Scamming seniors is alive and well in Michigan, an AARP Teletown Hall on investment fraud indicated. More than 7,200 seniors from the west side of the state took part in the AARP telephone forum on Dec. 14. They had plenty of stories to tell about shifty operators who use phone calls, emails, free lunches and other methods to separate older Michiganders from their nest eggs.
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“We know there is a lot of fraud going on out there that goes unreported,” said Melissa Seifert, AARP Michigan Associate State Director for Economic Security. “The responses we got during our Teletown Hall confirmed that.”
Participants heard from Laura Bos from the AARP Financial Security Team, who shared fraud prevention tips. Also, Chad Hartwick, from the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation, answered questions about how to avoid being taken in by scammers and fraudsters.
Forum attendees recounted experiences with callers who promise free cruises in exchange for credit card information and persistent online messengers who offer an investment opportunity that seems too good to be true.
And many reported they had been invited to free meals at local restaurants where pushy sales people attempted to coax seniors to make large investments on the spot, insisting that delays would mean missed opportunities.
In fact, a poll taken during the Teletown Hall showed 86 percent of participants had received an invitation to an investment seminar and a free meal. In a separate survey, nearly one in five reported they had been a victim of an investment scam.
“We tell people not to make quick investment decisions. Take time to check out the company offering the product,” Seifert said.
Bos told attendees to check for warning sign statements, such as “profit is guaranteed,” “there is no risk,” “this offer is available only today,” and “just make your check out to me.”
Check out investment products to make sure they are registered with the Michigan Securities Division or the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, she said.
“And make sure the product and the financial professional are right for you,” Bos said. “Do you feel comfortable with the level of risk and the length of time before you see a return?”
Hartwick warned that scam artists “are extremely creative and good at what they do. They’ll say anything to part you from your money.
“When it comes to your money, who do you trust? I don’t care who offers you a ‘great investment deal’ – check it out.”
One way to check is to call the Michigan Division of Securities at 877-999-6442.
Also, you can verify the legitimacy of an investment product or professional at:
- Securities and Exchange Commission 800-732-0330
- North American Securities Administration Association 202-737-0900
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority 888-295-7422
Go online to look into becoming a free lunch monitor, or download the free lunch monitor checklist.
A second Teletown Hall on Michigan’s east side was scheduled for Dec. 19.