Washington State Department of Financial Institutions

Consumer Alert

Seniors Should Carefully Check Credentials of "Senior Specialists"

December 19, 2005

The Department of Financial Institutions-Securities Division urges senior citizens to carefully check the credentials of individuals holding themselves out as "senior specialists" and who offer planning or financial services.

Individuals may call themselves "senior specialists" to create a false level of comfort among seniors by implying a certain level of training on issues important to seniors. But the training they receive may be nothing more than marketing and selling techniques targeting seniors.

The North American Securities Administrators Association has observed a significant increase in designations claiming to provide the holder with expertise in providing services to investors 55 years and older. Although there are legitimate organizations whose members must complete rigorous programs of study, pass extensive examinations, and have practical experience in order to receive their designations, a number of entities formed in the last few years have created designations with less stringent requirements.

Bogus "senior specialists" commonly target senior investors through seminars where the specialist reviews seniors' assets, including securities portfolios. The specialist may recommend liquidating securities or other investments and using the proceeds to purchase investment products that the specialist offers.

In Washington State, these recommendations may be viewed as providing investment advice for compensation. The senior specialist could be offering investment advice as an unregistered investment adviser and be subject to state licensing requirements and enforcement action by the Securities Division.

Some investments are required to have a permit to be offered in the state, so you may wish to contact the Securities Division to determine whether the investment product has been registered.

Before doing business with any investment professional, all investors, especially senior investors, should check with the Securities Division to determine whether the individual is properly licensed and if there have been any complaints or disciplinary problems involving the individual or his or her firm.

Whether a "senior specialist" is offering investment or non-investment related advice, ask about the specialist’s educational or professional credentials, licenses and experience.

The Securities Division can be contacted at 1-800-371-8303 or 360-902-8760.

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