An invitation to a free seminar may seem like a risk-free way to learn about a new business opportunity or vacation savings program, but BBB warns that such offers could lead to significant financial losses for unsuspecting consumers.
The invitations, which may include professional looking admission tickets or offers of free meals, are most often mailed to recipients’ homes, and usually ask consumers to make reservations by calling a toll-free phone number. In many cases, businesses use these seminars as sales pitches to convince attendees to enroll in everything from insurance plans to costly real estate investment programs.
BBB is most concerned with seminars touting investment opportunities, timeshare sales, or vacation club memberships.
Specifically, BBB advises that consumers be wary of dealing with businesses sponsoring free seminars on:
- Real estate or house-flipping. While the initial seminar is often free, salespeople may use the event as an opportunity to enroll attendees in future educational programs, which may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some consumers report that they wasted months and made little or no money after investing tens of thousands of dollars in these programs.
- Work from home or investment programs. The free seminar usually leads to high-pressure or overly-hyped sales presentations promising big rewards to unwary investors. These schemes often target retirees looking for steady income and can tout a variety of potential business opportunities, from internet marketing to credit card processing schemes.
- Timeshare or travel club programs. Law enforcement authorities and consumer groups have seen a variety of complaints surrounding free travel and vacation seminars. In some cases, businesses use the seminars to offer to buy or rent a consumer’s timeshare, for an upfront fee. In other cases, businesses claim their club memberships can save travelers thousands in discounted air, hotel and rental car charges. Consumers who have purchased the memberships say later that the discounts were no better than they could have gotten on their own.
If you do decide to attend a free seminar, BBB suggests leaving your checkbook and credit cards at home, so you can’t be pressured into making an immediate decision. BBB also offers the following tips to avoid becoming the victim of a free seminar scheme:
- Know who is sponsoring the event and research the business thoroughly before attending. If the business’s name is not on the mailing materials, call the phone number on the invitation and ask the representative directly who is behind the offer. Once you have identified the company, you can research it in a variety of ways – by checking with Better Business Bureau, the secretary of state where the business is registered or by conducting an internet search.
- Don’t be lured by a promise of a free meal or a free gift. Often, the meal may be nothing more than a snack and the gift an inexpensive item that is not worth the two to three hours of wasted time.
- Do not feel compelled to enter into any kind of an agreement on the day of the seminar. Before signing off on anything or paying any money, ask for a copy of an agreement, take it home and study it carefully before doing anything. It is often a good idea to run the offer past a trusted friend or family member, your regular investment advisor or an attorney before moving forward.
If you do pay money, pay by credit card whenever possible in case you need to challenge the charge in the future.