Calif. Pre-Paid Funeral Insurance Scam Targets Elderly

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is alerting senior citizens and their families to make certain they or their loved ones are not victims of a pre-paid funeral scam which targeted the elderly in Southern California. A California Department of Insurance (CDI) investigation found that the former owner of Valley Funeral Home in Murrieta sold “pre-need” burial insurance plans to senior citizens, including residents of area nursing homes, then pocketed the premiums and left her elderly clients without funeral coverage.

Lee Ann Wyskiver, 55, was arrested at her home on April 5, 2007, by CDI investigators and the Escondido, Calif., Police Department. Wyskiver is charged with six felony counts including grand theft and financial elder abuse. She was booked into the Escondido jail, and bail was set at $50,000. The Riverside County District Attorney’s office is prosecuting the case.

According to investigators, between 1998 and 2004, Wyskiver collected nearly $20,000 from numerous elderly clients that thought they were purchasing a pre-need burial insurance policy. Pre-need or pre-paid burial insurance is a specialized form of life insurance or annuity used to fund the predetermined expenses of a funeral, cremation or burial. In some instances, the consumer was charged an additional fee to add an offered travel benefit.

Wyskiver allegedly had her elderly clients complete the appropriate life insurance applications for the requested coverage and collected the quoted insurance premium. She then led each client to believe that their policies had been placed with either Forethought Life Insurance Co. or Homesteader Life Insurance Co.

After receiving numerous complaints against Wyskiver’s funeral home, the California Department of Consumers Affairs, Cemetery and Funeral Bureau initiated an investigation in 2005 and concluded that Wyskiver had committed gross acts of negligence and fraud, and revoked her license to operate a funeral home. Valley Funeral Home went out of business but failed to notify the clients.

In Nov. 2005, the same establishment opened as Murrieta Valley Funeral and currently operates under new ownership and management. It was through the new owner that the clients discovered they did not have the previously purchased insurance policy.

In addition to having a funeral home director’s license, Wyskiver also had a license to sell life insurance during the time covered by the investigation. Potential victims are being urged to call CDI.

Source: CDI