California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and three Bay Area district attorneys sued the parent company of the Neptune Society and Trident Society on Monday for allegedly misleading customers about the protection of money paid in advance for cremation.
The unfair business practices lawsuit against Houston-based Service Corporation International was filed in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of the people of California by Becerra and the district attorneys of Alameda, Marin and San Francisco counties.
A 1965 California law requires funeral service providers to place money paid in advance into a trust, known as a preneed trust, so that consumers can get refunds later if their plans change, if they move away or if the service company goes out of business.
The lawsuit claims the Service Corporation International subsidiaries deceive purchasers of a standard package of cremation and merchandise, typically costing $2,500, by leading them to believe that all of their money is refundable.
In fact, the lawsuit alleges, the companies typically assign about half the value of the package to merchandise and do not put that portion into a trust. In addition, it alleges that the companies inflate the assigned value of the merchandise, which includes a fiberboard urn, a fiberboard memento chest and thank-you cards.
The lawsuit asks for civil fines and court orders requiring the companies to put the full amount collected in the past into trusts and to stop the allegedly deceptive practices.
Representatives of Service Corporation International did not immediately respond to a request for comment.