Fraud and Scam Updates for May

Fraud-Blog

Review our most recent fraud alerts and updates to help keep your personal information secure. Want to be automatically updated about recent scams and fraud? Sign up for our Alerts emails here: http://bit.ly/1G1dF0n

Internal Revenue Service Scam

Some of our customers have fallen for a recent scam involving fraudsters posing as employees from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The fraudster will call you – stating to be an Internal Revenue Service employee – and claim you owe back taxes, which can be paid via wire transfer.

The truth is that the IRS does not use phone calls to make personal contacts. If the IRS wants to contact you, they will send a letter first. If you receive a phone call from an individual claiming to be from the IRS, it is a scam. For more information on how and when the IRS might contact you, see these two articles from the Federal Trade Commission:

Check Fraud

Merchants has recently seen an increase in fraudulent checks. Customers have fallen for some “too good to be true” scenarios including being asked to be a secret shopper for a fake business or receiving a winnings check in the mail from a drawing they did not enter. When you receive a check, make sure to consider where it came from.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Did I recently enter any contests or drawings where I could win money?
  • Can I verify the information on the check through a third-party? For example, can you confirm a person’s contact information through the phone book? Or confirm a business’s information through an online directory like the Yellow Pages?
  • Does it sound too good to be true?

Be a skeptic. If the situation doesn’t sound right, it’s time to do some more investigating before depositing that check. For more information, read this article on check fraud from the Federal Trade Commission.

Next Steps If You’ve Experienced Fraud

If you think your bank account information has been compromised or you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local Merchants Bank and ask to speak to a Customer Service Representative.

Kelly Donohoe Promoted to Personal Banking Manager at Merchants Bank in Lakeville

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Kelly Donohoe has been promoted to Personal Banking Manager at Merchants Bank in Lakeville, according to Dan Vlasak, President of Merchants Bank in Lakeville.

Donohoe has been with the Merchants organization since 2012, when she started as a teller at the Apple Valley location. In 2014 she moved to Lakeville and was Customer Service Representative/Lead Teller from 2015 until her most recent promotion.

“I really enjoy getting to know our customers,” Donohoe said. “This new position will allow me to deepen my relationships with my customers. I’m looking forward to it.”

As Personal Banking Manager, Donohoe will help customers with their personal banking needs, including consumer loans.

“Kelly knows our customers, our Bank and what products we can offer our customers to make their lives better,” Vlasak said. “She’s a great example of a community banker, someone who cares about our customers.”

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including Lakeville, Hastings, Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Rosemount, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, and Hampton and other Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent and Spring Grove. Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Subject to credit approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Your Top HELOC Questions Answered

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You may be able to use the equity in your home to your advantage with a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). While the idea sounds simple, HELOCs can be confusing. Get the basics here.

What is a difference between a Second Mortgage and a HELOC?
There are two types of loans that use the equity in your home as collateral. They are either a Second Mortgage (also known as a Home Equity Loan) or a Home Equity Line of Credit.

A Second Mortgage, or Home Equity Loan, is simply borrowing money, using the equity in your home to secure the loan, much as a personal loan may use the equity in a car to secure the loan.

Home Equity Line of Credit is a revolving loan that works very much like a credit card. The equity you have in your home secures a credit line with a variable interest rate that is available to you for a certain amount of time. The monthly payments are determined by how much money you owe the bank, not by how big the line of credit is. As you pay down the amount you owe on your line of credit, the rest is available for other uses. The line of credit works well for do-it-yourself projects or a series of projects because you only make payments on the money you’ve already used.

Each loan works differently and which one may be best for you is often determined by your purpose for taking out the loan. The interest rate the bank charges on these loans typically takes several factors into account, such as your credit score, the loan to value or the loan type.

What is Loan-to-Value?
As mentioned above, loan-to-value is one of the factors taken into consideration when determining the loan interest rate. To calculate your loan-to-value, add the amount you want to borrow to the unpaid balance of your mortgage then divide that number by the appraised value of your home. The result will be a percentage that is referred to as the Loan-to-Value of your home. The lower the percentage, the lower your interest rate may be. 

