Is Your Adviser Pumping Up His Credentials?

Mr. Wyllie says it was another broker in his office who sold the stock to the Hoopers. “I never read anything like that [brochure],” he says. “They said I was present in the room [at the time of the sale], but I wasn’t. I didn’t tell them anything, and I didn’t sell that product.”

In a separate incident, Nebraska insurance regulators in 2006 fined Mr. Wyllie $500 for persuading the Hoopers to sell three annuities from ING and to replace them with similar products from Allianz Life, even though that would trigger more than $6,600 in fees for early redemption.

Mr. Wyllie consented to the regulatory findings, but says switching the policies was the Hoopers’ idea. The Hoopers declined to comment on the specifics of the annuity switch.

Other than sporadic efforts by state securities officials, there is little oversight of how credentials are used or potentially misused. Finra has jurisdiction over the use of designations only by financial professionals who are licensed to sell securities, which excludes many financial planners and insurance agents.

In March 2008, the North American Securities Administrators Association, the group of state securities regulators, devised a template for states to follow in regulating professional designations that relate specifically to older investors.

The guidelines prohibit using a designation that comes from a self-conferred body, is primarily used for marketing, lacks continuing-education requirements and lacks disciplinary standards for those who hold it. Twenty-eight states have adopted a version of the guidelines.

Some advisers, however, continue to market their credentials aggressively.

The Arkansas Securities Department, for example, in July 2008 issued a cease-and-desist order against Timothy A. Lilly, an insurance agent in Maumelle, Ark. According to the department, Mr. Lilly said in promotional materials that he was a certified senior adviser, which, according to the order, was “misleading in that it implies that Lilly has a special expertise or more knowledge than most in dealing with the financial affairs of senior citizens and retirees.”