TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Envision Credit Union has found a unique way to promote financial literacy while also arming locals in the fight against identity theft.
The credit union has pooled its efforts with other like-minded organizations such as Leon County Public Schools, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, Gadsden Saves, the Capital Area Community Action Agency, Inc., and the Tallahassee Board of Realtors to form the "Get Ahead Partnership."
Focused on improving the financial habits of young people, and those who are often underserved, including lower-income residents, young families and the elderly, the partnership is helping the credit union's outreach efforts.
"We wanted a way to reach out to the community," said Envision CU Director of Marketing Services Leslie Smith. "The thought was that if we pool all our resources together then we can serve the greater population and reach more people than we would be able to on our own."
The group has recently expanded its financial literacy efforts and joined forces with the Tallahassee Police Department to help consumers protect themselves against identity theft.
"Identity theft is still a growing problem, so we are providing residents with the proper protections to effectively guard their identities," said Sergeant Bill Bierbaum, Tallahassee Police Department's financial crimes unit supervisor. "We want everyone taking extra precaution to prevent their personal information from falling into the wrong hands."
The Federal Trade Commission reports that nearly 10 million people have fallen prey to identity theft, and experts predict that number will rise. PandaLabs, an international security/technologies solutions provider, registered a 50% increase in identity theft and online fraud related activities through June 2006. "A little bit of diligence can decrease a consumer's risk of falling victim to identity theft," said Envision CU President/CEO Ray E. Cromer Jr. "We are providing the information residents need to be proactive. A little effort now will save them a lot of hassle and stress later." In addition to offering seminars and workshops on the subject, the credit union has also created an identity theft brochure to be distributed not only at its branches, but also by all partnership members. Among the relevant topics discussed is the growing popularity of Wi-Fi access. According to Tallahassee police, hackers drive down streets and use a laptop computer to access Wi-Fi networks gaining illicit access to personal information. Many drivers use GPS devices to find the network and log on.
A Jupiter Research study finds 14% of wireless network owners have accessed their neighbor's connection--emphasizing the need for individual networks to be password protected.
"This is really a true partnership and there is a lot of great information in the brochure we cooperatively produced on how consumers can protect themselves from identity theft including tech tips and resources," said Smith. "Identity theft is everyone's problem and we could've produced a brochure on our own but with this partnership we can provide this valuable information to a broader audience beyond our members."
Smith says when it comes to scams or phishing, Envision CU is never shy about informing members via postings on its Web site, e-mail alerts or reminders in its newsletter. She adds that the greater the awareness the harder it will be for identity thieves to succeed.
"I think it is important to look beyond just the credit union community and reach out and partner with other organizations that share in a common goal," said Smith. "There is a huge population out there that we can never touch no matter how much we try so by relying on these other organizations we're able to do more good in the community." --firstname.lastname@example.org