Can I borrow more than the value of my home?
While some mortgage lenders offer loans that often will go over 100% of your home’s value, we don’t think it’s a good idea. Borrowing in that manner will make it difficult, if not impossible, to sell your home should you want, or need to move.

Can I use a HELOC for something other than home improvements?
Yes. A Home Equity Line of Credit can be a great way to get that new roof or finally finish the lower level, but it can also be used to buy a new car or to pay for a college education.

The flexibility of a HELOC means you can make your home equity work for current financial needs. In addition, the interest you pay may be deductible on your federal tax return. The interest you pay on car loans, credit cards and almost all other loans definitely is not. We suggest you consult your tax advisor regarding interest deductibility.

What’s the next step?
If you’re interested in learning more, check out these HELOC resources:

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Posts Earnings of $2,090,285 for the First Quarter of 2017; Pays 56 Cents Per Share Dividend

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Greg Evans, President & CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) announced net income of $2,090,085 through the first quarter of 2017, according to MFGI President & CEO Gregory M. Evans.

“Our core earnings continue to be strong and remain on target,” Evans said. “I am optimistic about our continued growth.”

During its April meeting the MFGI Board of Directors approved a semiannual dividend of 56 cents per share to shareholders. Last year, the MFGI Board raised the dividend twice from 53 cents to 55 cents per share and then from 55 cents to 56 cents per share.

Evans said net income is slightly behind MFGI’s plan for the first quarter and behind 2016’s pace, when MFGI celebrated record earnings. He said first quarter earnings were augmented by an additional $1.1 million in loan loss reserve put aside to cushion against possible future loan stress.

“This precautionary action is prudent and consistent with conservative banking principles that have served us so well over the years. The loans for which we added the reserves remain active, and we believe that over time the outcomes will be positive,” Evans said.

Evans noted that MFGI stock is continuing to trade at or near record prices. At the end of the first quarter, stock was trading at $59.50 per share, up from $45.01 a year ago and $54.40 at the end of 2016.

“My expectation and the expectation of the MFGI Board is that we will continue to build on the success model we have put in place,” Evans said.

MFGI owns 21 Merchants Bank locations, including Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

The ownership of Merchants Financial Group is made up of its 440 employees and its shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Merchants Bank Twin Cities Advisory Board of Directors Reappointed

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Lawrence Stovern, Twin Cities Regional President

The Merchants Bank Advisory Board of Directors for the Twin Cities region has been reappointed, according to Twin Cities Regional President Lawrence Stovern.

Reappointed to their positions on the Board were Board Chairman James A. Trenda, President CP Advisors, LLC; Heide C. Olson, CEO of All In One Accounting; Peggy Johnson, Community Relations Director for Dakota County Electric Association, and James Emond, a realtor with Remax Advantage Plus. The Advisory Board was reappointed at an April 18 meeting of the Merchants Bank Charter Board.

Stovern and Trenda, who is also a member of the Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) Board of Directors, reported about the recent MFGI Annual Meeting April 6 in Winona, where record earnings of $14,154,891 were reported. It was the second consecutive year of record earnings for MFGI.

“We continue to grow in the Twin Cities and contribute to the overall growth of our organization,” Stovern said. “Key to that growth is our ability to build long-term relationships, and that is where our Advisory Board of Directors is so critical.”

Merchants has five locations in the southern Twin Cities, including Apple Valley, Lakeville, Rosemount, Hastings and Cottage Grove. Merchants moved into a new facility in Cottage Grove late in 2016, after selling its previous location to Hy-Vee, to help make way for development in Cottage Grove.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In addition to the Twin Cities locations Minnesota locations include Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Hampton.  Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Merchants Bank Advisory Board of Directors Reappointed

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Dan Massett, Central Region President

The Merchants Bank Advisory Board of Directors for Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Hampton has been reappointed, according to Central Region President Dan Massett.

