Date: May 5, 2008
For more information contact: Mikaela Reck, Public Information Officer, (608) 267-9336 or mikaela.reck@wisconsin.gov

Seniors Beware - Consumer Alert
Question Credentials of "Senior Specialists"
Beware of "Free Lunch" Seminars

Madison, WI—Many seniors have worked hard to accumulate a lifetime of savings. Since older adults are the fastest growing segment of investors, they have become the focus of many financial services firms' marketing and sales activities.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify legitimate offers and products that are suitable for a person's financial needs.

State and federal regulators are increasingly concerned about abusive sales practices that target seniors and may result in fraud. Wisconsin is one of several states which by law requires intermediary agents to make a determination of the suitability of a purchase or replacement of an individual life insurance product or annuity before making a recommendation to a prospective buyer.

Follow these suggestions to become a more informed consumer:

  • Question the credentials of "experts." Individuals often boast designations and credentials using terms such as "certified," "accredited," "retirement planner," "senior advisor" or "senior consultant" to convince people they have special expertise to help seniors choose investment strategies. This may not be true. While some organizations require members to complete a difficult study program and pass extensive exams to earn designations, other organizations have much less stringent requirements that can be completed in a three- or four-day course. In the worst cases, some senior "expert" designations are earned simply by paying a monetary fee. Ask about the person's qualifications and training, and check them out for yourself. Find out how the person earned the credential, and whether the credential actually requires learning more about older adults' financial needs and/or more about the product being sold.
  • Beware of the "Free Lunch" Seminar. According to a report from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), four out of five investors 69 years and older received at least one invitation to a free lunch investment seminar in the past three years and three out of five received six or more. There is often a catch to a "free" seminar, even those advertised as unbiased and educational. Federal regulators examined 110 firms that offer free lunch seminars and found that every seminar was a sales presentation. While certain information provided at seminars may be useful, a seminar may end up being a sales presentation for life insurance, annuities, other insurance products, or investments. Such seminars often use enticements, including free meals and door prizes, or claims of "urgency" or "limited space," in order to encourage you to attend. You should be aware that if you give contact information on a registration form, that information will be used to solicit you for future sales and marketing efforts.
  • Does this product make sense for you? Always be sure you understand what is being sold. Do not hesitate to ask questions. Financial products can be complicated even for the most informed consumer. You should be able to explain this product in your own words to someone (other than the salesperson) in a way that makes sense to both of you. The product must be right for you, your lifestyle, your financial goals, and your tolerance for risk. It's rare that one product will meet the financial needs and goals of everyone attending a seminar. Be cautious about any promises that one product can meet all your financial needs. If the presenter doesn't know your personal financial situation, he/she can't know if the product is right for you.
  • Never make a final decision at a seminar. A Boston Globe article reported that "more than a third of 'free lunch' seminars aimed at seniors focused on unsuitable or fraudulent investments." If you attend a seminar, you may be exposed to high pressure tactics, frightening stories about individuals who don't have enough money to live on in retirement, and promises of amazing financial returns. Consider obtaining a second opinion from an accountant or other professional who will not benefit financially from the sale.
  • Report scams. If you feel that you may have been pressured into purchasing a product that is not right for you or if you feel that you may have been misled during a sales presentation about the product you purchased or if you simply don't understand the product, do not hesitate to contact your state or federal regulator for assistance. Regulatory agencies are available to assist you. Financial scams happen to all kinds of consumers, including seniors. Do not let fear or uncertainty keep you from contacting the proper regulatory agencies.

Important Contacts

In all cases, before you disclose any personal or financial information, call the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance at (800) 236-8517 or the Department of Financial Institutions Division of Securities at (608) 266-1064 to verify that the person is licensed to sell insurance products or securities products, and that there have been no complaints or enforcement actions against the person. If a company hosted the seminar, contact the Better Business Bureau (or check their Web site at www.bbb.org/online/) to learn about any complaints. To check for complaints against securities brokers, visit the Web sites of the NASAA (North American Securities Administrators Association) at www.nasaa.org, or FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) at www.finra.org.


Created by the Legislature in 1871, Wisconsin's Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) was vested with broad powers to ensure that the insurance industry responsibly and adequately met the insurance needs of Wisconsin citizens. Today, OCI's mission is to lead the way in informing and protecting the public and responding to its insurance needs.