Prevent Fraud on Your Merchants Bank Cards

fraud word abstractPreventing fraud on your bank accounts can feel like a daunting process, but at Merchants Bank, we make it easy. By collaborating with us, you’ll have 24/7 fraud detection monitoring on your debit and credit card accounts and gain access to education on latest fraud alerts and trends. The fight to prevent fraud involves not only our expertise and diligence, but a constant open line of communication with each of our customers.

How does fraud detection at Merchants Bank work?

  • We work with our trusted partners, FraudWatch at Elan Financial Services and VISA Falcon Fraud Prevention Services, to monitor fraud trends and detect fraudulent transactions on your debit or credit card accounts 24/7.
  • We will call you in the event of a suspicious transaction. You may receive a call from our partners, Elan or Falcon, who will make you aware that the call is being placed on behalf of Merchants Bank.
  • When our partners call you they will ask you for some identifying information – such as the last four digits of your Social Security Number. They will never ask you for your full number. If you are uncomfortable and don’t want to speak with our partners, please call your local Merchants Bank office and verify the transaction or let us know that you did not make the purchase in question.

What can you do to prevent fraud? Keep in touch!

  • Ensure the Bank has your most up-to-date contact information. Call your local branch if you need to make any changes.
  • Contact us before you go on vacation and don’t be shy about sharing the details, for example: dates, exact locations and how we can contact you while you’re gone. If you make purchases in a state or country where you don’t normally use your card, we may think these transactions are fraudulent unless we know otherwise.
  • If you forget to contact us before you left on vacation, call a Customer Service Representative at your local branch during your trip to provide the information listed above.
  • Contact us if you’ll be making a large purchase that would be uncharacteristic when compared to your purchase history.

Click here for more security information from Merchants Bank make sure to review the Alerts section of our website.

Five Common Online Banking Mistakes

7-14 OnlineMany will argue that banking online has been the best invention since sliced bread. And there’s no doubt about that: no more statements and papers — everything is on your computer or mobile device, right at your fingertips.

But while banking online is certainly a feat that will make your life easier, there are some things that people do without even realizing it can be hazardous to your account safety. For your own security and protection, avoid these top online banking mistakes:

1. Don’t use an easy-to-guess password – You may be surprised at how many people don’t use original passwords, and how dangerous it can be. In an analysis of 32 million passwords done by Imperva, an Internet and data security company, found the top 10 passwords are: 123456, 12345, 123456789, Password, iloveyou, princess, rockyou, 1234567, 12345678 and abc123. These give hackers an easy in to your account. If you’re using one of these or something similar, consider changing it. Note that the best passwords are ones that use both letters and numerals and involve both lowercase and uppercase characters. Also, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

2. Don’t use public Wi-Fi – When it comes to online banking, accessing community Wi-Fi is a no-no. Why?

“People generally don’t bother to check out the security characteristics of public networks before logging on, plus wireless transmissions can be intercepted by nearby Bluetooth-type devices,” says Richard Barrington, a spokesman for MoneyRates.com. That includes public libraries, too.

“The PCs [at libraries] are subject to viruses and spyware that you have no control over,” explains Robert Sicillano, a consultant for McAfee, an expert on identity theft.

3. Don’t dismiss anti-virus protection - This kind of software helps detect and protect you from malicious software (malware) and computer viruses. That’s important because “[Common viruses like] trojans and worms can infect your computer and use keystrokes and other tactics to get your bank credentials,” warns Sol Nasisi, chief economist at BestCashCow.com. It’s best if you set up your protection software to automatically update daily. Also, sometimes your financial institution may provide free software, so be sure to ask about it if you’re unsure.

4. Don’t ignore your account - Check your account regularly. That will help ensure nothing suspicious is going on in your checking and savings accounts. Try checking it once a day or week, but at minimum, you should be looking at it once a month. If you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank immediately.

5. Don’t post password hints on social media – It sounds obvious, but don’t share any super personal information on any of your social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Doing so makes it easy for criminals to use this information and possibly open up an account in your name, or even use it to guess what your password is.

“It’s important to be careful sharing your pet’s name, your children’s names, or the name of the high school you attended, especially if you use this information as account passwords or answers to security questions,” says Lisa Robinson, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Internet Services Group. “Never share your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number, your bank account numbers, or your user names or passwords for any account.”

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Seven Ways to Save at the Supermarket

7-14 SupermarketFood shopping is an essential part of living for every family. But over the years, prices on fare have increased steadily, causing households to spend more and more on their weekly groceries. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American family shells out nearly $540 a month on food, with an average of approximately $312 for groceries.

But unlike your mortgage or gas bill, what you spend on food is flexible. Start with these tips to reduce your supermarket spending today:

1. Scour store sales and stock up. While many people think it’s the coupons that save families in groceries, it’s more so store sales — and combining a store sale and a coupon is one of the best money saving things you can do. Also, when something nonperishable that you use is on sale, it’s a good idea to stock up. It may seem counterintuitive at the time to spend more money (since you’re buying more), but in the end, you can save hundreds. Meats are also good to buy in bulk when they’re on sale, as they will freeze well.

