Securing Your Identity in the Online Age


By Rodney Nelsestuen, Chief Information Officer

We all know the threats to online security are constantly changing. The challenges of being an active online and social media user while protecting our identity highlight the important role we all have in keeping our business and personal finances safe.

So, what are some of the current strategies used by hackers and what should we do about them?

Today’s online thief is patient and persistent. Thieves are taking their time in collecting data about us from many sources. Even the most mundane aspects of our lives may be important when added to other data taken from our personal lives, from social media (both our posts and those of friends and family,) and from our workplace. Eventually, all this information is applied in a manner that mimics our personality and behaviors in a convincing way.

How is this possible?

Once a “bad actor,” an online thief or fraudster, has some of your information and your online lifestyle, getting more becomes easy as automated intelligence (AI) serves up a large plate of your preferences, enabling the thief to fully take your place – at least in a virtual sense.

Thus, it’s entirely possible we have a virtual clone navigating the internet, posing as us, and preparing to wreak havoc on our lives by, essentially, taking it for their own.

So, how do we minimize the risk of this happening to us?

Steps to Minimize Risk

Drop out of social media

There are people who have already done this. But dropping out is probably not realistic for most of us. We rely on social media to keep up with friends and family, share joy, sorrow, important information, and we generally find social media a good force in our lives.

Limit what we share on social media

It could be worth our time to more closely manage what is posted and left on social media. Exposing too much about ourselves just makes it easier for thieves to enrich the already valuable data sources available to them.

Talk with family and friends about what you will and will not share on social media and encourage them to do the same. For some of us, posting is done almost willy-nilly, without thought and often reveals deep details that may later be used to compromise our financial or personal lives. Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone to discuss certain aspects of our lives instead of posting them.

Choose our connections in a more deliberate manner

It may be best to limit the number of friends we have online. Most of us have connections that may not be critical to a good social media experience but were set up out of curiosity or recommendations from friends. Examine the controls available on the social media site and narrow what others can see, keeping those closest to you fully engaged, but limiting others.

But Nothing is Fool-Proof. What’s the Next Step?

Because there’s no fool-proof methodology to protecting our identity or our money, we might leverage the tools provided by our most trusted businesses – including banks. Spending the time to fully understand the options and controls that we can employ will allow us to be active participants in managing online threats and help us move from a purely defensive posture to playing offense against the bad guys.

How can we do this?

Actively manage credit and debit cards through apps

Today most of these products have a number of controls that we can actively implement. These include:

  • Turning our credit or debit cards on and off when suspicious activity takes place
  • Setting alerts to notify us via text messages of certain types of transactions or amounts
  • Establishing an out-of-band authentication process when accessing any private financial site to verify your identity through two sources, like your password and a code texted to your phone

These three options will keep us informed on what’s happening to our financial accounts and provide additional assurance that we are, in fact, interacting with our bank and not a fake site.

We have apps for Merchants Bank Debit and Credit Cards that allow you to control your security preferences and set up alerts for when the cards are used.

Have security systems on your computer

It’s fundamental, and a best practice, to have strong antivirus systems on all of our computers. Most of us have these types of subscriptions given they were bundled with the purchase the last time we bought a computer. Make sure, however, that the software also has:

  • anti-malware
  • anti-spyware
  • anti-adware
  • anti-phishing capabilities that can be deployed (or not) at will.

There are additional options we might employ: we can download software that provides an additional layer of security on the computer itself. These tools may harden our computer, keyboard, or mouse against exploitation by hackers. Most of these technologies do not interfere with online speed or performance.

The Solution: Marry Technology and Cautious Online Practices

No technology alone can completely protect us from financial loss or ID theft. Technology needs to be coupled with smart interactions when online. Combining conservative practices, knowing who we are interacting with, using the technologies available through banks and on our own devices bring a holistic approach to securing our online selves and reducing the risks associated with today’s virtual world.

Merchants Bank CEO Greg Evans Honored with Community Service Award


Greg was presented the award this year by David Miller.

Congratulations to our President & CEO, Greg Evans, for being named the Winona Health Foundation’s Ben & Adith Miller Community Service Tribute honoree for 2019.

