March , 2019

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A Message from the Better Business Bureau
Chicago, IL – Falling victim to a fraudulent investment scheme can mean losing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to your life savings. While many people may not see the harm in sitting through an investment seminar, the Better Business Bureau recommends researching the investment company first, rather than running the risk of becoming a fraud victim over a free lunch.
“Free lunch seminars can seem like an easy way to get a meal, but attendees run the risk of getting drawn in by the slick presentations and promises of big returns,” said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “Misleading seminars often use the promise of a free lunch to lure in people who may have time and exploitable finances or real estate.”
Bernas noted that the old saying: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is appropriate to remember concerning investment seminars.
Investment scams and schemes can come in many forms; one common technique to lure people in is the offer of a free financial seminar over lunch or dinner. In one recent example, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) shut down an alleged USA Retirement Management Services (USARMS) Ponzi scheme, which pays returns to separate investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned. This investment fraud stole $20 million from retirees in Illinois and California. The scammers invited senior citizens to estate planning seminars and later coaxed their victims into buying promissory notes for purported Turkish investments.
When listening to an investment pitch, the BBB recommends looking for the following red flags:
  • Investments that requires large, up-front investments. Untrustworthy schemers might try to convince investors to pay a lot of money upfront so they can get out of town with a large haul, rather than wait for the funds to trickle in.  
  • Promises of high returns for low risk. Every investment comes with a level of risk. Typically the amount of risk increases in line with the potential return on the investment. If the seminar is trying to sell an investment scheme that claims a high return with little or no risk, beware, even if it comes with the promise of a money-back guarantee.
  • Employs high pressure sales tactics. Seminar leaders often use high pressure sales tactics to get people to sign up without thinking it through. They might claim that there are only a few spots left or that you need to get in on the ground level today to see the largest earnings. Any reputable investment company will let you take time, consider the offer, do research and will not pressure you into signing a check.
  • Relies on off-shore investments. Many scam artists try to give their scheme an air of sophistication by relying on overseas investments such as foreign currency, property or stocks and bonds. They also might claim-incorrectly-that you can avoid taxes by investing overseas.
  • Sounds too good to be true.  If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always listen to your instincts because the potential payoff is rarely worth the risk.

For more information on how to avoid financial planning and investing scams, visit www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-finance

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