Consumer Alert: Avoiding the hard sell of "free meal" seminars
Be skeptical about these financial, retirement and estate-planning seminars.
DENVER (March 9, 2018) – Have you received an invitation or seen an ad offering you a free lunch or dinner if you attend a seminar about financial, retirement, or estate planning? Has an insurance or financial professional or someone called a “senior specialist” contacted you recently to set up a time to meet?
Know this - when federal regulators examined firms that offered free meal seminars, they found that every seminar was a sales presentation.
Recognizing this week as National Consumer Protection Week, the Division of Insurance and the Division of Securities, both part of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), are telling consumers to be careful with these masked sales pitches, especially when it comes to products related to life insurance, annuities, Medicare, long-term care insurance, financial products and retirement investments.
Some insurance and financial professionals reach out to middle-aged and older adults or host free meal seminars with the goal of selling you something you may or may not need. According to a 2013 survey by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 64 percent of respondents age 40 and older had been invited to a meeting that offered a free meal and "educational" information for some sort of investment. These “free” meal seminars aren’t free. The invitations may state that nothing will be sold, and only advice will be offered, but as part of the event, you’ll be asked for your contact information (so they can keep bothering you after the event), and you’ll be strongly pushed to buy something or at least to set up a future appointment.
You need to protect yourself, so here are suggestions to help.
Before you go. (But really, should you go? Probably not.)
- Be skeptical about these invitations. There is always a purpose to a “free” seminar, even those advertised as unbiased and educational. The lure of free meals, door prizes, and raffles is to get you to attend something you otherwise might avoid. Often additional pressure will be applied with invitations that stress the urgency to register due to “limited space.” A nice restaurant, an expensive meal, and a well-dressed presenter may be impressive, but it doesn’t mean that what they’re selling is right for you
- Do your homework. Before you attend a seminar or meet with an insurance, financial or retirement expert, verify that the person is licensed to sell those products. However, from the invitation, it may not always be clear what product is actually being promoted. Contact either the Division of Insurance or the Division of Securities to help you determine what’s being pitched. Then you can work with that division to verify licenses and review information about any disciplinary actions taken.
- Review credentials closely. Individuals offering these “free” seminars may advertise their credentials to gain the trust of clients. But some credentials may be more hype than a sign of expertise in financial matters. Be careful of people claiming to be experts in retirement planning or senior issues or someone who claims to be a “senior specialist.” You can search and learn about credentials and designations and their requirements by visiting the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation’s SaveandInvest.org website. You can also contact the Division of Securities or the Division of Insurance.
If you go (and you probably shouldn’t).
- Keep this thought at the top of your mind - “Does this product or service make sense for me?” Always be sure you understand what’s being sold. Insurance and financial products are complicated. Ask questions, especially if you don’t understand something. A good test: Can you explain the product in your own words to someone, other than the salesperson, in a way that makes sense?
- Be cautious about promises that one product can meet all of your financial needs. It’s rare that one product or service will meet the needs of everyone attending a seminar. The product must be right for you, your lifestyle, your financial goals, and your tolerance for risk. If the presenter doesn’t know your personal financial situation, how can they know if a product is right for you? And if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
- Never, ever make a final decision at a seminar. If you attend a seminar, you most likely will be exposed to high pressure tactics with frightening stories about people who don’t have enough money to live in retirement, and promises of unrealistic financial returns.
- Decide before you go that you won’t give out any personal information, sign any documents, or make any decisions while you’re there. Leave your checkbook at home (and maybe your credit and debit cards too). If you think the product is for you, get a second opinion.
- And know that if you put personal details on a registration form, raffle ticket, survey form or evaluation form, that information likely will be used to market products or services to you. Do you really want more sales calls, spam email and junk mail?
- Report suspected scams to the Division of Securities or the Division of Insurance. Anyone can find themselves the victim of a financial scam so don’t let fear, embarrassment, or uncertainty keep you from asking for help. Your report will help prevent others from also becoming victims.
The mission of the Department of Regulatory Agencies is consumer protection, and the Division of Insurance and Division of Securities work to live up to that mission. They will work to help if you believe you were misled by someone selling insurance or financial products, or were sold a product that is not right for you.
Contact us to ask questions or file a formal complaint.
- Division of Insurance - 303-894-7490 / 800-930-3745 (outside of the Denver metro area) / DORA_Insurance@state.co.us.
- Division of Securities - 303-894-2320 / Dora_SecuritiesWebsite@state.co.us
Other Important Contacts / Links
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Alert: "Free Lunch" Investment Seminars—Avoiding the Heartburn of a Hard Sell
- Colorado Attorney General’s Office - Stop Fraud Colorado
Find more consumer tips and resources from DORA related to National Consumer Protection Week by following #NCPW18 and #GetWiseCO.
The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) regulates the insurance industry and assists consumers and other stakeholders with insurance issues. Visit dora.colorado.gov/insurance for more information or call 303-894-7499 / toll free 800-930-3745.
The Division of Securities exists to protect investors and maintain confidence in the securities market, while avoiding unreasonable burdens on the marketplace by licensing securities professionals, enforcing securities law violations, and helping Coloradans become more informed investors. Visit dora.colorado.gov/dos for more information, or call 303-894-2320.
DORA is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855 / toll free 1-800-886-7675.