Digital Security: Be Deliberate, Be Judicious


Almost daily we hear of new and troubling attacks, hacks, and loss of key data and information, all taken from the online world by digital thieves. The technical ins and outs of these events are often confusing and complex and it’s easy to feel powerless to do anything about them. Yet, we can reduce risk by being deliberate and judicious in our use of digital resources. Here are two steps we can all take today:

Step 1 – Know who we are doing business with
Review privacy policies, learn about security practices, and apply common sense. Stop visiting or engaging with companies or sites that leave us uncomfortable. According to the Business Insider, there are now more than 644 million active websites on the Internet – so chances are the company you are doing business with is not the only provider. As part of Security Awareness Week (June 1-6), Merchants Bank has provided some quick steps to help you identify if a website is legitimate.

Step 2 – Enjoy the social network but…
The FBI cyber center reports the use of social media by cyber criminals has grown 400% since 2009. Sharing too much online allows thieves to build a near complete picture of who we are and then use that information to outright steal (or con others into revealing) otherwise protected data. Instead of posting everything about our lives, pick up the phone, send a note, or get together with friends. After all, it is those close to us who are most interested in what we have to share.

Some of the best approaches to security do not involve technology. By being more deliberate in how we share information, and more judicious in what we share, we can reduce the risks that, if our online information is compromised, it will have little value to thieves and cannot be used against us.

For more security information, sign up for Merchants Bank security tips and alerts via email.


Garage Sale Do’s and Don’ts


It’s garage sale season! How does getting paid to have people take the items you don’t want any more off your property sound?

Garage sales are a great way to get rid of things you don’t use any more — from your old children’s toys to the multiple sets of dishes boxed in the garage collecting dust. Maybe you’re moving and need to downsize. Or maybe you’re just fed up with the clutter in your home. Whatever the reason, if you can make a few bucks while getting rid of unwanted possessions, it seems like a no-brainer.

But before you simply drag all your items onto your front lawn, know that there are a few strategies to holding a successful yard sale. Consider these do’s and don’ts:


Be realistic with prices – As a general rule of thumb, garage sale prices should be between 25 and 30 percent of the item’s original price, and even less if your true motive is to get rid of things. However, it’s also important to note that most people will bargain you down even more (all the fun of a tag sale!), even if you do start at a low price, so be sure to keep that in mind when pricing.

Present special offers – If you’re trying to get rid of one specific genre of items that you have multiple of (think books, clothing, stuffed animals, etc.), proclaim that if someone buys, say, $10 worth of items, they get a book of their choice for free. Or, price those kinds of items with some kind of deal attached to it (i.e.: Books are 25 cents each or five for a dollar, or if you buy one stuffed animal, get one free, etc.).

Advertise your sale – Spread the word by placing an ad in your local paper in the garage sale section. Typically, this section is also posted online. You can list when your garage sale is happening, your address, and the types of items you’ll be selling. Also, try hanging signs around your neighborhood, especially at busy intersections. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy: a piece of paper written with black ink, announcing the garage sale, with your address and a large arrow that people can see from their cars.

Label as many items as you can – Depending on how many items you have for sale, it may be difficult to mark every single item. But price tags let people know exactly what something costs without having to ask you — and if you’re busy helping another customer and someone is waiting to ask you about price, they may decide they don’t want the item and you’ll lose the sale. Tip: Label items that you want to get rid of most with “Make an offer.” This will intrigue your customers, even if they weren’t necessarily interested in the item in the first place.

Organize your items –  Make sure your objects are arranged in an organized manner. Invest in a few fold-out tables and arrange items in ways you see fit. Have a lot of golf items? Make a golf table. A wealth of electronics? Keep them together. Also, think about what types of things people might be searching for. For example, is Father’s Day fast approaching and are you selling gifts a Dad might like? Create a “Father’s Day” table with those items. The same items people might not have thought of as gifts are suddenly very desirable to those who forgot about Father’s Day.


Keep money out in the open – Some garage sale hosts may think that a shoebox or even a cashbox is a good spot for their cash, but if you walk away from it, someone could easily access it. Instead, invest in a fanny pack to wear during the day and keep your earnings in it.

Follow your customers around – While you may be vastly interested in what kinds of items they’re browsing and picking up, chances are the customer is going to find you more off-putting than helpful. They might even think you’re suspecting them of stealing, and could get offended and leave. Instead, let them know that you’re there if they have any questions, but then keep to yourself.