Greg was recognized for his volunteer efforts in Winona over the past 30 years, including starting Merchants’ own 10 Days of Giving Food Drive in 1989, which has since collected over 3.5 million pounds of food.

Being a community leader is part of Merchants Bank’s community banking philosophy. Our employees are committed, like Greg, to showing up in the communities we serve by volunteering our time and talents. We believe that when our communities thrive, we will too. That’s why in 2018 we volunteered 14,953 hours to 286 organizations across our footprint.

In its 31st year, the Ben & and Adith Miller Community Service Tribute seeks to spotlight individuals in the community who have made a lasting impact through their volunteer efforts. Read more about the Tribute and Greg’s nomination on the Winona Health website*

*You will be linking to another website not owned or operated by Merchants Bank, NA. Merchants Bank, NA is not responsible for the availability or content of this website and does not represent either the linked website or you, should you enter into a transaction. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from Merchants Bank, NA.

Hope to See You at these Upcoming Parades and Summer Events

Save the Date - Upcoming Events

Join our staff at these great events. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page for information on these events or pictures from other events you may have missed. 

Now through 6/7 Dairy Days and Beef Month in Caledonia and Spring Grove
Lobby Hours
Merchants Bank in Caledonia and Spring GroveJoin us for beef and cheese sticks in our lobby. We salute our area beef and dairy farmers.
Now through 6/7 Community Appreciation Open House in Apple Valley
Lobby Hours
Merchants Bank in Apple Valley

Please join us in our lobby for:

  • Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for refreshments and coffee
  • Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. for sub sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s
  • Friday for a reception at 11:45 a.m. celebrating the riders from the 14th annual Christian Elder Memorial Bike Ride.

    Panino sandwich lunch by Panino Brothers served 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

6/12 Spring Grove Music in the Park
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Viking Memorial Park

Merchants Bank staff will be serving dinner starting at 6:00 p.m. A BBQ pork sandwich, chips, cookie and a beverage will be $5, or a hot dog, chips, cookie and a beverage will be $3. All proceeds will benefit Music in the Park. Root River Jam will perform at 6:30 p.m. We hope to see you there!

6/15 29th Annual Pancake Breakfast in Winona
7:30 – 10:30 a.m.
Merchants Bank in Winona-Downtown

$5.00 per person • $18.00 per family • Children 5 and under FREE. Held rain or shine. Open to the public. Includes pancakes, sausage links, ham, hash browns and a beverage.

6/16 Winona Steamboat Days Parade
12:01 p.m.
Broadway Street in Winona, MN

Watch for us in the parade!

7/13 Lakeville Pan-O-Prog Parade
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Holyoke Avenue in Lakeville, MN
Watch for us in the parade!
7/21 Hastings Rivertown Days Parade
12:00 p.m.
Ramsey Street in Hastings, MN
Watch for us in the parade!
7/30 Caledonia Music in the Park
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Gazebo Park

Merchants Bank will be serving Fat Pat’s pulled pork. We hope to see you there!

8/2 Community Appreciation in Cottage Grove
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in Cottage Grove

We’ll be serving hamburgers, hot dogs, Culver’s frozen custard, chips and refreshments in our parking lot.

8/15 Community Appreciation in Hampton
4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in Hampton
8/16 Community Appreciation in Goodview
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in Goodview

As a part of the Goodview Days celebration, we’ll be serving brats, chips, ice cream and refreshments.

8/18 Goodview Days Grande Parade
1:00 p.m.
6th Street between 38th and 51st Avenue in Goodview, MN

Watch for us in the parade!

8/22 Community Appreciation in La Crescent
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in La Crescent

We’ll be serving hamburgers, bratwursts, hot dogs, chips and refreshments in our parking lot.

8/23 St. Charles Hot Dog Fundraiser
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Merchants Bank in St. Charles

Hot dogs, chips and soda will be served for $4 and you’ll receive a FREE ice cream treat. Proceeds will benefit St. Charles Area Community Foundation.

8/25 St. Charles Gladiolus Days Parade
1:00 p.m.
7th Street to Whitewater Ave in St. Charles, MN

Watch for us in the parade!

