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There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

It bears repeating—there’s no such thing as a free lunch. “Free Lunch” investment seminars are offered to attract older adults who are interested in learning how to invest their money for retirement. Unfortunately, attendees often succumb to high-pressure sales tactics at these seminars and wind up with fraudulent or unsuitable investments.

That’s why AARP and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) have launched the Free Lunch Seminar Monitor program to determine when older investors are being pressured into purchasing investments that are not right for them.

According to an AARP survey, Protecting Older Investors: 2009 Free Lunch Seminar Report, nearly 6 million Americans age 55 and older have attended a free lunch or dinner in the past three years. Over a quarter of invitees (27 percent) have received ten or more invitations. Typically, an expensive meal is provided at no cost, and these requests often promise to educate seminar attendees about investing strategies or managing money in retirement. That free meal is sometimes used as a tactic to swindle money from older people.

Together, AARP Nebraska and the Nebraska Department of Banking & Finance are working to spread the word about the Free Lunch Seminar Monitor Program statewide. The two organizations are asking individuals who choose to attend a free lunch seminar to bring a checklist with them to help assure that the presenters and products being promoted conform to securities laws and regulations. Information from the returned checklists will be forwarded to regulators at the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance for evaluation.

“A solid investment portfolio is the bedrock of a financially secure retirement,” said AARP State Director Connie Benjamin. “By empowering individuals with knowledge and information, we aim to educate investors who can spot a scam when they are being targeted. We also hope the Free Lunch Seminar Monitor program will deter scammers and give state securities regulators an opportunity to investigate them.”

“Instead of unbiased financial education and a meal, many free- lunch seminar attendees are being fed a hard sales pitch for investment products that are often unsuitable,” said Jack E. Herstein, Assistant Director with the Nebraska Department of Banking & Finance. “State securities regulators appreciate the opportunity to work closely with AARP and its members to put unscrupulous salespeople on notice that the victimization of senior investors will not be tolerated.”

As a Free Lunch Seminar Monitor, you can help identify fraud and make the financial marketplace safer for all investors. Individuals who receive an invitation and plan to attend a seminar can take along the “What to Listen For” checklist and report their findings to AARP. Please download the checklist.

AARP Nebraska will schedule training sessions for Free Lunch Seminar Monitors across the state in coming months. For more information, contact dlanner@aarp.org or 1-866-389-5651 toll-free.

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