Anatomy of Senior Seminar Scam

When you reach a certain age you begin receiving invitations to “educational seminars.”  Often bright colored postcards in the mail, sometimes formalistic letters, even advertisements in the local paper. Usually they offer a “free meal.” In almost every instance these “educational seminars” are in fact high-pressure scams, designed to sell products that pay high commissions to the sellers, and provide little or no benefit (often a detriment) to the buyer.

The pattern is always the same:

  • You are told that there is a complication in the law, often arising as a result of a recent change in the law.
  • As a result, your assets being exposed to dire risks.
  • You are told that your current advisors are either too stupid to understand the issue or they are part of a conspiracy to keep you in the dark (for their own benefit).
  • The presenter then “educates” you about the risk and offers you the “opportunity” to purchase a product that will protect you.

The Bogey Man

There is always something that you need to be afraid of.  Among the most favored are:

  • The so-called “Death tax” is going to subject your life savings to excessive taxation after your die.
  • Income Taxes. They will tell you “The IRS could be the beneficiary of your IRA.”
  • The laws of intestate succession.  You will be told that if you don’t buy their product “the state will make your will for you.”
  • Nursing home costs and Veterans benefits. You will be told that if you don’t take some protective action, all of your resources could be consumed by care costs.
  • Probate. You will be told that if your assets end up in probate court they will be exposed to exorbitant court costs and legal fees.

All of this “information” will be presented so that true facts are distorted by accompanying falsehoods and incomplete information so as to be way more dramatic than is actually the case.

The Place

These events typically take place at restaurants, hence the label “chicken dinner seminars.”

But don’t be thrown off if the event is hosted at the local senior center or public library.  Many of these facilities have no policy regarding the organizations that request to use their buildings.  Scam artists recognize that these locations may add credibility.

The Set Up

In explaining the “risk,” the presenter will toss out legal terms and offer to define some of them, in order to create the perception that s/he is sophisticated on the topic.

The presenter will insinuate that your attorney or other advisors are unsophisticated or part of a conspiracy to take advantage of you.

Pressure Points

Once the presentation is over, you will be asked if you want to buy in.  If you resist, they will make you feel both ungrateful (for having accepted the free meal) and stupid (for not being able to appreciate the benefits).

The pressure will be intense and directed individually at you.  If you will not sign up immediately, they will ask for personal information so that they can follow up with you in your home.  If you give them personal information, they will use it.  They will come to your door relentlessly.

Target Audience

Only people of certain advanced age are invited.  Some invitations go so far as to say can’t bring your kids or advisors with you.

Once you’re in the room they will begin a process of identifying their targets.  Among the most vulnerable are:

  • Prideful people who don’t want to seem stupid or ungrateful.
  • People overly deferential to persons of authority, especially to males in professional attire.
  • Those with some level of cognitive impairment.

The Products

This whole industry began with the selling of co-called “living trusts” and this continues to be a very popular item.

Annuities are almost always woven in, being the fastest way to a quick commission for someone who is not licensed to sell other financial products.

Irrevocable trusts are offered now as a cure to all sorts of concerns.

Reverse mortgages.

Advice and Conclusion

If you are invited to one of these programs, don’t go. If you go, don’t buy and don’t give out any personal information.  If you think it sounds good, just remember, if in fact what they are selling is the best thing since sliced bread, it will be still be the best thing two weeks from now when you’ve had a chance to bounce it off people you trust.

Estate planning an elder law is complicated. You should get advice and do planning. Mistakes can be costly, but there are no silver bullets, and anyone who says they can sell you one should not be trusted.

Finally, not all educational seminars you may be invited to are bad.  Professionals that you have a history of working with may invite existing clients to programs about the law or investments.  Be wary of presentations put on by people with whom you have had no prior contact, and who use the scare tactics identified above to make the sale.