RSS Feed

Financial Fitness Blog

Beware the free lunch! But if you MUST go...

 Permanent link   All Posts

Eric SchwartzThis is a followup to our article, "A cautionary tale: No free lunches!"

There is really no such thing as a free lunch. Financial service firms are increasingly focusing on those who are in or nearing retirement by offering them a free meal in order to sell their investment products. However, sales materials may contain claims that are exaggerated, misleading, or otherwise unwarranted. Some are simply fraudulent, ranging from unfounded projections of returns to sales of fictitious products.

In other words, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

However, if you decide to attend one of these seminars, here are some important questions you should ask as well as some resources to help protect yourself.

Do your homework before the seminar

Investment salespersons (who offer securities) must be licensed. The firm must be registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), or a state securities regulator—depending on the type of business the firm conducts. An insurance agent must be licensed by the state insurance commissioner where he or she does business. Check out seminar speakers and sponsors:

Decide now to decide later

Savvy investors refuse to be rushed. Rarely—if ever—do you have to invest your money on the spot. A good investment will be available tomorrow or next week or next month, when you are ready and understand where your money is going.

Ask questions while you are there

Ask questions until you are satisfied that you know what you are buying and understand the risks and costs. You should know the answers to questions like:

  • What are the risks of this investment?
  • How much does it cost initially to purchase the investment?
  • What, if any, additional or ongoing costs will I have to pay?
  • How liquid is this investment? If I need to sell or cash in the investment, how readily can I do so?
  • What happens if I decide to sell or cash in my investment? Are there surrender charges? Other fees?
  • For what type of investor is this investment a good/bad idea?
  • Is the investment registered? If so, with which regulator?

If the speaker can’t or won’t answer your questions to your satisfaction, then the investment is not right for you.

If you have been defrauded

If you believe you or someone you know have been defrauded or treated unfairly by a securities professional or firm, you can send a written complaint to:

FINRA Investor Complaint Center
9509 Key West Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850-3329
Phone: (240) 386-HELP (4357)
Fax: (866) 397-3290

Complaints can also be filed online at finra.org in their complaint center.

Eric Schwartz, Financial Planning Specialist