Police in the Atlanta suburb of Jonesboro have charged a woman in connection with a scheme in which they say she scammed several bereaved families out of more than $80,000.
The search ended on Dec. 9 for Danielle Longino, a former employee of the Anthony L. Watkins Funeral Home in Jonesboro. After a photograph and description were sent out to the press and social media stating she was a person of interest, the Georgia resident turned herself in at the Clayton County Jail, WSB-TV reports.
The 34-year-old, who also goes by the last names Langford and Watkins, is accused of scamming families out of money while pretending to still be employed at the funeral home, Jonesboro Police Chief Tommy Henderson said in a statement to the press.
“She would contact several victims after they suffered a death in the family while they were making arrangements,” he said. “She would scam them out of the money for caskets and funeral services.”
According to police records, at one time Longino worked for the family-run funeral home.
The business was started a little over 20 years ago and has a motto, according to its website, “Service with Compassion.”
An attribute that played into Longino’s alleged scam is the company’s promise to customize the homegoing experience for each family with a personal touch, preparing tribute videos, ordering flowers, providing grief support and more.
Unsuspecting and vulnerable families believed she was offering an extended service, using information she learned while working at the establishment.
But after her departure, she continued to present herself as an employee, contacting grieving families about final arrangements for their loved ones, police say.
“To my knowledge, they were looking for services at the funeral home, and in some cases, she would contact them,” Henderson stated.
Friends of the suspect are torn between worrying about her well-being and feeling sorry for the people impacted by her deception.
One of the suspect’s childhood associates, Faye Yvette McQueen, said she feels for the woman “because something must be wrong.”
“But I also feel for the people that were scammed,” McQueen admitted to WSB-TV.
“Justice and hopefully help,” continued McQueen. “I think she needs help.”
Funeral expenses are often a challenge for American families, with some even turning to crowdfunding to help send their loved ones away with dignity and style.
Research shows “the average funeral cost is between $7,000 and $9,000, with the median cost being $7,360.”
The U.S. state with the highest average funeral cost is Maine, with families or other loved ones shelling out an average cost of $8,675 on a service. On the opposite spectrum, Florida has the lowest average cost, hitting families with general bills that run around $5,875.
Georgia happens to have one of the lowest funeral cost averages in the country. Most residents pay a little under $7,000 to lay the deceased to rest.
The study, published by the World Population Review, says, “many families tend to overspend on funerals due to the emotional impact of a loved one passing clouding their best judgment or due to a lack of time and experience,” and noting the frequency of grieving families to be taken advantage of.
As a result, in 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) introduced the “Funeral Rule.” This legislation is an initiative to help families see costs upfront, receive an itemized statement, obtain information over the phone, and other rights related to a service.