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Getting Smart About Money: Online Financial Literacy
Volume 41, Number 2 - March/April 2017


What about financial information literacy for people whose speaking and understanding of the English language are minimal? The nonprofit Consumer Action ( group has some suggestions. It wants state governments to mandate making important financial documents available in at least eight languages (Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Russian, Arabic, and Haitian Creole) and recommends that financial institutions do the same. Consumer Action plays by its own rules: Its hotline has three language options—English, Spanish, and Chinese. It publishes free financial education and training materials in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

At the U.S. federal government level, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ( has its website in eight languages. Another federal government website, the interagency project Limited English Proficiency (, provides and links to information, tools, and technical assistance from a variety of federal agencies. Particularly useful is its Resources by Subject, which details multilingual websites and materials and lists community-based agencies and programs. It also devotes a large amount of its site to legal resources.


A major component of financial information literacy is fighting scams. One of the ALA Money Smart Week topics is Identity Theft/Investment Scams/Financial Fraud. This can be a particularly difficult topic to investigate because there is a tremendous amount of information on the open web, and not all of it is useful or even accurate. Some information is in the form of scare tactics attempting to convince people to buy a “protection” product. The bad news stories make other people decide to stay off the internet entirely.

A longtime favorite of mine, when teaching about investment scams, is the McWhortle website (, created by the SEC. Although sadly out of date—how I wish for an updated version—it can still be an example of red flags when considering a potential investment. The state of Indiana provides another example of financial scams, although completely inadvertently. As part of its involvement with Money Smart Week, the Indiana Securities Division created Indiana Investment Watch with a dot-com URL that spelled out the name IndianaInvestmentWatch.

This year, it changed the name of its financial literacy site to Indiana MoneyWise and created a new URL for it ( What it didn’t do was renew ownership of the original Investment Watch URL. That was mistake. The old URL now goes directly to a payday loan site that prominently asks you to fill out a form with loads of personal information. Ironically, Indiana put a half-hour documentary titled “$CAMMED: Investment Fraud Revealed” ( on its website without realizing it’s also been scammed.


I don’t want to be overly pessimistic, but the U.S. federal government’s involvement with teaching about personal finance and money management may not be as high on the agenda of the Trump administration as it was with the Obama administration. Consumer protection agencies and programs are likely to be on the chopping block. It’s best to assume that government websites will change or even disappear. Thus, capture the information while the sites are still live so you’ll have an archive of the information and data. Don’t rely solely on the continued existence of financial information literacy activities at the federal government level. If you’ve created a LibGuide, be diligent about keeping the URLs current. You don’t want to be in the situation of linking to a government site that’s no longer operational or, worse, to a scamming site such as Indiana Investment Watch. If you create a Facebook page, feed it regularly with content so it doesn’t become stale. Pay attention to Money Smart Week and create your own programs relevant to your constituencies.

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Marydee Ojala is Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher (the successor journal to ONLINE) and writes its business research column ("The Dollar Sign"). She contributes feature articles and news stories to Information TodayEContentComputers in LibrariesIntranetsCyberSkeptic's Guide to the InternetBusiness Information Review, and Information Today's NewsBreaks. A long-time observer of the information industry, she speaks frequently at conferences, such as WebSearch University, Internet Librarian, Online Information (London, UK), Internet Librarian International, and national library meetings outside the U.S. She has adjunct faculty status at the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis). Her professional career began at BankAmerica Corporation, San Francisco, directing a worldwide program of research and information services. She established her independent information research business in 1987. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her MLS was earned at the University of Pittsburgh.


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