An investigation of 110 investment firms was made public today at a Senior Summit held by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC and the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) conducted a year-long examination (April 2006 to June 2007), and found that “free lunch” seminars advertised as educational sessions (sans sales pitches) for senior citizens were more like recruiting venues, replete with sales presentations of financial products and fraud. (Click here to read the release.) Although the names of the firms were not disclosed, the release says the areas of the investigation included states which have a large population of retirees, such as Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Alabama and South Carolina.

Firms are being held accountable for the sales pitches and materials used during these seminars, during which regulators found a lack of supervision from firms, exaggerated or misleading claims, and recommendations for unsuitable products, according to the release.

“Not only were virtually all of the ‘free lunch’ seminars sales jobs in disguise, but half made misleading or exaggerated claims, and more than a third had unsuitable recommendations or outright fraud,” says SEC chairman Christopher Cox.

This probe is the latest in a series of inspections the SEC and FINRA have undertaken to probe investment areas targeted at seniors.