In October 2008, in response to the growing number of free lunch seminars offering information about investment opportunities, AARP launched the Free Lunch Monitor Program, in collaboration with the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), to raise public awareness about the possible dangers of attending free financial seminars. A national telephone survey was conducted among individuals 55+ who are financial decision makers to learn more about the experiences of those who have attended a free lunch seminar. In addition to the national survey, the report also contains data from the “What to Listen For at Free Lunch Seminars” checklists and free lunch seminar invitation samples.
Key Findings From the Survey
Almost one in ten respondents (9%) said they attended a free financial seminar within the past three years. While those who have attended a free financial seminar may seem to be a small segment of the population, this translates into approximately 5.9 million individuals ages 55 and over in the U.S.
Free Lunch Seminar Invitations
- Over three out of five respondents (63%) report that they have received a mailed invitation to participate in a free financial seminar.
- Among those who received an invitation by mail or email, 57% received five or more invitations for a free financial seminar within the past three years.
Free Financial Seminar Attendees
- Almost one out of ten (9%) attended a free financial seminar within the past three years.
- Respondents ages 65 and over (13%) were twice as likely as respondents ages 55-64 (6%) to report that they had attended a free financial seminar.
- Those living in the North Central region (17%) are more likely to attend a free lunch seminar than those living in the Northeast (5%), South (7%), and West (9%) regions.
Free Financial Seminar Concerns
- Approximately three-quarters of all respondents (76%), including those who have not attended a seminar within the past three years, are very concerned or somewhat concerned about the possibility that financial scams could affect them or someone they know.
- Those living in the North Central region (37%) are less likely than those living in the Northeast (52%), South (49%), and West (49%) regions to be concerned about scams.
Expectations and Experiences with Free Financial Seminar Presenters
- Of those who attended a seminar, 78% expected that the free financial seminar would focus mainly on opportunities to learn more about financial issues while 21% expected that the seminar would center on opportunities to purchase financial products.
- Almost two out of five attendees (39%) reported that the presenter tried to sell them something either during or after the free financial seminar.
Qualifications of Free Financial Seminar Presenters
- Among all respondents, including those who have not attended a free financial seminar within the past three years, 72% believe that free financial seminar presenters should share their qualifications or credentials to speak about financial issues with attendees.
Findings From the Free Lunch Monitor Program Volunteer Checklists
These findings are from the Free Lunch Monitor checklists that were submitted to AARP by 180 volunteers who attended seminars and used the checklists to report their experiences to AARP.
- A majority of Free Lunch Monitor volunteers (82%) found out about a free financial seminar by mail.
- Over half (54%) reported that they were promised returns of 7% or more.
- A quarter of volunteers (25%) who submitted a checklist did report that they were contacted as a result of the free financial seminar.
The national telephone survey was conducted for AARP by International Communications Research (ICR) using its national omnibus survey service. The interviews were conducted from August 19 to September 3, 2009, among a nationally representative sample of 1,012 respondents ages 55 and older. For additional information contact Lona Choi-Allum at 202-434-6333. (33 pages)
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