Meet Brian Wester: Home Loan Expert at Merchants Bank

Brian Wester, Mortgage Lender

What does community banking mean to you?

Brian: Being part of a banking group that’s a smaller entity compared to a larger big box bank. I think Merchants has a more customer-centric focus. We provide more opportunities for one-on-one interaction with customers. I like to think of it as being involved in your community and more personalized.

What is your top tip to home buyers?

Brian: I would recommend that home buyers engage with their lender 90 days before they want to start actively looking for a home.

There are a variety of topics to discuss regarding qualifying for a loan and it’s best to start talking about them early: including analysis of your credit, employment, income & assets. It’s also beneficial to review loan scenarios so you are aware of your options and what your estimated monthly payment and required cash to close will look like. This knowledge will help you look at homes with a price point that fits your qualifications.

What one thing on your bucket list?

Brian: To go to Europe.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments?

Brian: Raising two daughters, getting them through college and out on their own.

What do you enjoy about coming to work every day?

Brian: I enjoy the interaction with customers, who have a number of different needs from loans to checking accounts. I get to wear all these different hats. I really like coming to work because I know there are a lot of people that I can get involved with because of the variety of areas I’m involved in at the Bank. Since I became Personal Banking Manager, I’m not just focused on mortgage any longer and it’s opened up more opportunities to meet and greet all of our customers. My job keeps me challenged, busy and time goes by quickly.


Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here:


Loans are subject to approval.

Meet Jenna DeBaere: Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

Jenna DeBaere, Mortgage Lender

What do you like best about being a mortgage lender?

Jenna: Getting to know my customers and providing the best customer service. Buying a home is exciting and I like that I can be involved in the process.

What is your top tip for home buyers?

Jenna: My top tip for home buyers is to get pre-approved. Once we know the total loan amount they’re pre-approved for, we can discuss down payment options and what kind of monthly mortgage payment would work with their budget.

What’s the best trip you ever took?

Jenna: I went to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico with my family. One of the highlights of the trip was when we rented scooters in Cozumel and explored the island.

Who is your mentor and why?

Jenna: My mom. Over the years she has given me the help, advice, and tools to succeed and be successful in my personal and professional life.

What do you hope your customers say about you?

Jenna: That I am easy to work with and go above and beyond to help get them into their home.


Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here:


Loans are subject to approval.

Get to Know Paula Hogan, Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender

Paula Hogan, Mortgage Lender

What is your top advice for home buyers?

Paula: Get pre-approved for a mortgage loan before you begin your home search.

What do you like best about being a mortgage lender?

Paula: I enjoy being able to help home buyers achieve their dreams of home-ownership.

How do you stay busy?

Paula: Reading, biking, fishing, attending my daughter’s sporting events and going up north.

Who is your mentor and why?

Paula: My dad. He is a very kind and generous person.

How are you involved in the community?

Paula: I attend and help with Chamber of Commerce events and am a board member of the Cannon Falls Bomber Dance Team Parent Association. I also volunteer throughout the community through my church.


Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here:


Loans are subject to approval.

Get to Know Cindy Luedke, Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender

Cindy Luedke, Mortgage Lender

What do you enjoy about coming to work every day?

It’s never the same. It’s very interesting. As I’ve been here longer, I continue to see some of the customers I helped in the beginning, which is a great feeling.

What is your top mortgage tip?

Before you start shopping for a home, make sure you know what your credit scores are. You can view your credit score three times a year for free. Knowing your scores will help when you talk with your mortgage lender.  Scores drive a lot of factors like interest rates and loan program options.

What do you like best about working with customers?

Every customer is different and has a variety of needs.  I enjoy helping them achieve their dreams either with a purchase, refinance or a construction loan.

What’s your secret talent? 

To make table arrangements out of whatever is available. I end up doing that a lot for special events.

What’s your birthday meal?

My mom was always a good cook, so birthday meals were just as good as our everyday meals. She was always cooking. I remember I would get up at 7:15 in the morning for school and could smell homemade cinnamon rolls. I never understood how she had time to make them. They were still hot and made from scratch.


Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here:


Loans are subject to approval.