2 …But don’t be fooled by said sales. Many times, a store will list a product for something along the lines of “buy five for $10” when, if you do the math, you may only be saving a couple cents. Also, keep in mind that when sales like these are listed, many times, you don’t need to buy five products, or whatever amount listed to get the sale price. So, for example, if a sale is for “two for $5,” buying one will cost you $2.50. Retailers are just listing that price in hopes that you’ll buy more. Don’t fall for it!

3. Clip coupons. Search your Sunday newspaper or visit websites such as Coupons.com, SmartSource.com and Redplum.com where many manufacturer coupons can be found and printed for free. There are also sites such as CouponMom.com, LivingRichWithCoupons.com and TheGroceryGame.com that offer up-to-date sales-tracking services for most states and grocery chains. In addition, it’s a good idea to shop at the stores that double your coupons (usually under 99 cents).

4. Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Even if you know you’re on a budget, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that you’re likely to spend more money if you don’t eat beforehand. So, before you hit the market, have a meal or take a snack with you if you’re on the go.

5. Use cash. “It’s psychologically more difficult to fork over cash than a credit card,” says Jeanette Pavini, Coupons.com’s household savings expert. It’s said that using cash when grocery shopping will cut your spending by about 25 percent. Before going grocery shopping, stop at an ATM so that you’re fully stocked up on cash. You could also start a “grocery jar” and drop a few bucks into it each day or week, and use it solely for food shopping.

6. Keep your focus. Does a product ever catch your eye so much that you evidently stop and examine it, mulling over whether you should purchase it? It turns out that the more you interact with a product, the more likely you are to buy it.

“Virtually all unplanned purchases…come as a result of the shopper seeing, touching, smelling, or tasting something that promises pleasure, if not total fulfillment,” says Paco Underhill in the book Why We Buy. Another way to avoid impulse buys? Ride your bike or walk to the store.

“It’s amazing how focused you can be when you are limited to one shopping bag full of groceries,” says Ross Williams, writer at simplemindedinvestor.com. “Once you are very conscious of each purchase, it seems to carry over even to the small items where space isn’t really an issue.”

7. Check over your receipt. Just because a product is on sale doesn’t mean the register will automatically ring it up correctly. Always watch your products being scanned and if something trips you up, don’t be afraid to ask politely if that price is correct.

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Why You Should Automate Your Savings

Do you have a savings account? Most people will respond “yes.” But the real question is: is it actually accruing money?

Many people want to save, but when it comes to essentially adding money to their savings account, they’ll find they’d rather use the income for other things. Evidently, saving money is easier said than done. But in the long run, putting money away is much more helpful than harmful.

So how can you make sure that you’re saving as much as you can? One of the best ways to save is to set a certain payment from your paycheck to automatically go directly into your savings. It is worth it.

“You have to automate your savings,” says Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst at Bankrate. “If you wait until the end of the month and try to save what’s left, there’s typically nothing left over.”

The easiest way to go about this is to treat your savings like your other bills.

“That automatic payment toward your retirement or your emergency savings is just like any other bill,” McBride says. “You’re getting it taken care of right off the bat when you receive your paycheck.” So if you get paid bi-weekly, you’ll be putting aside money twice a month.

“Paying yourself first clears the biggest hurdle for saving, which is simply not being in the habit of saving,” McBride continues. “It takes care of saving money before you have a chance to spend it. About how much to put aside, experts recommend putting 10% of your take-home salary into savings. But if you’re not able to put away that much, don’t fret. As long as you’re consistent, your savings will build.”

If you’re saving for multiple things, consider setting up multiple accounts for each item. Where’s the benefit in that?

“Labeling the various accounts with a specific name that reminds the account holder of what they are saving for can help deter them from withdrawing money from that account and subsequently spending it,” explains Diane Morais, deposits and product integration executive at Ally Financial in Charlotte, NC.

“You can build an emergency savings fund while building a retirement fund or a college fund at the same time,” McBride adds. “You have to attack both at the same time in the same way by automating your contributions.”

Start automating your savings today. It’s quick, painless and, in the long run, will be worth it.

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Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

If you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a new car – whether you have a new driver in the family or you’re just ready for a change and perhaps an upgrade, there are plenty of private sellers that have used vehicles for sale. However, knowing what to look for as you shop and knowing the signs of a less than trustworthy seller could make the difference between enjoying a new used car or getting stuck with a money pit. Here are some tips to help.

UsedCar“Buying a used car from a private party can score you a deal – often discounts of 15-20 percent when buying from a private seller over a dealership,” states Angie Fisher of AutoWeek.com. To avoid signing on a deal that could turn out to be too good to be true, Fisher goes on to offer some things to consider as you search.