Reappointed to their positions on the Advisory Board were Board Chairman John O. Althoff, Retired Owner Althoff Hardware; Leslie M. Anderson, Farmer and Real Estate Agent Edina Realty; Donna R. Anderst, President and Chief Executive Officer SCS Elevator Products, Inc.; Richard A. Peterson, Owner Peterson Turkey Hatchery, Inc.; and Gary Schmidgall, Project Coordinator Hancock Concrete Products, LLC. The Advisory Board was reappointed at an April 18 meeting of the Merchants Bank Charter Board.

Massett said the Advisory Board was initially put in place after Merchants acquired the Cannon Falls and Red Wing locations 10 years ago and has been critical in the success of Merchants Bank in the Region.

“The people on our Board have provided exceptional direction and guidance in helping us to identify businesses that may be the best fit for our community bank,” Massett said. “They are always looking to make the communities we serve better places for business and better places to live. I am thankful for all they’ve done for their neighbors and for Merchants Bank, and I look forward to their continued input as we continue to grow.”

Merchants Bank has 21 locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In addition to Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Hampton, Merchants has Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount.  Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Richard T. Lommen, Jr. Re-elected to Merchants Financial Group, Inc., Board; Onalaska/La Crescent Advisory Board of Directors Reappointed

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Steve Christiansen, Market President – Onalaska and La Crescent

During the Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) Annual Meeting on April 6, area business leader Richard T. Lommen Jr., was re-elected to a three-year term on the MFGI Board.

Lommen is also the Board Chairman for the Merchants Bank Advisory Board of Directors in La Crescent and Onalaska. Lommen, the President/Owner of Courtesy Corporation, is joined on the Advisory Board of Directors by a number of area business leaders.

The members of the Merchants Bank Advisory Board of Directors in La Crescent and Onalaska were reappointed to their roles following an April 18 meeting of the Merchants Bank Charter Board. In addition to Lommen, Advisory Board of Directors include Dean L. Ashbacher, President and Chief Executive Officer Truss Specialists, Inc.; Robert A. Heth, Jr., President Heth Hardware, Inc.; Stephen D. Loehr, Vice President of Operations Support Kwik Trip, Inc., and Michael D. Cunningham, Partner La Crescent Property Ventures L.L.C. and Former CEO and Owner The Board Store Furniture and Home Improvements. Cunningham also serves as a member of the MFGI Board.

“It is gratifying to see the commitment of our advisory board to helping continuing to grow our relationships throughout the area,” said Steve Christiansen, Market President of Merchants Bank in Onalaska and La Crescent. “They are well-known in our area for their knowledge and advocacy for business growth.”

MFGI reported record income for 2016 of $14,154,891, its second year in a row of record income. The Onalaska location was one of the leaders, with nearly $2.2 million in net income.

MFGI owns 21 Merchants Bank locations. In addition to La Crescent and Onalaska, Merchants has Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has another Wisconsin location in Eau Claire. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

From the President’s Desk: First Quarter 2017 Edition

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By Greg Evans, President and CEO

In today’s commoditized banking arena, we know we must continue to find value-added ways to differentiate Merchants from a myriad of traditional bank and non-bank competitors. Our primary differentiators are aligned with the community banking business model we deploy.

Our community banking model includes our commitment to deliver an unparalleled level of personalized service and care to our customers. We choose to staff our local market branches in a manner that allows us to deliver on our brand promise to be the Bank that Service Built. The staffing model also includes our commitment to having Market Presidents who are empowered and required to deliver on an expectation of community engagement and leadership.

Another aspect of our Brand that I believe is a differentiator is our ownership structure. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that many of our customers are not aware that Merchants is a publicly-traded Company. That might seem somewhat irrelevant, but the ownership structure of the Merchants organization is unique, and has absolutely contributed to our business success over our history of more than 140 years.

Our employees own approximately 18% of the organization through an Employee Stock Ownership plan. Pride of ownership on the part of our employees helps drive the commitment we make to serving you in a manner that results in customer loyalty and business growth.

In addition to being an employee-owned Company, the balance of the ownership structure for Merchants is loosely held by approximately 600 individuals and organizations, mostly in the form of friends, neighbors and business leaders throughout our service area footprint. Our stock is available to anybody who might be motivated to take an ownership interest. Merchants Financial Group, Inc., shares are traded over the counter (OTC) under the symbol MFGI. If you would personally have an interest in acquiring Merchants stock, contact Merchants Bank for more information.

