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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140 for 140: Helping Businesses and Communities for 140 Years

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In 2015, we honor our commitment to the communities we serve with the 140 for 140 campaign, which highlights a minimum of 140 contributions we make to those communities in the form of volunteer time, education programs, event sponsorships and more.

Merchants Bank was founded July 17, 1875. Since our beginning, we have grown to 21 locations serving 18 communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. A number of our locations will also be celebrating significant anniversaries with the Merchants Bank organization in 2015: St. Charles (25 years), Apple Valley, Hastings, Hampton and Cottage Grove (15 years), Lakeville (10 years), and Spring Grove (5 years).

Since our first day, our employees have been dedicated to improving the communities they serve. We are proud to celebrate those contributions this year.

Commercial, Ag and SBA Lending Trends

The economy continues to improve. One indicator we look at in banking is the increase in our lending portfolio.

GraphOur lending portfolio continues to grow at Merchants Bank.

  • Overall our lending portfolio has increased 15.7% through the first three quarter of 2014 compared to the first three quarters of 2013, where we had a very strong year compared to many other financial institutions.
  • Commercial lending increased 16.3% across all of our locations.
  • Ag lending has increased 12.9% and SBA lending has increased 16.3%.

The increase shows our expertise in and commitment to growing these important segments to help make the places we live better.

Contact a Business Banker today to learn more about business financing and leasing options at Merchants Bank. Subject to credit approval.

Students Can Win With Merchants Bank Money Ball in St. Charles

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Two area students will each have a chance to win a $100 Merchants Bank Visa Gift Card by making a half-court shot at half-time of the St. Charles boy’s basketball game against Rushford-Peterson on Friday, January 16.

Students will be able to register up until half-time of the game and then will be chosen randomly to take part. To qualify to take the half-court shot, the students will have to make a free-throw and a three-point shot.

“This should be great fun for the students and should also benefit our athletic programs,” said Mark Linderbaum of Merchants Bank in St. Charles.

If a student makes the free throw, three-point shot and the half-court shot, the student will be presented with a certificate to redeem for a Merchants Bank Visa Gift Card. Funds up to $200 not won by the students will be donated to the St. Charles athletic programs.

Julie Pearson has Joined Merchants Bank as a Correspondent Mortgage Account Executive

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Julie Pearson has joined Merchants Bank as an Assistant Vice President and a Correspondent Mortgage Account Executive, according to Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Sue Hovell.

Pearson will be covering Wisconsin, Iowa and a portion of Minnesota in her new position. Merchants Bank provides mortgage correspondent services for 86 separate financial institutions that include 193 separate locations. Merchants Bank also provides mortgage correspondent services in the remainder of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

“Julie’s position is important to our organization and to the financial institutions she will help meet their goals to provide their customers with good rates, timely underwriting and effective servicing,” Hovell said. “One of the great parts of having Julie on board is that she is very familiar with the process.”

Pearson has been working with financial institutions in mortgage lending since 2001. Her career has taken her to two different banks where she sold home loans to the Merchants Bank Correspondent Program.

“We were fortunate enough to work with Merchants Bank on this venture, and I came to know how wonderful a partner they were in providing services,” Pearson said. “I look forward to providing the same level of service to my customers that I received when I was Merchants’ customer.”

Julie can be reached at (507) 494-0540 or japearson@merchantsbank.com.