Watch Out for These Red Flags to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

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It is hard to overstate the popularity of online shopping. There is almost no category of product that can’t be purchased online. From wedding dresses, to pets and potato chips, consumers are heading online to purchase things that only a few years ago would have been considered strange to buy online. With so many online stores to choose from, it can be hard to tell which are legitimate and which could leave you vulnerable to scam or identity theft.

One of the easiest ways to tell if a website is secure is by looking for a Trust Seal.

“Typically, these seals are associated with secure sockets layer, or SSL for short,” states John Rampton, a Forbes contributor. “This simply means that your site has been verified and that there is a secure transmission for customers to safely enter their credit card information.”

When you are shopping online, you may have run into one of the seals and not even realized it. If you searched for a store through Google, for example, you probably have seen the small logo with a checkmark that states “Google Trusted Stores,” which is the search engine’s own Trust Seal. There are also several other companies that examine stores and give out trust seals.

“While trust seals are an important feature for [an] e-commerce website, which seals are the most reliable?” asks Rampton.  “In a survey conducted by the research group the Baymard Institute, the most trusted badge was Norton, with 36 percent of the votes. This was followed by McAfee (23 percent), TRUSTe (13.2 percent) and BBB Accredited (13.2 percent).”

The other ways that you can determine an online store’s trustworthiness are much less clear-cut than Trust Seals. Online reviews, for example, are one of the most important ways that consumers make decisions about a business’s reputation. If an online store has many positive reviews, you will likely feel safer giving it your credit card information. It is entirely possible for a good online store to not have many reviews, however, and positive reviews can be faked, so it is not a foolproof method.

It is also important to not ignore your gut feeling when shopping online. If you find a product for significantly less than every other store selling it, then that is a definite red flag. Another tactic to keep an eye out for is if a store claims to have the product you are looking for during an initial search, but then tries to redirect you to other similar products because they do not actually have what you need.

Furthermore, if a website doesn’t seem professionally designed, is extremely outdated, or very difficult to navigate, you may want to find another.

“Would you seriously give your credit card information to [a] website that looks like it belongs in 1995?” asks Rampton. “Common sense would say absolutely not.”

You should also look for contact information that would allow you to speak with an employee if you have questions or problems with your order. If there is no way to contact customer service, that is a big red flag.

Once you decide to make a purchase, there are further things to keep in mind.

“Don’t send your credit card details via email, post them on social media (even in a private message), or enter them on an unsecured website,” states Lexy Savvides from Cnet.com. “Don’t give away more information than you need. Retailers generally don’t need to know details like your date of birth or social security number, so why disclose it if you don’t have to?”

If you keep this information in mind and always choose the path of caution, you should be able to shop online without incident.

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Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants Bank

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike's Peak.

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike’s Peak.

When did you start your banking career?

Nikki: I started at a much smaller bank in 2011 as a Customer Service Representative. When I first came to Merchants, I worked in the Electronic Banking department and since that time have become our Fraud Specialist.

What is your top fraud prevention tip?

Nikki: It’s difficult to pick one because there are so many tips to preventing fraud. I would say my first tip is to be conscious of where you are using your debit card – physical stores and online. Do you know and trust the company you are purchasing from? It’s important to stick with places you know. If a company or person calls asking you for your card information, be extremely cautious. Keep in mind that the Bank will never ask for your personal information unless you have previously initiated a conversation with us about your accounts or a loan application.

I would also recommend reviewing your bank statements or Online Banking records regularly. Set aside time to review purchases and if you notice something suspicious, call the Bank and talk to your Customer Service Representative or Electronic Banking immediately. If your account goes unchecked, fraud can go undetected for months or even years.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Nikki: They taught me to be cautious with credit cards. It’s easy to get in over your head if you’re not careful. My husband and I regularly review upcoming expenses and discuss when we should pay with our credit cards versus our debit card. Once our plan is set, we stick to it.

If you could ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with anyone, who would it be and why?

Nikki: My husband. He has always wanted to go to New York City and I think he would like to enjoy the experience.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Nikki: My garden – It’s my hobby outside of work. My family always had a garden when I was growing up and now I have one that’s 14×14 feet in my backyard (I know, because I had to dig out the sod myself!). We grow most of your standard vegetables, like tomatoes, onions and peppers. I also have pots for plants that spread, like strawberries

For more information on our electronic banking options, visit our website.

Three Ways Technology Is Changing Small Business Finance

New technology helps entrepreneurs get their products and services to customers more efficiently.

New technology helps entrepreneurs get their products and services to customers more efficiently.

Technology is an entrepreneur’s best friend. With the right tools, entrepreneurs are finding that it is easier than ever before to bring in customers, design new products and manage day-to-day operations. Here are a few of the latest ways that technology is changing the world of small business finance.