Ask the right questions. Regardless of the car’s mileage – low or high – it’s important to ask if it has been in any accidents and how severe. Ask for maintenance receipts to show if the car has been well cared for. Ask if the seller is the original owner and if not, how much they know about who they purchased the vehicle from. Finally, always ask why they are selling; if they can’t seem to give you a straight answer, be careful about moving forward.

Know what to look for when inspecting the car. As you look over the prospective vehicle, keep an eye out for evidence of repairs, maintenance or required repairs. Some things to look for include worn tires, bent wheels, oil leaks, missing body fascia, dull paint, etc. All of these could be signs for maintenance. If you spot any of these, ask the seller about the history and gauge their reaction.

Request specific documentation. Ask for a bill of sale that includes the vehicle identification number (VIN number), make, model, selling price, mileage and any agreements that you and the seller have discussed.

Research the vehicle’s value. While Kelley Blue Book can be a helpful tool, there are other ways to determine a fair buying price for the vehicle. Look on local websites and in the local paper and see what vehicles of the make and model are selling for. You can also try calling a local auto dealer and give them your prospective vehicle’s description; ask them what the trade-in value would be. Use this information to calculate where you think your first bid should be.

When it comes to purchasing a new used vehicle, there are pros and cons to buying from either a dealership or a private seller. Whereas a dealership will have their own policies and hoops to jump through, “a private party seller is an individual just like you,” states an article from JDPower.com. “…someone who owns a vehicle that they need to sell, and who is likely selling the vehicle themselves in order to extract maximum value for it.” Some of the benefits of buying from a private seller include:

  • Lower costs. There are four values for a used vehicle: retail, private party, trade-in and certified pre-owned. The private party value typically tends to remain on the lower end of the scale when it comes to vehicle costs since the seller isn’t concerned about overhead; they are also typically more flexible on the price as they’re eager to sell their vehicle.
  • No games. Private party sellers are generally in more of a rush to sell their old vehicles. If they see that you’re a serious buyer, they may be more likely to want to complete the transaction with you as quickly as possible.

If you have questions about purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, or other financial questions, stop by your local Merchants Bank branch, where a our financial professionals are ready to help.

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Breathing Exercises for Relaxation

Sometimes you just need a moment to catch your breath. In fact, many doctors recommend controlled breathing for both short- and long-term relaxation. Here are five simple breathing exercises you can do anytime, even at your desk during the workday.

Alternate nostril breathing
This easy breathing technique is done in a meditative pose and is said to be like a jolt of caffeine that sharpens your focus.

To do this, hold your thumb over your right nostril while you inhale through the left nostril. At the height of the inhalation, close off the right nostril with the middle finger of the same hand while releasing the thumb. Then, exhale through the right nostril. Repeat

Bellows breath
According to the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), this breathing exercise can be used to improve energy throughout the workday. It’s also known as the stimulating breath and relies on short, fast rhythmic breathing.

Sit in an upright position with your spine straight. Gently close your mouth and quickly inhale and exhale through your nose, like you are pumping air into a tire. Do this for no longer than 15 seconds for beginners and up to one minute for more advanced practitioners to avoid hyperventilating.

Abdominal breathing
Known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing reduces tension while improving the flow of blood and lymph within your body by expanding the lung’s air pockets, reports AMSA. Do this technique twice a day or as needed when you’re feeling stressed or in physical pain.

Take a deep breath with one hand placed on your chest and the other on your abdomen. The latter hand should rise further than the one on your chest, indicating you’re using your diaphragm to push the air to the bases of your lungs. As you inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focus on a word like “relaxation,” and hold it for a count of seven. Exhale for a count of eight while thinking of a word associated with the feeling or emotion you want to release, such as “stress,” AMSA suggests. Repeat the cycle five times total, aiming for a rate of six inhale/exhale combinations per minute.

Counting the breath
Use this breathing technique when you have longer periods of time to spare, recommends holistic guru Dr. Andrew Weil.

Sit upright with your spine straight and head slightly tilted forward. With eyes closed, take a few deep breaths to regulate your rhythm. Begin the exercise by counting “one” as you exhale. Count to two and up to five for each subsequent exhale before repeating the cycle. Do not exceed five counts while meditating on this technique for 10 minutes or longer.

Equal Breathing
Slip into your bed with the purpose of balancing your body and mind after a long day. Experts equate this yoga breath to counting sheep because it distracts you from anxious or racing thoughts.

Inhale through your nose for a count of four; then exhale for a count of four. Repeat this for as little or as long as you desire, eventually building up to eight counts. All the while, you should focus your breath and thoughts on calming your nervous system.

Relaxation breathing can take as little as five minutes or a hour, depending on your needs and time. The best part is you can do these exercises anywhere and anytime. All you need is to focus and, of course, get those lungs pumping.

 

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