I personally take a great deal of pride in having an ownership interest in our Company, but value even more greatly the fact that ownership is comprised of my teammates and business leaders in our communities that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I do believe this ownership structure has been critical to our long-term success.

The long-time loyalty of our shareholders has allowed us stay the course with an intense focus on slow, steady growth. In addition to holding management accountable for meeting financial performance expectations, our shareholders also have high expectations for us to deliver on community leadership responsibilities. As customers, they also demand a high level of personalized service and attention to their many banking needs.

This ownership structure really is a differentiator for Merchants. It allows management to take a disciplined approach to strategic thinking, one that allows a long-term focus. Local ownership is a strength of the Merchants Brand. If you have an interest in becoming another of our local Shareholders, contact Merchants Bank for more information.

Jerad Brown Has Joined Merchants Bank in Rushford and Lanesboro as a Commercial and Ag Banker

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Jerad Brown, Commercial & Ag Banker

Area native Jerad Brown has joined Merchants Bank in Rushford and Lanesboro as a Commercial and Ag Banker, according to Ken Graner, President for Merchants Bank in Rushford and Lanesboro.

“Jerad has the right mix of experience, interest and personality to be successful as a banker and, more importantly, to help our customers grow,” Graner said. “His work in credit analysis and his interest and experience in business and ag will be a benefit to the people he serves.”

For the past two years, Brown has worked with Rushford State Bank as a credit analyst, looking at agriculture and commercial loans, including an emphasis on the Farm Service Agency (FSA) guaranty program. A graduate of Rushford-Peterson High School and South Dakota State University, he served as a member of the South Dakota State University Livestock Judging Team. At SDSU, Brown majored in Agriculture Science and had minors in Animal Science and Agriculture Business.

“The people who live here are my neighbors. I know what’s important to them, and I know how important it is for our local economy for our farms and businesses to succeed,” Brown said. “I look forward to putting my knowledge and energy to work for Merchants Bank and our customers.”

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Reports Record Year to Shareholders and Appoints Directors

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Greg Evans, President & CEO

During its annual meeting Thursday, the shareholders of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) heard about the organization’s second consecutive record year, re-elected two Directors and elected a new Director to the MFGI Board of Directors.

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were: Kenneth J. Mogren, Retired President Winona Agency, Inc., and Richard T. Lommen, Jr., President/Owner Courtesy Corporation. Elected to a three-year term was Gregory M. Evans, President & Chief Executive Officer, Merchants Financial Group. Also recognized was Rodney R. Nelson, who retired as MFGI President & CEO and the MFGI Board at the end of January, 2017. Evans succeeded Nelson. Also recognized for his long service was MFGI Director David H. Keller, Retired President Lucas Body Systems, NA. Keller retired in 2016 after 31 years of service to the MFGI Board, including more than 15 as Board Chairman.

“One of the reasons we were able to experience a second consecutive record year has been the leadership of the MFGI Board of Directors and the leadership Rod exhibited as MFGI President and CEO,” Evans said. “With the support of our customers, shareholders and employees, we look forward to meeting our responsibility to continue to grow this exceptional community banking organization.”

During the meeting, Evans formally reported MFGI’s 2016 record year of $14,154,891 in net income, surpassing 2015’s record year if $13,454,698. Other high points reported were a loan growth increase of 6.8% over 2015. Deposits increased by 9.1% and MFGI’s share price grew 27.25% in 2016, ending 2016 at $54.50 per share. Total assets ended 2016 at $1.623 billion.

“Our shareholders provide all of us with exceptional support,” Evans said. “We are fortunate to be able to formally celebrate our achievements with them and look forward to the year ahead.”

Evans, Chief Financial Officer Sue Savat, and Chief Credit Officer Mark McGrory were featured speakers during the meeting.

MFGI owns 21 Merchants Bank locations, including Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

The ownership of Merchants Financial Group is made up of its more than 440 employees and its shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.