Monday, July 10, 2006

Screwing the Poor...

There's been a lot in the news recently about Forest Hill Funeral Home. In case your propensity for skipping local news is as bad as mine, I'll catch you up.

Over the decades, Forest Hill Funeral Home presold approximately 13,000 prepaid burial plans for roughly $3000 apiece. The people that paid for them are now in need of them, and they're finding out that the current owner of Forest Hill isn't honoring them. At the most, he has offered to apply the $3000 already paid as credit towards a funeral, but he's not covering the whole bill as was promised in years past.

In some ways, you can almost--- Notice I said "almost"--- sympathize with the owner's position. Clayton L. Smart says that inflation has made it impossible to pay for a funeral with the $3000 paid in. I know from when I buried my Dad last year that it costs substantially more than that now. Burial plot, casket, and many services that I can't even begin to think of without getting nauseated added up to over $8500. Had he chosen to be buried in Memphis, the cost of the plot would have been somewhere around $1000 higher.

So you could very nearly see his point--- Until you find out about the gross mismanagement of the trust fund that was supposed to grow enough to pay for these funerals.

See, it turns out that he diverted millions out of the trust fund to invest in oil exploration in Oklahoma and Nevada.

I was fortunate. My father's burial plan was issued through the company he worked for. Verizon certainly isn't doing as well as it was when he was with them (I like to think there's more of a connection there than there probably is), but they're not some fly-by-night that turned around twenty years later and said (And this is an accurate quote from the ironically named Mr. Smart) "I wouldn't have bought the business if I thought I'd have to honor the contract."

Yes. You read that right. A guy named Smart turns out to be just about the dumbest bastard on the face of the earth. Whether or not he's telling the truth, this comment puts him into a category of moron that transcends Dubya-esque. Because he either believed something very stupid, or he's dumb enough to think we'd believe him when he says something that preposterous.

NOBODY buys a business without looking at a list of the company's assets and liabilities. Business contracts are not drawn up on cocktail napkins. On the "liabilities" list would be the cost involved in honoring these 13,000 contracts. It is abundantly clear to anyone that buys a company that they are indeed buying the debts of the company. Did he think he was just paying for the building? Of course not. Why? Because no one is that fucking dumb.

When one record company buys another, why do they do it? Quite often, it's the easiest way of buying up the contract of an artist they want. See how that works? Buy the company, buy the contracts of the company. When a company sells out for pennies on the dollar, why do they do it? Because they've run up such crushing debts that they're just happy to find a way out from under them.

And considering that Smart (?) bought access to the trust fund used to pay for these burials, which he squandered on bad investments, how well does that excuse really hold up?

There's really not much out there that pisses me off more than this. On May 31, 2005, I was in a complete daze. Nothing felt real to me. I was doing good just to pick out a casket, and I've secondguessed myself on that a few hundred times in the last year. When the funeral home guy showed me a drawing of why a concrete grave liner was a good idea, I could feel my face turning green. And when they told me my father was being embalmed in the next room, I instantly thought of all those episodes of "Six Feet Under" that I'd seen, ran outside, and dry heaved all over the front lawn.

So I couldn't imagine the misery that these families are going through right now. They're reeling from the loss of a loved one, arriving at the funeral home, and hearing "Sucks to be you".

Clayton Dumbass (I just can't call him Smart anymore), I'm going to give you some free advice. Learn to sleep with one eye open. If you had done to me what you've done to these families, having testicles would have been a distant memory for you by this point. And I'm sure there's someone out there that you've screwed over that thinks like I do.

Now... What is this doing on a political blog? It's a fair question.

It boils down to this. There's not a single consumer protection that our government of Republican Lites out there hasn't been willing to erode to bring in a little more campaign money.

The prepaid funeral policies of independent funeral homes exist for the same reason as furniture rental stores, check advance stores, "tax advance" services, and a million other companies out there--- They exist to fleece poor people.

The people buying these fly-by-night policies are not affluent and well-educated. They're the working class people that bear the weight of the American economy on their shoulders. They work their fingers to the bone, then go spend the extra thirty of forty dollars saved up at the end of the week on the things that drive our economy.

But poverty is a bleeding wound. And we all know that bleeding wounds bring out the predators.

Let's say the computer breaks down. They can save for a little while and buy a new one, thus driving the economy--- Or they can go to Rent-a-Center, pick one up for $25 per week, and at the end of two years, it's theirs. Of course, by then, they've paid $2600 for an E-Machine that sells for $400 at Best Buy. If there's an exaggeration, it's only a slight one--- Click here to read "Pay Now, Pay Later".

Then there's the "payday advance" silliness. Let's say someone "advances" $200. The company adds a $60 fee. At the end of two weeks, if the person doesn't have the money to pay back $260, they can "roll it over" for two more weeks for another $60. If they couldn't raise $260 in 2 weeks, then what are the odds they're going to come up with $320 in the next two? You can roll it over up to four times, which leaves you owing $240 in fees on top of a $200 loan, and that's not even counting the returned check fees your bank will charge you every time the advance business tries to run your check through.

But they've paid 360% interest. Sounds over the top, right? You can check my numbers at . Man, I hate linking to racketeers, but I want everyone to see that I didn't exaggerate.

It's high time that we swing the pendulum back towards protecting consumers instead of protecting swindlers. Even though the law is clear, I'm not sure I trust this state when it comes to holding Forest Hill accountable for fraud. And that's simply because every time this state's government is given the choice of protecting consumers and protecting swindlers, the customers end up on the shit end of the stick.

If the state cannot find a way to hold Forest Hill accountable, everyone we send to Nashville needs to be run out of town.


Sarah said...

"swing the pendulum back towards protecting consumers instead of protecting swindlers"

When exactly was it that America's laws favored the consumers over the swindlers?

Freedonian said...

What, are you trying to destroy my confidence by stumping me with a hard question before Trivia tonight?

I'm going to guess. July 24, 1954?