Home News Stories 2010 September Financial Fraud and Funeral Scams
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Financial Fraud and Funeral Scams

Fake Funerals, Empty Caskets
A Different Kind of Scam


Cemetery gatesIt’s a morbid tale involving phony death certificates, staged funerals with paid actors, and coffins buried with no bodies, but in the end, it’s just a financial fraud scheme like thousands of others we investigate every year.

Earlier this month in Los Angeles, the fourth and final member of an insurance fraud ring was convicted in federal court. Jean Crump—a former mortuary employee—was found guilty of joining three other women in a scheme to defraud insurance companies by filing $1.2 million in phony life insurance claims.

Also victimized were several financial assignment companies, often used by funeral homes and mortuaries to advance cash for funeral expenses in exchange for a portion of the deceased’s life insurance policies.

Avoiding Insurance Fraud

- When buying any kind of insurance, read the policy closely and make sure you’re only paying for coverage that you ordered.

- Be wary if the price of coverage seems way too low, or is sold by telephone or door-to-door.

- Always write your premium check to your insurer, not the agent. And never sign a blank claim form.

- Make sure your insurance company and agent are licensed by checking with your state’s insurance department.

- If you think you may have been a victim of insurance fraud, contact your state insurance department to file a complaint.

– Visit www.naic.org and fill out a form in the Online Fraud Reporting System. (Through this system, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and state regulators encourage consumers to take a proactive role in identifying and reporting insurance fraud.)

Tips from www.InsuranceFraud.org and www.naic.org

How the scam worked: In one instance, Crump and/or her co-schemers purchased life insurance policies for “Jim Davis,” naming his supposed “nephew” and “niece” as beneficiaries. Mr. Davis conveniently had an untimely demise, and the conspirators created false documents, including a death certificate with a doctor’s forged signature, to collect his life insurance. They also prepared grossly inflated bills for different amounts from a mortuary to cover the man’s funeral and burial costs and wired the bills to two different assignment companies.

Both assignment companies paid the mortuary (one nearly $30,000 and the other just over $16,000), but of course the money went right into the hands of the criminals—the mortuary was owned and operated by Lydia Pearce, one of the four charged in the investigation. And an insurance company paid out more than $230,000 in life insurance to Mr. Davis’ so-called nephew.

The criminals went so far as to purchase a burial plot for Mr. Davis and bury him, without a headstone. But despite the extravagant funeral described on paper for the financial assignment companies—including an ornate casket and elaborate floral arrangements—the funeral was a simple affair, attended by several phony family members recruited to play the part of mourners in case anyone was watching.

Each member of the fraud ring brought her own expertise to the table: Crump and Pearce, with their mortuary experience, knew all there was to know about funerals and death documents. Phlebotomist Faye Shilling knew the ins and outs of filing insurance claims, and notary Barbara Ann Lynn used her stamp to make the fake documents look legitimate.

How the scam unraveled. Two insurance companies began looking more closely at the claims and hired an investigator to ask questions. The con artists were so unnerved by this that they had the coffin supposedly holding the remains of Jim Davis unearthed. They filled the casket with a mannequin and cow parts to ensure the proper weight and then sent it to a crematory. Then, they filed phony paperwork stating that he had been cremated and had his ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

The FBI’s Los Angeles office eventually became involved. Upon closer inspection of the life insurance policies, death certificates, funeral bills, and financial information of the ring members, our investigators gathered the evidence needed to charge the four women—whose scheme ultimately met its own demise.

- Press release
- More white-collar frauds