PhotoIt's not just undertakers and florists who profit from death. Local newspapers and online sites have found a steady stream of revenue in the obituary business and now routinely gouge families to run even the simplest death announcement.

Finding a profitable business model frequently results in looking for ways to milk more revenue out of each transaction, and that's what Vermont says online obit sites have been up to lately. 

Legacy.com and Tributes have agreed to pay more than $30,000 to settle charges by Vermont that they ran a scheme to solicit unauthorized donations to nonprofits in lieu of flowers.

“We are pleased to end this practice, which has cost Vermonters unnecessary fees at a time of vulnerability. This is a good outcome for Vermont donors and nonprofits alike.” Attorney General William H. Sorrell said.

According to Sorrell, the sites directed mourners wanting to donate to nonprofits like the American Cancer Society to Givalike, a third-party website that collected the money, deducted its cut, and sent the remainder to the charity.

Didn't get consent

The problem with this is that, in Vermont and many other states, it is illegal to solicit donations for a charity without first getting the charity's consent. Additionally, the state charged that in some instances, neither the deceased nor the immediate family had asked for donations to be solicited for a charity.

The sites also failed to register as paid fundraisers in Vermont and failed to follow the state's laws regarding charitable solicitations.

Under the terms of the settlement, Legacy.com and Tributes agreed not to allow software in the obituary of any Vermonter, or in any obituary where a Vermont nonprofit is listed without disclosing that a third-party’s website will be used and disclosing all fees. 

As part of the settlement, both Legacy.com and Tributes will pay the state for penalties and attorneys’ costs and fees totaling more than $30,000.

Sorrell's office is still investigating the three California-based principals of Givalike, which is no longer in business.


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