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Invest Wisely and Safely

Are you fiscally fit for retirement?

One topic that gets a thorough examination on the AARP website is "free lunch" investment seminars. While some are legitimate, others are high-pressure sales pitches for inappropriate or even fraudulent investment products.

Investor fraud targeting older people is rampant. A 2010 survey by the Investor Protection Trust found that 7.3 million Americans 65 and over — one in five — felt they had been taken advantage of financially. Funes found similar results when she recently conducted financial town hall meetings.

"Every town that we went to, almost without fail, we found out about a big case that had just been discovered of a senior being ripped off," she said.

AARP Florida has worked closely with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to teach investors how to avoid common investment scams and how to protect their identity.

Crime isn't the only problem. Being sold legal products that aren't right for you can lead to big problems. Some annuities, for example, tie up money for years. "And if you buy that in your 80s, that's clearly not going to benefit you," Funes said.

Financial fraud expert Ronald Worst said consumers must be wary and seek advice.

"When you have opportunities in front of you to invest for your retirement plan … there's always someone with knowledge for you to help self-police yourself," he advised.

Hoffman faced that issue two years ago when she lost her longtime adviser and was forced to find a replacement. She interviewed financial advisers at several firms before choosing one. The decision, she knew, was another vital step in reaching her goals.

"The snowblower's getting bigger, I'm getting older, and I would just as soon be in Dunedin," she said.

George Edmonson is a freelance writer in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

Also of interest: Maximize your Social Security check.

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