With a lifetime of accumulated savings, seniors are prime targets for financial fraud, and the Department of Consumer and Business Services reminds seniors and their family members about ways to avoid financial trouble and where to turn for help.
The department investigates investment scams, securities, and insurance companies and agents who sell products that are not a financial fit for their customers.
"With unusually low interest rates on traditionally safe products such as bonds and CDs, we worry that more and more people will be tempted to invest in schemes that sound too good to be true and are, in fact, scams," said David Tatman, administrator of the Division of Finance and Corporate Securities.
Some key concerns:
-- Chasing after higher-than-average investment returns: Be wary of investment offers that promise big returns with no risk. Never invest in a product you do not understand. Research investment opportunities, get a second opinion, and call the state for help in determining whether an investment is legitimate.
-- Buying a product that is unlikely to pay out while you're alive or that leaves you with little money to pay bills: If you invest in a product such as an annuity that typically requires a lump sum of money upfront in return for an income stream down the road, make sure you understand when it will start paying out and the penalties for withdrawing money early. If someone tries to convince you to replace one investment with another, have a financial adviser check it out or call a state insurance consumer advocate.
-- Turning to the wrong people for financial help: People you consider friends may take advantage of social or cultural connections to pitch scams. Others might try to convince you of their investment or insurance expertise by boasting of a "senior designation." Make sure you understand any credentials being touted. Oregon prohibits those who sell financial and insurance products from marketing themselves by claiming they are a "specialist," "adviser" or similar title when they have no solid credentials based on legitimate professional training.
"Of course, you should always be aware of the 'free lunch' and 'free seminar' offers that investment professionals use as a marketing technique," Tatman said.
Below are helplines:
Division of Finance and Corporate Securities: Staff can help you research whether an investment is registered to be sold in Oregon or a firm or investment adviser is licensed in Oregon. Call 866-814-9710.
Insurance advocates answer questions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 888-877-4894. For example, they can tell you whether someone is licensed to sell insurance in Oregon or look into an agent or company that might have sold you a product that doesn't fit your financial situation.
The Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance program can help you with Medicare questions, including your various insurance options. Call 800-722-4134.