Winter 2016 eNewsletter

Research shows that in recent years 85% of the world’s population shop online and the average American uses electronic media up to 11 hours a day.  Spending time online is a quick and convenient way to communicate, get our news and shop.  However, it can be dangerous if we’re not vigilant in protecting our private information.   

With help from our friends at NerdWallet, we’ve put together a list of important steps to keep in mind to help protect yourself from online dangers. 

1. Do your online shopping/banking from home

You’ve probably taken steps to secure your home network, so it makes sense to do most of your online activity there. Public computers are convenient, but be careful about entering passwords and sensitive account information when using these machines. Many will keep your login data in the web browser history, so after you leave, the next person who uses the computer might be able to see what you typed and access your account.

If you’re on your own laptop or mobile device but using public Wi-Fi to access the Internet, you could run into similar issues. You can’t be sure the network you’re on is secure, and if it’s not, a lurking hacker could see any information you send. When you use public Wi-Fi, consider updating the settings on your device to make sure you don’t automatically join networks you won’t use regularly.

If you have to shop or bank online while away from home, consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, service to protect your account information.

2. Install antivirus software

Many antivirus companies will send security patches to your computer automatically, so you don’t have to be a tech genius to get the most up-to-date protection. In addition to installing an antivirus program, it’s a good idea to check your operating system, web browser and mobile devices to make sure they also have the latest software updates.

3. Be smart with account passwords

Strong passwords include both upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols, and they can’t easily be guessed. Security experts recommend that you change your passwords regularly — at least once every few months.

4. Don’t skimp on mobile security

Sometimes you may need to shop or bank online while you’re on the go. When using smartphones, tablets and laptops, you can help protect your accounts by adding a password to lock your device screen. Also, install a “find your phone” tool to help locate your device if it’s misplaced. Many such tools give you the ability to disable your device remotely, in case it can’t be recovered.

 5. Remember, “secure” starts with an S

Before sending over account numbers or other sensitive information, check to see whether your browser address bar begins with “https” instead of “http”. The extra “S” literally stands for “secure,” because the page is encrypted. In addition to checking for the “S,” you can also look to see whether the webpage has a seal from such organizations as the Better Business Bureau, Trusted or VeriSign, which means the site is more likely to be trustworthy.

Margarette Burnette is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @margarette and on Google+.

 

Debit Card protection

We are proud to offer our customers an innovative new service!  CardValet is a mobile app that lets you control your debit card usage and spending on the go.  This free app is available on the Android App store or iTunes.

Exciting features of this product include

•      Card usage controls: Establish spending limits to allow transactions up to a certain dollar amount and decline transactions when amounts exceed pre-defined thresholds.  Transactions can also be monitored or controlled for specific merchant categories such as gas, hotel, travel, groceries or electronic stores. 

•      Card on/off setting:  When the card is “on,” transactions are allowed in accordance with the usage control settings you’ve established.  When the card is “off,” no purchases or withdrawals are approved until the card is turned back “on.”  This control can be used to disable a lost or stolen card.

•     Location-based controls:  Restrict transactions to merchants located within a certain range of your location (using your phone’s GPS); transactions requested outside of the specified area can be declined.

•      Fraud protection: Report or restrict PIN and signature transactions, enabling you to manage, track and report specific types of transactions and quickly detect unauthorized activity.

•      Interactive alerts: Real-time alerts can be sent when a card is used, when a transaction is approved and exceeds any of the permitted use policies, or when a card transaction has been attempted but is declined.  

•      Financial features: Conduct limited card-related transactions wherever you are, any time of the day, including real-time balance inquiries and locating ATM’s.

If you have questions or would like find out all the ways that CardValet can help you, visit our website at: https://www.mercbank.com/cards/cardvalet.asp.  You can also stop in to any of our offices for full details.

Community Investment is “Outstanding” at Mercantile Bank

 Giving back to the communities we serve has always been a priority to us at Mercantile Bank. We are honored to once again be rated as “Outstanding” by the FDIC in our Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) examination.

 The CRA is a law that requires banks to help meet the credit needs of their communities for housing and other purposes, particularly in neighborhoods with low or moderate incomes, while maintaining safe and sound operations. An “Outstanding” rating is the highest available ranking and one which only about 5% of all banks achieve. We are proud of the fact that this is the third consecutive time we’ve received this rating, meaning that we’ve had nine years of “Outstanding” ratings.

 The “Outstanding” rating is based on our performance in lending, investments and services, focusing on areas such as mortgages, small business, and community development lending and services.  Our CRA evaluation made specific references to our strengths in lending, including our responsiveness to credit needs, and geographic distribution of small business and home mortgage loans throughout low and moderate income areas in the markets we serve.

 We believe that this rating is the result of the hard work and dedication of our employees, who year after year contribute and invest in the communities where we live and work. To this end, we are consistently looking for ways to build stronger relationships with our community partners by providing accessible banking and lending services in all of the communities we serve. 

Budget Vacation. Affordable Travel. Tips.

Article Written By: Lori Knierim | Marketing Officer | Mercantile Bank of Michigan

We could all use a little rest and relaxation – but when it’s time take a break and get away, how do you not go over budget?  We’ve got some great tips on how to travel without breaking the bank!

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Search the Web. Check local Chamber of Commerce or Visitor Bureau websites for events or festivals happening in towns throughout Michigan.  Many of them are free, or very low cost and fun for the whole family.

Consider rental homes/cabins instead of hotel rooms.  One of the largest parts of your vacation budget can be eaten up by expensive hotel bills… but consider checking out sites such as VRBO.com or HomeAway.com to find more affordable lodging options. Often times, they offer great accommodations at a much lower rate.

Be flexible!  If possible, plan your trip during the “off” season or mid week.  Many tourist destinations are able to offer package deals at greatly reduced prices if you’re able to visit when they’re not as busy.  In addition, when there are fewer crowds, you’re able to enjoy the visit that much more!

Consider your mode of transportation. Planes, Trains and Automobiles!  The cost of fuel can impact a vacation budget very quickly.  If you’re traveling less than 300 miles taking the family car is usually more economical. Once you go beyond that point things change.  Check  airlines for last minute deals on flights, or consider taking a train or bus for a more scenic mode of travel.

When at all possible, try to avoid eating out. Easier said than done we know, but if you can pack snack food or sandwiches as well as drinks for the day you’d be amazed at how much money you can save.  If you decide to eat out, try to pick one meal a day.  Every little bit adds up so choose wisely!

The bottom line?  Whether it’s a day at the beach, the local zoo, exploring a lighthouse, or hiking down a wooded path, there are so many ways to get out there and affordable enjoy that well deserved vacation time!