The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or FINRA reports that 64% of Americans over 40 years old have at one time or another received unsolicited invitations to enjoy a so-called "free lunch seminar" that promises to teach them about money management and investing. Those are some impressive figures. Alas, as we all know, there's no such thing as a free lunch in this world. So if you do choose to accept one of these invitations, be prepared for the usual salesperson full-court press as the sponsoring firms or brokers who are behind the seminar try their darndest to turn you into a new client or sell you something you probably don't want. Typically, these seminars transform into a veritable flea market of sales pitches involving books, financial products, money management tools or software, or investing services. You may get a bellyful of appetizing lunch gratis, but you'll also most certainly be getting an earful of sales palaver as well.
According to a recent article on the subject, "Securities regulators such as FINRA conducted more than 100 examinations of free-meal seminars. In half the cases, invitations and advertisements contained exaggerated or misleading claims, and 12 percent of them appeared to involve fraud."
Wow. With those daunting statistics in mind, if you still want to attend a free lunch seminar, do yourself a big favor and:
Commit to nothing. It's ok to grab a lunch on someone's else tab, especially if it's good eats (!), but knowing in advance you're inevitably going to come under pressure from financial salespeople connected to the seminar means you can steel yourself for no matter what they come at you with. Of course, always be polite, accept whatever literature or information packets they're handing out, but do not agree to or sign anything while you're at the seminar, especially if you haven't done any background research ahead of time. Which brings us to...
Do background research. It's the Age of Information, people! There's absolutely no reason in the world you should be attending a free lunch seminar/sales pitch session without knowing something about who's behind it and who's going to be doing the speaking. General research can be done through Google or social media. If the seminar sponsors are brokerages or individual brokers, use FINRA's wonderful online resource BrokerCheck to look into their professional history. If you're still not sure who you're dealing with by the time you get to the seminar, turn the tables on the pitch masters by putting them on the spot by asking for references. Let them feel some high-pressure.
We at The Green Firm have handled several cases in the past that involved our client being sold a bill-of-goods at one of these shady seminars. Don't be their next victim. If, however, you or anyone you know has already been the victim of broker fraud or fraud related to informational seminars hosted by financial industry professionals, please contact us immediately for a free consultation.