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Financial literacy roundtable for vets in DC
Consumer Action’s Community Outreach and Training Manager, Linda Williams, traveled to Washington, DC in March to provide military personnel with the practical information they need to strengthen their money-management skills.
Returning from war and readjusting to civilian life is no easy task, particularly in today’s economy. Veterans and their families face unique financial challenges that can range from finding ways to finance education, managing personal finances, and, if they are interested in starting a business, navigating the complex system of the small business administration. Consumer Action’s Community Outreach and Training Manager, Linda Williams, traveled to Washington, DC in March to provide military personnel with the practical information they need to strengthen their money-management skills. The roundtable, co-hosted by VETS Group, attracted veterans and veterans groups from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as a representative from the office of New York Congressman Charles B. Rangel. The roundtable was part of Consumer Action’s Veterans Project, which is sponsored by Chase.
Williams opened the training by sharing Consumer Action’s mission to “help individual consumers assert their rights in the marketplace.” She noted that teaming up with agencies like VETS Group to reach veterans and offer free educational trainings is one of the ways Consumer Action is working toward achieving its mission.
During the first half of the training, Williams facilitated a discussion on basic banking skills before moving on to the importance of keeping good credit and rebuilding credit. Williams told participants that a critical, and often overlooked, step in building credit is opening and properly maintaining a bank account. Williams recognized that some consumers with poor credit histories may become discouraged and ask, “Why should I try to rebuild my credit?” She told the participants it’s never too late to start rebuilding and reminded them of the need for credit in order to rent a house, get a job, insurance, or even telephone services.
Williams ended the session by reminding participants that they can review their credit report every four months, by staggering request for their free reports from the three major credit bureaus. She also mentioned that even those using cash for much of what they buy should keep an eye on their credit reports, to stay alert for signs of identity theft.
Following lunch, Williams led the discussion on identity theft and accounts fraud. She informed participants that ID theft is a fast-growing crime in which an individual’s personal information is used for fraudulent purposes. Williams told participants that identity thieves use many methods to get their personal information, such as “shoulder surfing” or stealing PINs by looking over someone’s shoulder at an ATM machine, diving in trash bins for documents that contain their data, or by enticing them to respond to or click on “phishing” emails. Phishing scams can lead consumers to fraudulent websites that ask for personal information or even download bits of tracking code onto a personal computer. Crooks continually come up with new ways to steal information which means that consumers must be on constant alert to outsmart them. Williams also explained the difference between the fraud alert and credit freeze. She also told participants that active duty members of the military away from their usual duty station can minimize the risk of identity theft while deployed by placing an "active duty” alert on their credit report.
In his closing remarks, Joe Wynn, president of Vets Group, told the audience about the strong partnership between his organization and Consumer Action. Wynn said, “Consumer Action has been a tremendous resource in helping to elevate the level of [credit] awareness among veterans. Through Consumer Action's free educational seminars and pamphlets, more and more veterans are learning how to monitor and repair their credit history.”
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