As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That may not be entirely true, but when it comes to free meals and other goodies offered to senior citizens by some investment companies, it’s wise to keep that old expression in mind.

In recognition of National Older Americans Month, Maine’s Office of Securities is advising seniors to protect their financial assets from fraud and unsuitable investment opportunities.

With a lifetime’s worth of savings, seniors are a frequent target for financial exploitation. One of the ways unscrupulous sales teams find new targets is through so-called “free lunch” seminars, where investors are introduced to inappropriate investments in exchange for a meal or other small inducements.

Studies indicate that four out of five investors aged 60 and older received at least one invitation to a free investment seminar in the past three years. Three out of five received six or more. The invitations often promise to educate participants about investing strategies or managing money in retirement. What those invitations don’t explain is that the investment products may not be suitable for older consumers and that the sales pitch at these events, or shortly thereafter, too often crosses a line and becomes excessive.

To help fight this problem and other problems, my office is promoting two important efforts during May. First, the Office is encouraging senior investors to volunteer as a Free Lunch “monitor” as part of a nationwide campaign sponsored by the AARP and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

Although some of these events may offer straight-forward information, too many involve a hard sales pitch for investment products that are simply inappropriate for seniors. The Free Lunch Monitor program gives older Americans an opportunity to fight fraud and protect their hard-earned dollars from unscrupulous investment promoters by reporting possibly questionable investment practices in their communities to state securities authorities.

Volunteer monitors participating in the program are offered a simple checklist to take with them to a free lunch seminar. The checklist helps to assure that both the products promoted at free investment seminars, as well as the promoters, conform to securities laws and regulations. The completed checklists are forwarded to AARP, which sends them to the appropriate state securities office for evaluation.

For more information about the Free Lunch Monitor program and to become a free lunch monitor, please visit www.aarp.org/nofreelunch.

Additionally, my office is working to help seniors spot unsuitable investments and financial fraud at free lunch seminars and in other situations by conducting outreach presentations. Our third annual statewide “Wise and Safe Investing Conference” was held May 28th in Auburn. Organized in partnership with AARP, the Investor Protection Trust, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, seniors learned many practical strategies to avoid becoming victims of fraud and inappropriate investments.

All of these investor protection events are part of the state’s ongoing effort to provide information, resources and assistance to senior consumers and their advocates. This year’s Wise and Safe Investing Conference was especially timely in the wake of the Bernard Madoff scandal, and the continuing volatility in the national securities markets.

Most important, my office is promoting its “Check Before You Invest” message during Older Americans Month by urging seniors to contact us before making an investment. We provide unbiased information about the licensing and registration status, as well as the disciplinary history of investment firms and advisers. We can also provide guidance about the legitimacy and suitability of many investment products.

Judith Shaw is Maine’s Securities Administrator. For more information about protecting seniors from investment schemes, call 1-877-624-8551, or visit www.maine.gov/pfr/securities.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.