Let haggling get to you – More often than not, garage sale goers are going to bargain you down — that’s just part of the fun! Don’t let it get to you. If it’s an item of sentimental value that you simply can’t bear to sell for even less than your original offer, simply explain that in a calm manner. The customer is sure to understand.

Do it alone – Some of the most successful yard sales are when multiple families join in at once. Before the sale, see if you can get neighbors or friends on board to sell some of their own knick knacks. Not only are you bound to sell more items, but there’s someone to talk to when lulls occur (which typically happen around lunch time or towards the end of the sale).

Choose just any day – It may sound obvious, but the best times to host a garage sale are weekends from May through September. Also, try to avoid holiday weekends, as most people are on vacation or doing something other than garage sale trolling. If you’re able to hold a two-day sale, that’s great, but if you can just do one, Saturdays usually attract more visitors.

A garage sale is a great way to declutter and make some quick cash at the same time so get out there and get it done.




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Tip #3: How to Recognize “It’s Too Good to Be True”


Fraud happens on a daily basis. In many cases, it could have been prevented if the person had simply asked themselves this one question: Does this situation sound too good to be true?

Here are real examples of fraud that have happened to Merchants Bank customers. Do any of these situations sounds too good to be true?

  • You receive a phone call from what appears to be a legitimate company stating you are owed $600. When you call the company, you give them your card number and PIN so they can deposit your $600. The next day $600 in cash in taken from your account.
  • You receive a call stating you’ve won the lottery. You must send a money order in the amount of $450 to cover a processing fee and then you can claim your winnings. You take out cash, purchase the money order and send it in the mail. You never receive your lottery winnings.
  • While on your computer, a pop-up appears alerting you that your computer has been compromised by a virus. You call the phone number on the screen to get help removing the virus. Before the company can begin, you need to pay $300 up front. You give them your card number and PIN. After a few minutes, the you can see the company accessing your computer remotely and taking your personal information.

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission reports customer fraud on their website. Here are a few real “too good to be true” scams from 2015:

Each scam demonstrates that clever fraudsters will use any information and technology at their disposal to obtain your information or get you to send them money. If you find yourself in a situation that sounds too good to be true, take a moment to verify the validity of the person, business or claim. You’ll be glad you did.

During Security Awareness week, June 1-6, 2015, Merchants Bank will be sharing a fraud prevention tip each day. Visit our blog or Facebook or LinkedIn pages tomorrow for the next article in our Security Awareness Week series.

Join Us for Community Appreciation Picnics this Summer


Please join us for these Community Appreciation Picnics in June and July!

6/3 Spring Grove
Food starts at 6:00 p.m., Music starts at 6:30 p.m.
At Spring Grove Fest Building • 110 North Division Avenue
Kick off Music in the park with Merchants Bank’s Community Appreciation Picnic.
6/23 St. Charles
5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
At St. Charles City Park
Merchants Bank staff will be serving brats with all the fixings, catered by Porkmaster Chefs. Also, the Winona County Dairy Princesses will be serving ice cream treats from the Little Red Barn.
7/16 Hampton
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
At Merchants Bank in Hampton
Merchants Bank staff will be serving grilled hot dogs served with all the fixings!
7/17 Rosemount Save the date! More details to come.
7/24 Cottage Grove Save the date! More details to come.

Earn Cash Now by Switching to eStatements


Did you know that 4% of identity theft victims report stolen mail as the source which fraudsters use to obtain their personal information?* You can help prevent fraud and earn $5 for each Merchants Bank checking or savings account enrolled in eStatements by the end of this month.

Why should I sign up for eStatements?
eStatements are convenient, notice of when they are ready to view is delivered directly to your email inbox and reduce your risk of fraud by helping you monitor your account activity regularly. Plus, you’ll receive an eStatement up to five days sooner than your paper statement.

Which accounts are eligible to earn $5?
All personal and business checking and savings accounts are eligible to earn $5 for each account enrolled in eStatements (payment automatically deposited into your enrolled account). Customer accounts previously enrolled in eStatements are not eligible for this promotion.

How do I enroll in eStatements?
Current Merchants Online Banking users can go to and log in to your Online Banking account. From the main menu, click Preferences and then eStatements. Click Edit in the bottom left corner of the screen to change your eStatement settings. There is no charge for enrolling in eStatements.

Not currently enrolled in Online Banking? Visit our website for more information on Merchants Online Banking and eStatements.

Earn your $5 today by signing up for eStatements. Login to your Online Banking account to get started.





