The Office of Personnel Management has issued an official alert warning workers about insurance companies that use "misleading information" or "scare tactics" to sell U.S. employes health, life or retirement packages they may not need or be able to afford.

OPM has been investigating the situation since March 18, when this column reported that many area workers were being solicited by firms that guaranteed them current-level retirement benefits no matter what changes Congress or the White House might make in the program that covers more than half a million people in this area.

Some employes said that when they demanded more information on the plans the telephone solicitors either hung up (not a good way to make a sale) or gave them an incorrect number to call for verification.

Several workers told this column they had been called at home (they wondered where the salesman got their numbers) and were given sales pitches implying that the policies they were selling had Uncle Sam's seal of approval.

Acting on complaints from workers, OPM investigated and secured copies of some plans' brochures, which were designed to look like government publications. As a result, the agency has sent a special alert to federal personnel directors. It is signed by James W. Morrison Jr., OPM's associate director for compensation. It says in part:

" . . . We have become aware of an increasing number of instances in which agencies and employes are being contacted by these organizations, whose plan titles--Federal Employees Supplemental Retirement Program and Federal Employees Supplemental Health Benefits Plan--imply that they are somehow affiliated with the federal health benefits, retirement and/or life insurance programs. These practices have a clear potential to mislead federal employees, and a timely warning is in order."

Morrison's memo said that "because these packages closely resemble government offerings, federal employees have accepted the coverage as supplemental to the federal health benefits, retirement and/or life insurance programs, believing they are sponsored by or affiliated with the government.

"These employees have enrolled for the coverage under the mistaken impression that OPM sponsored the supplemental plans and because they are permitted to pay their premiums through payroll allotments. Other employees may have bought insurance, which they may not need, to supplement their FEGLI federal employes group life insurance and/or retirement coverage by acceptng at face value . . . incomplete and misleading information" and "scare tactics " that imply that the civil service retirement program coverage is inadequate.

Morrison also said that some employes have joined savings allotment programs thinking they were government-sponsored because payments were made through payroll deduction.

"Some agencies have found it helpful to counsel employees who request a pay allotment, to make sure he or she understands fully the purpose and implications of the allotment. This has often served to identify instances where the employee misunderstood the allotment process or was misled, and to permit employees to reconsider decisions before it was too late."

Many insurance companies do offer excellent annuity plans, and supplemental health and life insurance policies. They are a good idea for some people. But plans that imply they are backed by the government are guilty of a misleading sales pitch. If you get one, or got one, toss it to your personnel office.