (The CPP Death Benefit), might not be enough to cover the costs of your funeral.
But never fear! The scammers are here! They talk about this other “program” that can get you up to $15,000 TAX-FREE at the time of death.
It’s really obvious that they are using the word “program” here to make it seem like they are talking about a government program.
SO WHAT DO THESE SCAMMERS WANT FROM MY GRANDMA?
The scammers are selling funeral insurance.
And the thing is: there is nothing wrong with selling funeral insurance.
The scam letter is actually correct, according to this CTV news article.
The President of the Funeral Services Association of Canada says $2,500 probably won’t be enough for a basic funeral, which comes in closer to $6,000.
So what the scammers are selling is a legitimate product. But they are still scammers because they are trying to imitate the government and make vulnerable people think they MUST buy this extra funeral insurance, instead of presenting it as an option.
SO WHY THE SHADY MAIL THEN?
I have no idea.
Maybe the scammers tried doing it the regular way, by identifying themselves as Company X upfront, selling supplemental funeral insurance, and everyone just threw that envelope straight into the recycling box without even opening it.
So they hired a new Chief Marketing Officer: SATAN
And the Dark Lord decided the new best way to market Company X would be to:
- Not identify the company name anywhere
- Mislead people into thinking they might be a government agency
- Include the most manipulative language possible, like this direct quote from the letter:
“Do you have to complete this form?
Some of the most common reasons why you must complete this form are:
– We sent you a request to complete a form
– You can have both the Death Benefit and the X Program”
You must complete the form because we sent you a request to complete a form?!?!?
What kind of madness is this?
Imagine a similar situation in a clothing store:
“Hello Mr. Clothing Store Owner, do I have to buy this t-shirt from you?
Yes, customer, some of most common reasons why you must buy this t-shirt are:
– I requested that you buy a t-shirt when you walked into my store
– You can have both the shirt that you’re wearing and this new shirt”
In addition to the “must complete form” nonsense, the letter includes these wonderfully crafty phrases:
“It is imperative that you find out now…”
“Did you know….people in Ontario are very grateful they have this plan.”
Enough with the vague manipulative statements!
The worst part about this whole thing is that in 2014, the Ad Standards Council found Company X in violation of advertising standards and this was the response from Company X :
We would like to apologize for any disturbance that our advertisement may have caused. We no longer use the Canadian Flag in our advertising, nor do we plan to do so in the future. It is our understanding that no Canadian Government mail is sent third class like this piece. All Canadian Government mail is directly addressed to the recipient’s name. The inside communication displays our company name and logo, clearly not a Government agency. Further, our use of Ontario on the envelope was reviewed by the Ministry of Government Services (MGS). We use the brown envelope as it is made from recycled materials. The statements contained in the advertisement are correct. We believe it is important for seniors to know that the CPP death benefit may not be adequate to address the current cost of a funeral in Ontario.
So on the piece of mail I got, they dropped the Canadian flag and the word “Ontario” but that’s basically it. Imagine how many people they scammed when those 2 items were still there.
What gets me the most is that in 2014 they say the form inside displayed their company name and logo. And maybe that’s true.
But the company name and logo are nowhere to be found on the updated letter I received.
They dropped the Canadian flag and “Ontario” but also took out their company name and logo!
They are still in violation of the ad standards and they don’t care.
And why should they?
The only thing the Ad Standards Council could really do, if the scammers blatantly refuse to make changes, is ask Canada Post to stop delivering their mail. And I’m sure there would be appeals and a lengthy process.
Unfortunately, they are committing no crimes. They are just going about this sales process in a very very wrong way.
So it’s up to you to save your own grandparents.
Maybe they totally want this funeral insurance and that’s awesome.
As long as they understand that it’s not the government asking for their information and they make an informed decision to fill out and send in the form to Company X.
How do we fight back? Remember when I told you that the scammers only pay for business reply mail if the reply envelope is mailed?
Well, take the blank form, include a personal F U to the scammers, and mail it back to them!
So, maybe, if the scammers get 100s of blank forms(or creative profanity-laced messages) they will finally understand what all Canadians would tell them to their face if we could: