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Is a Free Lunch Really Free?

George Chamberlin | 9/25/2013 11:41 a.m.
I don’t know about you, but it’s not unusual to find an invitation in my mailbox offering the chance to get a free lunch or dinner while learning about a timely investment opportunity.

These seminars can be worthwhile educational events. But, more likely, they are a way for an investment professional to attract potential customers for products such as annuities and mutual funds. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued an Investor Alert encouraging financial consumers to avoid the “heartburn of a hard sell.”

“We are issuing the Alert because, in many cases, free-meal investment seminars are not solely about education. Their ultimate goals are to recruit new clients and sell products – and while some pitches can be easily swallowed, the consequences can be hard to bear,” reads the Alert.

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation points out most of these free-meal gatherings are sponsored by insurance companies or mutual funds, expecting the speaker will use the event to drive sales to their products.

Often the products being pitched offer what FINRA calls “phantom riches,” like gas wells guaranteed to produce high monthly income. Or, they try to create a false sense of urgency by suggesting a limited supply.

“Even when advertised as educational, many investment seminars are intended to sell something – financial products or the speaker’s books or services. Keep in mind that, at times, sales pitches might include confusing comparisons of dissimilar products or misleading information about the safety, performance and returns of the products touted,” says FINRA.

Caution is the key word when attending one of these free-meal seminars. Do not make any rash decision about the items being sold at an event, no matter how persuasive the presentation may be. Also, closely guard your personal information as identity theft could be a subtle purpose for the gathering.

And, of course, it probably is a good idea to leave your checkbook at home.

Quick Tip: SDCCU offers IRA Retirement accounts and SDCCU Investment Services.

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