Fraud Watch: What to know before attending a free seminar

Posted at 5:00 PM, Aug 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-23 20:01:58-04

HELENA – You may have seen the advertisements: flyers, emails or TV commercials, promising amazing opportunities.

“They’re timeshares, they’re travel clubs, they’re health and wellness, and then they’re work-from-home business opportunities,” said Demerry Nielson, an investigator with Montana’s Office of Consumer Protection.

Nielson said OCP has seen a growing number of seminars in Montana promoting these types of offers. They’re often held at hotels around the state.

“What they’ll do is they’ll invite you to come and get a free lunch – and as we know, nothing is for free,” Nielson said.

OCP has heard from many Montanans who aren’t happy with what they received after attending one of the seminars. In most cases, Nielson says the offers aren’t outright scams, but that they often come with contracts that include hidden fees or other provisions the customer didn’t know about.

“It’s so high-pressure sales that people don’t have the opportunity to take the time, read through these contracts, know what it is that you’re signing up for,” she said. “It’s not until a later date that our consumers are finding out, ‘This is not what was presented to me; this is not what I thought it was.’ And that’s where the trouble comes in.”

Nielson said the sales pitch at a seminar can take a variety of forms. In some cases, those in attendance will be broken into small groups or given a one-on-one presentation. There may be a prize or other incentive for signing a contract.

“You might see testimonials, demonstrations on how it works, and ‘a chance you just can’t pass up,’” Nielson said.

If you are going to go to one of these seminars, OCP says it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

“Do your homework,” said Nielson. “Check it out in advance, do a Google, review them, look at their reviews for the individual companies. Do as much research as you can in advance, so that when you’re there, you know the questions to ask.”

If you do sign and you’re not satisfied, you do have one remaining option. According to Montana state law, if you buy something after a personal solicitation – meaning the seller contacted you and it didn’t happen in a place of business – you have three days to change your mind and cancel the deal.

But Nielson said some companies may use delaying tactics, in an attempt to get around that law.

“We’ve had some situations where companies will wait to mail you your information on whatever it was that you just signed to, thus extending past that three-day right to rescind,” she said.

In that case, she said it’s important to keep a record of what you did to try to cancel.

“If you’ve made a phone call, if you’ve sent them an email, you want to document all of that,” she said. “If you mail them a letter, send it certified. Any way that you’re trying to get out of that contract, you want to make sure that you document it.”

Nielson said, if you have any questions about a seminar, you can contact the Office of Consumer Protection at (406) 444-4500. Information is also available on the agency’s website.