Sharks preying on death
GAZELLES to be hunted — that’s how sales staff at one call centre described the elderly customers they were targeting with expensive funeral plans.
‘You need to have claws out,’ a manager wrote in a text message to staff before the start of a shift. ‘Gazelle will never say: “Just eat me.” We have to hunt.’ The message ends with a row of lion emojis.
Whistleblowers told the Guardian that staff working for Prosperous Life, which sells hundreds of prepaid funeral plans each month, were also sent video clips from the film The Wolf Of Wall Street, which showed characters beating their chests to fire themselves up before starting work.
And when employees at the call centre closed a deal, fake notes of cash would rain down on them.
Given this shameful behaviour, is it any wonder customers feel bullied into signing up for funeral plans they can’t afford?
The idea of a pre-paid plan is that you lock in a price to protect your family against soaring prices.
The average cost of a basic funeral is already £3,785 — and rising.
But, as Money Mail has exposed time and again, there are major concerns that the elderly and vulnerable are being misled by sales staff desperate to hit targets.
In April 2018, an undercover investigation revealed how customers were routinely baffled by exaggerated and false claims that concealed the true costs they could face. Some staff failed to explain that funeral plans do not always cover the full bill. Plans can also come with big cancellation charges, or restrictions on when you can have a service.
Supposedly independent comparison sites only offer access to a small number of deals.
Typically, these sites ask customers to enter their telephone numbers for a call back. Their details are then passed on to sales advisers who promote the plan that pays the most commission.
And if customers say no, they face being harassed with dozens of calls until they give in.
In June, the Treasury pledged to regulate the funeral plan market and said providers would finally be overseen by the Financial Conduct Authority.
But until the new rules come — which may not be for years — the elderly and vulnerable remain unprotected. And with a crackdown on the horizon, unscrupulous firms are only likely to become more aggressive in a bid to cash in while they can. Something needs to be done
now to help protect those who are simply trying to shield their families from more grief when they will be at their most vulnerable.
If you have been targeted by a firm pushing funeral plans, we want to hear from you. Write to me at Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT — or via my email below.
Ring the changes
TALKING of letting people down when they most need help, it is unforgivable that grieving families get the run-around from telecoms giants when they try to complete a simple task like cancelling a mobile phone contract.
When a loved one dies, the list of jobs you are faced with is endless — informing relatives, planning a funeral, applying for probate, cashing in pensions and insurance policies to name a few. Cancelling a phone contract should take minutes — and shouldn’t mean those left behind are out of pocket.
Have a heart, for goodness sake.
Sales’ black mark
SALE shopping has never been my bag. This is in part because I’m terrible at it — my eyes are immediately drawn away from the messy heaps of bargains to the shiny, full-price items neatly lined up in size-order.
I also don’t like the thought of stumbling across something I’ve just bought that’s now half-price. But what’s even more off-putting is that it’s so hard to know for sure if you are getting a good deal.
Take Black Friday — which is fast becoming my most hated time of year. Not only does it seem to last for most of November, but research by Which? has revealed that just one in 20 items is actually cheapest on Black Friday.
With Boxing Day sales now starting the week before Christmas, should we all just wait until then to buy cut-price gifts?