By Mattha Busby

Funeral comparison websites often ask people to enter their personal details so they can optimise their services, before they provide you with a comparison.

Once they have your details, however, some sites will simply tell you: “We’ll get in touch with you shortly and find you the perfect funeral plan.”

This is because they are in fact shell sites masquerading as funeral comparison companies. They collate the data of interested parties before selling on the information, aka ‘live web leads’, to call centres who often illegally resell the data to other unscrupulous salespeople if they have no luck flogging the funeral themselves.

This means that, quite often, elderly people suffering with terminal diseases are bombarded with calls from four or five different companies throughout the day. A funeral comparison service, of sorts. Their crime? Naively believing they could take a cursory glance at funeral prices in peace.

“Customers are often completely unaware of how companies gather their details,” said one industry insider. “In some cases data is resold to market other services that the customer hasn’t specifically opted in to receive information about.”

Eventually, someone may accept that ‘the consumer’ may well have just been browsing. The email ads can continue indefinitely though.

“Within a few days of being diagnosed, this is what I’m getting,” said one frequent recipient of emails advertising funerals, who was recently told they have stage 3 cancer. “They’re preying on people’s worst fears, it’s despicable.”

Online advertisers can track your cookies, that is your net history. They know if you’ve visited a gambling site, or a clothes site, recently. Therefore, you will be pestered to return to these sites, through in-browser ads, until you do.

“Customers can also receive calls without knowing how the company got hold of their details,” continued the funeral comparison whistleblower. “Data is passed around, resold and reused. Companies who engage in these practices are not compliant with ICO rules.”

Call centres are also alleged to harvest data from survey and raffle sites to build a profile of the consumer, including age, address, homeowner/renter, credit history, insurance history, etc.

Of course, there’s no point in teenagers seeing funeral ads, which targeted ads avoid. But, one wonders when they cross the line from savvy to socially harmful.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) regulates the buying and selling of data. They stipulate that consumers have to opt in to being contacted, albeit through – at times – accepting lengthy, verbose terms and conditions they are unlikely to have properly read.

These sites say they represent all the main providers, however, they are often not actually in a business relationship with these sites. There are few avenues for recourse for consumers, after the 28-day period in which they may request a refund. The industry is, for all intents and purposes, unregulated because funerals are regarded as financial products.

Nonetheless most companies sign up voluntarily to the regulator, the Funeral Planning Authority, an industry organisation who mediate and provide access to independent dispute resolution processes. However, it has little power to prevent the bad practice that exists across the industry.

Naturally, funeral planning is becoming de-stigmatised and a more mainstream part of financial planning. But is it permissible for the same aggressive, pervasive sales techniques used for other products be used for one’s final goodbye.