Do-It-Yourself Project:

How to Spot a “Free Lunch” Scam

Time Needed:
Less Than 2 Hours
Skills Needed:
No special skills required
Causes:
Financial Security, Seniors
Project Categories:
Geared for 50+ Volunteers, Indoors
Created By:

Create the Good in conjunction with SaveAndInvest.org

OVERVIEW

This guide outlines how to become an AARP Free Lunch monitor. As a monitor you learn how to easily spot the persuasion tactics fraudsters use and how to report them to AARP.

Nearly 6 million Americans age 55+ attended free lunch seminars in 2009, and nearly 25% of the advisors holding seminars recommended unsuitable investments.

Older investors are intensely targeted with investment offers, both legitimate and fraudulent. Research conducted on behalf of FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, found free seminars are the top way in which older investors receive unsolicited investment offers.

Investment professionals and companies often host free lunch or dinner seminars to educate potential investors about opportunities and products. Many times these seminars are hosted by legitimate companies with good intentions.

However, invitees need to be careful; sometimes investment fraudsters use them to scam older adults out of their hard-earned savings! Seminar hosts may claim “nothing will be sold” at these free lunches. But they could be trying to sell you and your friends fraudulent investments.

After attending a free lunch seminar, more than one third of attendees were contacted about buying an investment product — and many felt pressured to invest. Remember, just because someone buys you a meal doesn’t mean you have to buy what they’re saying or selling.

Three times as many (21%) known investment fraud victims have attended a free lunch investment seminar compared to investors nationally (7%).

The project requires a few hours in order to attend a free lunch seminar as a monitor and report the information to AARP. You or a friend or relative would need to be invited to a “free lunch or dinner investment seminar.” You might also see an ad in your local newspaper. You may need to RSVP to attend. If you only have a few minutes, simply send your free lunch seminar invitations to AARP.

THE BASIC STEPS

STEP 1: PREPARE FOR THE SEMINAR

  • Sign up to attend the investment seminar if required.
  • Print out the checklist found later in this guide titled What to Listen for at Free Lunch Investment Seminars, developed by AARP and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). It includes a list of questions and cues to help you, AARP and the authorities figure out whether the financial advisor is selling appropriate products or fraudulent investments.
  • Read the FINRA Investor Education Foundation's Tip Sheet: How to Spot Persuasion Red Flags on the persuasion tactics that both legitimate financial professionals and fraudsters use to sell investment products.
  • Learn the questions to ask a financial professional and how to check the answers provided.
    • Ask: Are you a licensed broker? Who are you licensed with to sell this investment? Is that investment registered?
    • Check: www.SaveAndInvest.org/55Plus to find ways to check if a professional is licensed and a product registered.


STEP 2: ATTEND THE SEMINAR

  • Do not wear anything that says "AARP" or announces that you're a "free lunch" monitor.
  • Fill in your observations on the Checklist during or right after the seminars.

One important note: AARP and Create theGood strongly discourage giving your personal information to anyone you don’t know and trust or inviting individuals you don’t know into your home.


STEP 3: SEND YOUR NOTES TO AARP

  • Send your completed Checklist along with the seminar invitation to AARP:
    • Mail to: AARP Free Lunch Monitor Program, PO Box 93028, Long Beach, CA, 90809, or
    • Scan and email the documents to: nofreelunch@aarp.org.
  • AARP will share these checklists with state securities regulators to assist then in preventing fraud.


STEP 4: INSPIRE OTHERS ON CREATETHEGOOD.ORG!

KEEP UP THE GOOD!

Visit www.CreateTheGood.org for a range of opportunities to use your life experience, skills and passions to benefit your community.


ADDITIONAL INVESTMENT FRAUD PREVENTION ACTIVITIES

You don’t need to attend a free lunch seminar to protect others from investment fraud. Here are a few other ways you can help in as little as five minutes!

Send AARP free lunch seminar invitations or advertisements:
If you get an invitation in the mail or see an advertisement for a free lunch seminar in the newspaper, sending it to AARP is an easy way to help. Knowing how these seminars are marketed helps AARP and securities regulators determine if investment professionals are truly working in the best interest of investors. Send materials by mail to:

AARP Free Lunch Monitor Program
PO Box 93028
Long Beach, CA 90809

or scan and email invitations to nofreelunch@aarp.org.

Send regulators tips and complaints:
Visit www.SaveAndInvest.org/55Plus/Problems for more information and to report abuse if you believe your family and friends — or you — have been defrauded or treated unfairly by a securities professional or firm.


HOW TO SPOT PERSUASION RED FLAGS

Investment fraud criminals use a wide array of sophisticated and highly effective tactics to target and influence prospective victims. The truth is that you encounter these tactics every day; they are used by legitimate businesses — in retail stores and in advertisements.

Read and share these common persuasion tactics with your friends and neighbors to learn what to look for and how to keep a level head when you encounter them. For more information, visit www.SaveAndInvest.org.

Phantom Riches

Definition: Dangling the prospect of wealth by enticing you with something you want but cannot have

Example: “These gas wells are guaranteed to produce $6,800 a month in income.”

Red Flag Rule: Take time to think through the pitch. What is the salesperson really saying? Is he dangling incredible returns? Guarantees? Is he saying that the investment itself will lead to a different — and much better — lifestyle?


