The letter had to do with funeral expenses. It said the man could qualify for a state-regulated program that would cover 100 percent of all funeral costs up to $35,000. It didn't include the name of the program or the insurance carrier, but stated he had five days to respond.
Funerals are expensive. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national median cost of a funeral with burial is nearly $9,000 and around $6,000 for cremation. So when Allen Harper received a somewhat official looking letter in the mail addressing funeral expenses, he read it over.
“It was indicating that according to the state of Maryland, only Maryland individuals might get it for free, $35,000 insurance death benefits. This is kind of crazy. I have never seen nobody do this,” said Harper.
He figured the state would know about this great program so he called the Attorney General's office, the Better Business Bureau then ABC2. Before he heard back, he got a phone call from a man inquiring about the postcard.
“So he kept asking questions to build a profile up on some kind of package or something, I hung up on him,” Harper said.
Harper was right to be skeptical. At the very bottom in the fine print there’s admission that the mail did not come from a government agency.
“The people sending out these postcards, Direct Data, they are not an insurance carrier. They're simply a third-party who's mailing out all these different postcards,” said Angie Barnett, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving greater Maryland.
The BBB in other states put out warnings about the mailer in the past. They reached out to Direct Data Services who declined to identify the marketing company that hired them to send out the letters.
“When there's failure to be transparent, how trustworthy is this company?” Barnett said.
“This is like somebody phishing or something,” said Harper.
Looking for a bite from someone quick to act instead of asking questions.
“We would strongly advise you don't complete because you're giving your information to someone to be sold to someone else and you don't know how that information is going to be used,” said Barnett.
The AARP has an elder fraud hotline. If you ever have a question, you can talk to a specialist who can walk you through your issue by calling 800-222-4444 and selecting option 2.
And the Maryland Insurance Administration sent this response to ABC2:
If a consumer receives a mailer that raises any red flags, the MIA will take necessary steps to investigate the matter and determine whether there have been any violations of the Insurance Article.
Direct Data Services also provides an opt-out option for people who receive this mail. However, Barnett warns against engaging with a company who isn’t easy to contact. In some cases, she says you opting out may be a sign to them that you are receiving their mail and could encourage them to send more.
ABC2 also reached out to Direct Data Services but did not immediately hear back.
For more information on funeral costs and pricing, click here.
If you have a Matter for Mallory, you can email her at Mallory@wmar.com.