Mobile Payments
Before the era of mobile devices, if you didn’t want to alienate customers by only accepting cash, you needed a traditional register (point of sale) system. This left many entrepreneurs, such as those working booths at craft fairs or providing services outside of a brick-and-mortar setting, out in the cold.

Now, it’s possible to use a mobile device to accept plastic from customers anywhere you have reception, opening up a range of possibilities. Square is a device that allows you to swipe cards and process payments right on your smartphone or tablet. Its monthly subscription service is best for those who “do five-six digits in sales every month,” and “have very few transactions over $400,” and “key in very few transactions,” according to Forbes contributor My Say.

For those who make many monthly transactions, or those who have many transactions over $400, or those who don’t make sales in the five or six-figure range, Say recommends Breadcrumb by Groupon. Another excellent and flexible option to consider is PayPal.

3D Printing
When 3D printers arrived on the scene, they seemed like something out of a science fiction novel, but they quickly proved to be a tremendous asset in many fields. Businesses currently using 3D printers are quickly discovering just how many ways this tool can revolutionize the way they work.

“For some, it creates an opportunity to differentiate from the competition. For others, it’s a chance to improve internal processes, like design and development, and streamline production,” states Fox News Business contributor Elizabeth Palermo. “But in some industries, especially those that create highly customized products, such production methods are essential.”

Entrepreneurs who want to make a model of a product no longer have to find a factory able to produce it before they can show potential investors and clients. With the invention of 3D printing, the process is faster than ever, making it easier for would-be entrepreneurs to take the leap into the business world.

Fox News Business profiled the development of an ergonomic baby spoon called Spuni, which “owes its existence in large part to 3D technology,” according to Palermo. “The company was able to print the first versions of Spuni using medical grade, BPA-free plastics that could be tested safely by parents on their babies. The ability to test their prototypes helped Botha and his colleagues churn out a final version of the product much faster than if they had used traditional manufacturing methods for prototyping.”

Predictive Analytics
Predictive analysis uses technology to maximize sales opportunities by attempting to accurately predict the future behavior of customers. Entrepreneur.com contributor Mikal E. Belicove describes how he would use predictive analysis to make more money at a hypothetical pizza shop.

“If I knew exactly how many cheese, pepperoni or veggie pizzas I was going to sell on a given shift, I could have those ingredients on hand, and maybe even make them ahead of time, so the customers get their pies fast,” describes Belicove. “And if I knew that half my customers order a large soda with their pizza, I could offer them a pizza/soda special to keep them coming back.”

A Business Intelligence tool is necessary software to run these types of analytics. Entrepreneurs who know how to program can make use of free tools like R from Revolution Analytics. You don’t have to know how to program to use this technology, however.

“If you just want a way to visualize your data to make it easier to understand and follow, there are inexpensive dashboard tools like Geckoboard and Leftronic that you can try out for less than $100 a month,” states Belicove.

With technology like 3D printing, predictive analysis and mobile payments, more people than ever are realizing that they truly can start a business.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Merchants Bank Hires New Information Technology Leader

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

Rodney Nelsestuen has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, according to Sue Savat, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

“Rodney’s expertise in planning, implementing and managing technology services will be a benefit to our customers. With his leadership, Merchants will focus on technology that best fits the needs of our customers and company operations,” said Savat.

Nelsestuen has been in the financial services industry for his entire career, including most recently at Eastwood Bank as the Vice President of Information Technology. He also has experience as a consultant for global financial institutions and technology companies.

“Merchants’ top priority is customer service and satisfaction. I look forward to contributing to that culture of service by bringing a sharper focus to technology services and the Information Technology team,” said Nelsestuen.

Nelsestuen graduated first in his class from the Graduate School of Banking in Madison. He holds a graduate certificate in Information Systems Management from the Keller Graduate School of DeVry University in Milwaukee and Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts from Hamline University in St. Paul. He received his Master in Business Administration from the Keller Graduate School and his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Back to School

Back To SchoolGet Everything on Your List

Notebooks, check. Pens, check. Pencils, check. Open an account at the bank, check.

Going back to school can be a difficult process, but not with Merchants Bank. Merchants can help your student start the school year off right with a new account and Merchants Bank Mobile Banking.

With the busy school year just around the corner, it‘s important to start thinking about what your student needs for school. Merchants Bank has accounts that are not only convenient, but also easy to track. You can access your accounts on the go with Merchants Bank Mobile Banking and Online Banking. You can also get any information you need at any of our convenient locations.

Having an account will help your student learn the importance of saving, balancing, and responsibility of having an account. Sign your student up for an account today, so they can start learning how to keep track of their money now.

Merchants Bank offers many student solutions for high school and college students. Read more about our student solutions here.

Don’t make this school year harder than it needs to be, let Merchants Bank help you check every item off your school list.