It's called obituary piracy and it's causing a headache for a Calgary funeral home, as well as pain for those already grieving the loss of a loved one.
Jeff Hagel of McInnis & Holloway in Calgary says his funeral home received more than half a dozen calls on Wednesday alone from confused clients. They were wondering why obituaries of their loved ones ended up on Afterlife, a website that aggregates obituaries from across the web and then offers gifts like digital candles or real-life flowers that can be purchased for those mourning a loss.
"This would be happening thousands of times a year to unsuspecting families," said Hagel.
For a second time in recent months, Hagel's funeral home asked the company to take down all of McInnis & Holloway obits from its website.
Afterlife spokesperson Jordon Le Brun said by email that all obituaries from McInnis & Holloway had been removed from the site, but a cursory search on Thursday found that was not the case.
"By having such a personal, written testimony to somebody's life appear on a site that they have never authorized, never learned about, don't know anything about it, is an invasion," he said.
Recent controversy erupted after CBC News told the story of Naomi Kimoto's family discovering her obituary on Afterlife. They contacted the company and asked for the obituary to be removed, which it eventually was.
In an exchange of messages on Facebook, a representative for the company initially told Kimoto's niece that the posting could not be removed because digital candles had been purchased.
The family did not want gifts or flowers and said in the obituary that if people felt inclined they could make a charitable donation in Kimoto's memory.
"What should have taken place was for the obituary to be deleted and the candles purchased to be refunded to the buyers, as we have done in the past upon request. Our apologies to the family," said Le Brun by email.
He blamed the confusion on a employee who's no longer with the company and said it was the first time the company had been contacted over Facebook.
Potential legal action
Le Brun said whenever a family member or someone with power of attorney asks for an obituary to be removed, "it is done immediately."
"If at any time flowers purchased are not delivered, a reimbursement is issued. Approximately 1,000 flower arrangements are purchased per month, and on average five of those purchases result in a refund being issued," he said.
Frontrunner Professional, a funeral sofware company based in Ontario, has been warning about obit piracy for years.
The company says during funeral home conventions there has been talk of potential legal action to try to stop the practice.
The Alberta Government says it's also looking into whether Afterlife's practices violate provincial rules.