Source Credibility

Definition: Capitalizing on the belief that it is better to deal with credible people in positions of authority

Example: “Believe me, as a senior vice president of XYZ firm, I would never sell an investment that doesn’t produce.”

Red Flag Rule: A seller may have a corner office, framed diplomas or certificates and wear a suit. But credibility can be faked. Check out the seller’s actual qualifications at www.SaveAndInvest.org.


Social Consensus

Definition: Leading you to believe that if everyone wants it, it must be good

Example: “I know it’s a lot of money, but I’m in — and so is my mom and half her church — and it’s worth every dime.”

Red Flag Rule: Does the pitch focus on how many others are interested? Investing is a personal decision. Ask yourself if you are interested in the investment and if the objectives and risks are right for you.


Reciprocity

Definition: Offering to do a small favor in return for a big favor

Example: “I’ll give you a break on my commission if you buy now — half off.”

Red Flag Rule: Was the pitch preceded by a free meal, book or video? Do you feel obliged to do the salesman a favor? If someone does a small favor for you, don’t feel compelled do a big favor for them in return.


Scarcity

Definition: Creating a false sense of urgency by claiming limited supply or limited time; if something is rare, it must be more valuable.

Example: “There are only two units left, so I’d sign today if I were you.”

Red Flag Rule: Is the offer good for only a limited time or in a limited quantity? Take time to evaluate the offer — don’t allow yourself to be rushed into making any financial decision. A legitimate offer will be there tomorrow.


The FINRA Investor Education Foundation contributed the information about these red flags to help investors reduce their risk of investment fraud by learning the persuasion tactics fraudsters commonly use.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For additional information about ways to help your family, friends and neighbors outsmart investment fraud, check out these tools.

Learn More about Investment Fraud

www.SaveAndInvest.org/55Plus is an online resource developed by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation to help you understand the everyday behaviors that may put you at risk of investment fraud and the influence tactics used by fraudsters to perpetrate their crime. It also can help you verify the licensing of investment products and professionals.

  • Your state securities regulator can provide information about the seller and also take enforcement action. To find your state regulator, visit www.nasaa.org or call (202) 737-0900.
  • “Trick$ of the Trade: Outsmarting Investment Fraud” is a free, hour-long documentary DVD developed by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, in collaboration with AARP, that uncovers the persuasion tactics that con artists use to defraud their victims and the basic tools you can use to defend against fraud. Visit http://www.saveandinvest.org/protectyourmoney/p124313 or call 866-973-4672.
  • Fraud prevention brochure en Español: Cómo combatir el fraude financiero www.SaveAndInvest.org/CombataFraude

Help Protect Your Friends from Investment Fraud

Check Out AARP’s Investor Protection Articles

  • “Your Financial Future: Investor, Protect Thyself” is an AARP Bulletin article www.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning highlighting the tools for information available on the Securities and Exchange Commission's investor education and prevention website, www.Investor.gov.
  • AARP’s Bulletin Today provides Scam Alerts to help investors protect their family and friends - and themselves - from investment and other types of fraud. Visit www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/ to read about the latest scams.

Explore Persuasion and Investment Fraud on a Deeper Level

  • Protecting Older Investors: Visit AARP's Consumer Protection Center for other ways to avoid credit scams, fraud, and identity theft at www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud.
  • Off the Hook Again: Understanding Why the Elderly Are Victimized by Economic Fraud Crimes is a research report conducted by the Consumer Fraud Research Group that identifies the persuasion tactics con criminals use in investment scams. Visit www.SaveAndInvest.org/55Plus/Resources.
  • Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion  (revised edition, 2007) explains six universal principles, how to use them to become a skilled persuader, and how to defend yourself against them.
  • Dr. Anthony Pratkanis’ and Douglas P. Shadel’s Weapons of Fraud (2005) helps readers identify the underlying building blocks to today's most popular scams and prepares consumers to recognize and protect themselves from the scams to tomorrow.

MORE INFORMATION

CREATE THE GOOD

Create The Good (www.CreateTheGood.org) is a network of people sharing tools and ideas to help make a difference on their own or in larger groups in their communities. It is powered by AARP and the AARP Foundation’s more than nine million volunteers, donors and activists. CreateTheGood.org offers local volunteer opportunities as well as ideas for self-directed activities and how-to videos for simple service projects people can organize on their own, like weatherizing homes, starting healthy walking groups, fighting fraud, preparing for a hurricane and other needs.

FINRA AND THE FINRA INVESTOR EDUCATION FOUNDATION

FINRA is an independent regulatory organization empowered by the federal government to ensure that American's 90 million investors are protected. The mission of FINRA Investor Education Foundation is to provide underserved Americans with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary for financial success throughout life. FINRA and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation do not sell investment products, promote products or firms or offer specific investment advice. The FINRA Foundation’s Investor Protection Campaign, www.SaveAndInvest.org, is a targeted effort to reduce the incidence of investment fraud among older investors by teaching the tactics most commonly used by fraudsters and the simple steps every investor can take to reduce their risk. To increase your fraud-fighting knowledge, please visit www.SaveAndInvest.org.

 

Supplemental Materials

  • Checklist: What to listen for at free lunch investment seminars

    Download and print this list to provide information about the seminar you attended.