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Investment Advice and a Free Meal: Risky Recipe

You’ve probably seen advertisements for seminars featuring a free meal and investment advice, and maybe you’ve gone to one yourself. The ads may seem inviting, the advisor may be persuasive, and the food may even be good, but watch out. AARP Virginia cautions that sometimes the guidance that advisors offer can be disastrous, especially if they’re pushing variable annuities to older investors. You can help by becoming a Free Lunch Monitor.

Variable annuities are widely promoted at educational workshops in restaurants set up by so-called investment advisors, financial planners or senior specialists. After the free food the advisors urge folks to exchange their current investments for variable or equity-indexed annuities. The testimonials are glowing, the charts and graphs impressive. Frequently, investors are told to run home to get their mutual fund, brokerage and bank statements so the promoters can calculate how big the annuity should be. The pitch may scare investors into thinking their money is at risk and only an annuity will protect them. If the agent isn’t sufficiently convincing at the restaurant, he or she may show up at the investor’s home to continue the pressure.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Securities Dealers are cracking down on these hard-sell investment seminars and you can help.

If you receive "Free Lunch Seminar" invitations, you can help protect seniors. Nearly 6 million Americans age 55 and older receive the invitation and have attended them according to a study released by AARP, entitled Protecting Older Investors: 2009 Free Lunch Seminar Report. The report reveals that 78% of people who attended did so thinking it was an educational opportunity but instead nearly 40% were asked to buy an investment product. The report also has interesting findings from the checklists AARP received from hundreds of dedicated Free Lunch Monitor Volunteers, who help make the financial market place safer for all investors.

If you are looking for an exciting volunteer opportunity, you can also become an AARP Volunteer Free Lunch Monitor; you can get involved by contacting Amber Nightingale at anightingale@aarp.org.

AARP Virginia offers these tips if you are considering a variable annuity.

  • Be sure you understand all the terms.
  • Compare the sales commission to other investment opportunities.
  • Know the tax consequences when you move money out of your 40l(k) or other investments into an annuity, when you start receiving annuity payments, and when you die.
  • Don’t tie up too much of your assets in annuities.
  • Understand the surrender charges in case you need to get to your money in an emergency.
  • Check with the State Corporation Commission, Division of Securities and Retail Franchising, 1-800-552-7945 to verify that the product is registered and the sales agent is licensed.

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