New Staff Here to Help You

At Merchants Bank, we are happy to welcome new employees and celebrate new positions filled by current staff. These frontline employees are all looking forward to serving you. Take a moment to congratulate them.

AndersonCarleyCarly Anderson has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Apple Valley. Carly previously worked at Orangetheory Fitness as a Sales Associate and at Merrill Hair Designers as a Receptionist and Sales Clerk. Carly is currently attending Metropolitan State University and is pursuing a degree in Finance. In her free time, she loves taking her dog to the dog park or taking the four wheeler for a ride.

BondellRossRoss Blondell has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Rochester. Ross previously worked at Menards as a sales person and at Fastenal as a Machinist.

DodsonKristinKristin Dodson has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Hampton. Kristin and her family recently moved to Minnesota from Alaska. She previously worked for Northern Schools Federal Credit Union, the University of Alaska and most recently, was a stay at home mom. She enjoys spending time with her husband and their three children.

John Piscitiello, Vice President and Commercial Banker

John Piscitiello has joined Merchants Bank as a Commercial Banker in Apple Valley. John previously worked at Associated Bank as a Commercial Banker and at Safire Group as a Investment Banker. John is a Winona native and graduated from Cotter High School and St. Mary’s University. He and his wife have four boys. In his free time, he enjoys fishing the St. Croix river, coaching youth basketball for Lakeville North High School and supporting the Courage Kenny Foundation serving individuals with disabilities.


Liz Diggins has joined Merchants Bank as a Commercial Banker in Red Wing. Liz previously worked at Associated Bank for 12 years as a Sales and Support Specialist. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from the College of Saint Benedict and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She enjoys spending her free time visiting their cabin, fishing, gardening, golfing and reading.

Jim Vrchota, Vice President and Commercial Banker

Jim Vrchota has joined Merchants Bank as a Commercial Banker in Winona. Jim previously worked at United Prairie Bank as a Senior Vice President and at Center National Bank as a Commercial/Ag Lender. He has been in banking since he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1981. He and his wife, Tami, have been married for 35 years and have four grown children. Jim’s hobbies include running, community theater and hunting.


Tip #2: How to Review Your Bank and Credit Card Statements for Fraud


What’s the most important step you can take to prevent identity theft? Review your account transactions on a regular basis. Regardless of how you receive your statements or banking information (paper statements, eStatements, Online or Mobile Banking), reviewing your account information is crucial to catching fraudulent transactions.

First, look at each line item on your statement or in Online or Mobile Banking:

  • Review each item to see if you recall the transaction.
  • If you have a joint account, make sure to ask the other account owner about transactions you do not recognize.
  • If you see an item you believe is an unauthorized charge contact Merchants Bank immediately.

Next, review your transactions for a prenote.

A prenote is a normally a zero-dollar transaction sent to test the validity of an account. For the most part, prenotes are used by banks or other businesses you have authorized to set up electronic transfers. However, some fraudsters have started collecting account information by using prenote transactions. If you do not recognize the name or business associated with a prenote transaction on your statement or in Online Banking, contact Merchants Bank immediately (see numbers above).

Then, review your transactions for a pre-authorization.

A pre-authorization is a transaction sent to secure funds for a payment. For example, if you book a hotel online you might have a pre-authorization on your card in the amount of the hotel room but the hotel would not actually charge your card the amount until your stay is complete. It’s important to note that pre-authorization does affect the available balance in your account on a debit card or available credit on a credit card.

Fraudsters are now using pre-authorization to test the value of card numbers.

  • For debit cards: Fraudsters pre-authorize thousands of dollars to see what the account is worth. Typically pre-authorization will appear in your Merchants Online Banking account as a red “pending” transaction and never change to black.
  • For credit cards: Fraudsters pre-authorize small dollar amounts to see if the card number is valid. Typically pre-authorization will appear on in the Pending transactions section of your account and never move to the Transaction view of your account.
  • If you do not recognize the name or business associated with a pre-authorization in Online or Mobile Banking, contact Merchants Bank immediately (see numbers above).

Finally, make it a habit to review your financial transactions at least monthly. You know your spending history better than anyone and that makes you the best person to detect a fraudulent transaction on your account(s). If you want to access your account information more frequently, consider enrolling in Merchants Bank Online or Mobile Banking. Make sure to save your debit and credit card receipts to compare them against your statement.

During Security Awareness week, June 1-6, 2015, Merchants Bank will be sharing a fraud prevention tip each day. Visit our blog or Facebook or LinkedIn pages tomorrow for the next article in our Security Awareness Week series.