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MI “Free Lunches” Investigated

October 28, 2008

Lansing, MI – Enjoy a "free lunch" during an educational seminar on financial security. Older Michigan residents receive that pitch in the mail at least once a year, and some see it six times or more. People who receive such offers are being encouraged to go - and then, file a report about what they learn - as part of a new monitoring program to keep tabs on possible scams, high-pressure sales tactics and sales of inappropriate products.

It's a joint effort of the Michigan Office of Financial Insurance Regulation (OFIR) and AARP Michigan. Linda Cena, OFIR's securities director, says a little sleuthing by members of the public will help ferret out problems and, perhaps, eventually put a stop to people and companies taking advantage of older folks.

"If someone has a perfectly good mutual fund, and all of the sudden someone's pitching to have them move it into an annuity, we need to know why. So we want people to go to these events. Then, we want people to send the information in to AARP. In turn, AARP will forward it to us."

Cena says a recent yearlong examination of "free lunch" seminars nationwide found that, while many were advertised as "educational" or "workshops," 100 percent of them were, in fact, sales presentations.

Jacqueline Morrison is associate director for economic security and work, for AARP Michigan. Telling people to take notes and file a report, she explains, helps fend off high-pressure sales tactics and allows them to enjoy a truly "free" lunch.

"It really gives people a tool that empowers them, and slows down that decision-making process."

Anyone can call the OFIR for background checks on those making the pitches, she adds, and Michiganians can get a checklist of what to watch for and file a report for a nationwide database at the AARP Web site, www.arrp.org/states/mi/. Scroll down the page and click on "Become a Free Lunch Seminar Monitor" for details.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MI