prepaid funeral services scamA now-defunct West Virginia funeral home has to pay $224,000 to consumers in refunds plus interest as part of a settlement worked out with the state for bilking customers for prepaid funeral services, according to state Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

Former funeral director T.R. Stevens Jr. admitted to misappropriating more than $180,000 that had been paid by consumers for funeral services from SFH Inc. of Madison, the state said.When Stevens shut the business -- also known as Stevens Funeral Home -- in March, consumers contacted the attorney general's office, fearing their preneed funeral contracts wouldn't be honored. State law requires funeral homes to keep advance payments in special accounts and to report all transactions to the state. A March 26 audit showed that many of the consumers' payments never made it to the bank or had been reported to the state.

McGraw said in the statement the funeral home has been sold and the $224,000 will be paid out once the settlement is entered in the Circuit Court of Boone County. Stevens agreed to a permanent ban from handling prepaid funeral service contracts if he opens a funeral home in the future.

Paying for preneed funeral services is a common practice as a way to save stress on surviving loved ones as well as money. Funeral scams appear from time to time so consumers need to be wary of what services are offered and watch out for the warning signs of trouble.

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