Scam warning: Watch out for offers of free meals, free gifts

A free meal and all you have to do is show up.

It may seem like a risk-free way to learn about a new business opportunity or vacation program, but it could lead to huge financial losses.

These offers typically show up in the mail and include a professional-looking invitation or admission ticket. They offer a free meal and claim all you have to do is listen to a presentation.

The Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina says consumers should be wary of seminars touting opportunities like real estate or house flipping, work from home or investment programs or travel clubs as these events are often sales pitches that use high-pressure sales tactics to get people to sign up.

Mallory Wojciechowski the President & CEO of the BBB adds, "Look up that company ahead of time, find out what other customer experiences have been with them at these events."

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 the 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 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's 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.
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