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The Most Dangerous Piece of Mail You May Get All Year is For a Free Lunch

More than three-quarters of older Americans are concerned that financial scams will damage their retirement nest eggs or those of someone they know, AARP and North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) said recently.

In a survey released this month by AARP, entitled Protecting Older Investors: 2009 Free Lunch Seminar Report, 78 percent of Americans age 55 and over surveyed indicated that they are very or somewhat concerned about financial scams affecting them or someone they know. A common setting for fraudsters to engage with their victims is by offering a free lunch or dinner, by which an older individual near retirement age is solicited to attend and learn more about investing in retirement.

For attendees of these free seminars, the potential cost can be quite high. Of those who attended a seminar, more than three out of four (78 percent) expected that the free financial seminar would center on opportunities to learn more about financial issues. However, once at the seminar, half of seminar attendees said the presenter asked them for personal information, such as their contact information or information about their finances.

In response to such solicitations, AARP launched the Free Lunch Monitor program in collaboration with North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) in October 2008. The purpose of the national program is to raise public awareness about the possible dangers of attending free lunch seminars, empower investors of all ages with the tools to decipher fraudulent educational presentations, and share a tool to report suspicious activity—the Free Lunch Monitor Checklist.

“This survey reveals how important it is for people to protect themselves from potential scams, schemes and fraud,” said Bob Bartholomew, AARP Montana State Director. “Education is an investor’s best defense against becoming a victim of fraud. Scams come in many disguises, but they all share a common goal of separating victims from their money.”

Recognizing that financial education is a powerful weapon in the fight against investment fraud, AARP has traditionally joined with the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Monica Lindeen, to present free consumer fraud seminars around the state.

“If you are in doubt about an offer to invest your money, it is always better to do a little homework and make sure you are not being scammed.” said Lindeen.

“Often times, those who attend free lunch seminars have no idea that they are potential targets of financial fraud,” said Bob Bartholomew, AARP Montana State Director. “Many people go to these seminars hoping to learn about ways to create a more secure retirement, but instead are pitched financial products that are fraudulent or unsuitable for them.”

“Our fight against fraud never stops,” continued Lindeen. “We know the best kind of law enforcement is where the crime does not find the victim in the first place—which is why we are constantly working to educate Montanans about investment pitfalls. Many investment schemes are easy to avoid—simply call my office to check the registration of the investment, and the person or company offering it.” Lindeen’s office can be reached at 1-800-332-6148.


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